Make Architects are a different kind of architecture practice. Founded in 2004 the employee owned practice works globally in London, Hong Kong and Sydney in pursuit of one purpose – to design the best places, spaces and buildings in the world. We’ve been speaking to Architect and Sustainability Lead Oliver Hall following his involvement in our recent event…

Make Architects has 150 employees across London, Hong Kong and Sydney, what do you credit to your international success and what makes your practice unique?

Make has always had a very open, approachable and collaborative approach which sees many clients coming back to us time and again. We’ve completed over 100 built projects in our 17 years, which we’re extremely proud of. We’re based in London, Hong Kong and Sydney but we see ourselves as One Make, with a democratic design approach that benefits from cross-collaboration with our colleagues working together on projects across the globe, providing flexibility in our working model, but also delivering the best creative ideas from other locations. This ‘One Make’ principle is also embodied in cross-studio events such as international presentations, charity events, and talks.

You are an employee-owned firm, who conduct an internally-democratic design process, what do you see as the core advantages of this approach and how can the role of cooperatives in the construction, property and design sectors be expanded?

Being an employee-owned firm from our inception in 2005 has ensured everyone is empowered to put forward their ideas, opinions, and passions. Make is very much a sum of its parts, rather than an individual figurehead. This structure gives all Makers freedom to take on roles and responsibilities on projects and initiatives which we are passionate about.

There is no one-size-fits-all ‘Make style’, no cookie-cutter approach. This means the systemic shift in design and performance driven by global acknowledgment of the climate emergency has been a relatively smooth transition for us. We already asked ourselves, “what’s best for the planet?”, but now we have a common frame of reference which all the construction, property and design sectors can get behind.

Employee ownership improves working environment, job satisfaction and business outcomes, as seen by the growth of employee ownership, up 28% in 2019. Construction in general lags behind other sectors when it comes to employee ownership, and the historical approach to design, planning, procurement and construction is often adversarial. I think the ability to empower the individual across the business is one of Make’s key successes which, if adopted sector-wide, would improve productivity, improve efficiency, enhance the working experience, and deliver more sustainable and high-quality projects.

Make’s Sustainability Initiative MakeNeutral was transformational on your approach to environmental design, how have you continued to advance your approach?  

Make Neutral is our in-house sustainability working group, set up to renew Make’s focus on sustainability in our designs and the practice itself. It’s made up of 20 volunteers from all three studios – London, Hong Kong and Sydney – and all types of roles, from project architects to front-of-house. The group has six primary action areas targeting specific challenges:

  • Internal education
  • Carbon reduction
  • Post-occupancy
  • Educating clients
  • ‘Integrated Studio’
  • ‘Assess, Analyse and Design’

In lieu of a full-time sustainability team, Make Neutral aims to equip every Maker with the information and skills they need to enact change.

The group meets monthly to discuss specific topics, whether it’s responding to a consultation, presenting research, or running through an embodied carbon assessment on a specific project. Outside of these sessions, members act as sustainability champions on their projects, sharing relevant new knowledge. In addition, action area sub-groups meet independently to push forward their agenda, which feeds into the wider group. For example, Integrated Studio has worked to reduce studio waste though measures such as eliminating single-use plastics from key suppliers and switching to 50% recycled filament for our 3D printers.

Make Neutral has implemented fundamental changes to the practice’s approach to sustainable design. This includes an education workshop programme covering topics such as environmental analysis tools and embodied carbon; sustainability reviews of projects at key early design stages; mandatory sustainability inductions for new starters; and setting out a framework for reducing our design impact through a Sustainable Design Toolkit.

The Toolkit challenges our project teams and provides guidance to our clients on what we want to achieve, and what they should be doing to help. This ensures every project can challenge a brief, with a view towards net zero carbon buildings that are socially and ecologically responsible.

What are some of the most significant upcoming projects that you have designed and how are they reflective of the development of your design philosophy?

For Make and for myself, personally, the evolution of work in North West England is extremely exciting. Some of the most interesting upcoming projects can be seen in Salford, initially through our work at New Bailey, with our first completed project in Greater Manchester. New Bailey Plot 1 exemplifies Make’s principle of reducing glazing, using a traditional brick aesthetic in an innovative way. This project is followed by two more at New Bailey, including Plot A3, which is designed with a focus on whole-life carbon, with a view to net zero and a commitment to the Better Building Partnership’s Design for Performance standard. This will ensure performance commitments are reported on annually in a transparent manner, which is crucial for closing the performance gap.

Crucially, though, we are leading the Salford Crescent Masterplan, which exemplifies Make’s design principles. It’s a collaborative masterplan between Salford City Council, the University of Salford, and The English Cities Fund – a £2.5bn, 240-acre major regeneration programme which will be delivered over the next 10+ years. It represents one of the largest development opportunities in the country and is the next major key development in the continuation of regeneration taking place across the city. Our masterplan vision is focused on the connectivity to the communities of Salford beyond the redline boundary of the site, with the development acting a catalyst for major new infrastructure projects which reconnect the city through walkable connections, prioritising sustainable transport modes. The masterplan’s high social value and ambitious sustainability targets need to be met as the masterplan evolves, rather than waiting for the complete vision. We want to take the city on the journey as the masterplan develops, ensuring it is a place for all from day one, not just at day 1000.

Thinking globally, in Australia we are adapting a heritage building in the centre of Sydney to create a five-star hotel. It is an amazing piece of adaptive reuse, which is so important for the future of our built environment.

You undertake significant research and development efforts and also operate a think tank, the Future Spaces Foundation – what are some of the innovations that this has lead to?

The brilliant thing about the FSF is the connections and collaborations it has created. We’ve talked to Gleeds, The Building Centre, New London Architecture and clients about our most recent study into loneliness and for each campaign we run a student competition which has become global over the years and that is fascinating too, to see how issues affect different regions – sometimes in different ways, sometimes not. The student’s creativity in tackling problems within our built environment is always worth celebrating too.

How was your experience at the recent Fireside Chat event and how did it enable you to reach new firms in the industry?

The Fireside Chat was a great opportunity to communicate the challenges we face within our respective professions around the common goal of net zero carbon. The traditional presentation format, whilst great for communicating information, sometimes doesn’t get below the surface or show the types of collaboration and conversations which drive the industry forward. Interestingly, the conversation we had is the type of thing that’s happening all across the industry right now: How do you balance carbon and cost? What are the implications of designing to targets only very few projects have actually achieved? How do you balance aesthetic choice whilst minimising embodied carbon?

It’s important that when we have a common goal to battle climate change, we need empathy between professions and to understand how each person sees the best route to reduce carbon. As we saw during the chat, we all want the same thing, but there is a debate about how best to get there. To keep the type of high-quality, ambitious and viable development the market demands, whilst achieving the targets we set ourselves, is a challenge across all professions.