Giles Quarme Architects – or GQA – has an impressive track record of both inspiring new life in listed buildings and designing new ones, as John Goodall discovers.
“You can transform your old house. You just need someone who knows what they’re doing,” says Giles Quarme enthusiastically. He must know. Founded in 1987 by GQA, his longstanding and award-winning architectural practice, run by his co-director Natasha Brown, supported by his design guru Julian Cripps and a talented team, has worked on buildings of all sizes. from landmarks such as the Royal Hospital, Greenwich, to much smaller private homes, both rural and urban.
His clients include private owners as well as institutions such as the National Trust, the Royal Court and the British Museum. He also designed brand new country houses. As he explains: “We are interested in everything that challenges, and – whatever it is – our goal is to fulfill the dreams of our clients. We also strive to do things right, creating buildings that will stand the test of time and be admired in the future.
How do you approach the adaptation of a listed building?
The basis of all benevolent work with historic buildings is understanding. Without a proper understanding of what makes them architecturally and historically special, it is not possible to draw up effective or suitable plans. When properly studied, they are also a storehouse of technical ideas and life experience. Therefore, our first task is always to explore the history of the building as revealed by the archives and the fabric. It is through the rigor of this process that the practice is able to maintain a trusting relationship with both Historic England and conservation officers that has developed over the years.
Work in country estates is fraught with special difficulties?
Historic estates are an integral part of the British landscape and history, so preparatory research is doubly important. However, we also recognize that they must remain functioning businesses and family homes. The particular pleasure of working with them is that our clients are committed to the future of their estates and want to do everything to the highest standards and with a long-term perspective.
How can you adapt buildings that are protected by their monument status?
Sensitive creativity. These buildings are a patchwork of changes made over the centuries and we are committed to continuing this process of benevolent development guided by SPAB principles to ensure they meet modern needs. This may include distribution and restoration of features, as well as new architectural additions and resilience. The relationship of a building to its surroundings can also be transformed, and we work with many award-winning landscape architects and designers.
Does the practice have a favorite era?
No, diversity is the seasoning for life. The housing stock of London, however, has made us natural specialists in Georgian building. Outside of London, we work on everything from the Middle Ages to Modernism and, of course, we design new buildings. However, whatever we work on, we try to balance the overall vision with attention to detail. These two aspects are inextricably linked because if you don’t think through the details, the overall design will be wrong. You cannot compromise on any of them, and you need to plan with special attention to both.
Can you describe your work?
In all our work, we strive for design that is timeless. To achieve this in a listed building, historical and contemporary elements must complement each other in a way that meets the expectations of the owners. Historic buildings are treasure troves – in each project, you discover aspects of its history that have been lost or hidden. Part of our job is to find and celebrate them with our customers, and help create new stories for future generations.
Who is your ideal client?
Someone who is willing to share their vision at every stage of the project, so ideally it should be someone who is into architecture and landscape; who seek quality in everything – be it design, construction or materials – and admire the craftsmanship. In short, we love passionate clients.
For more information, call 020–7582 0748, visit www.quarme.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.