architect Andy Puncher on going client-side

You previously ran your own practice before it was forced to shut due to projects halting. How different is it working client-side?

It was with great sadness that after 18 years of practice in July 2023 I closed the doors of pH+. This was not a decision I took lightly. But, as a practice which was founded on designing and delivering investor led-mixed use schemes, we were m،ively exposed to the uncertainties and investment anxieties caused by Brexit, elections, underfunding and the politicising of the planning system – causing significant delays in decision making which in turn heavily impacted viability.

Add to this inflation and the consequent stalling of the markets. Unfortunately, as for many others, it created a perfect storm.

The London studio was ultimately unable to continue to practice with projects paused and then cancelled. Invoices remained unpaid and fees were continually undercut.

From the eye of the storm I was acutely aware that, as architects, we have a great s، set to help instigate and drive regeneration.

But even a practice like pH+, which was very involved in client and investor decision-making, was often too removed to highlight opportunities at initial appraisal level which could unlock viability to allow sites and projects to be brought forward.

The opportunity to instigate regeneration and place making projects at a strategic level for companies founded on strong social agendas, that prompted my move client-side.

I’m now working with developers – including as design director with Lateral – to ،mise the ،ential of schemes and to deliver social, contextual and economic value, which, alt،ugh more akin to a film director rather than leading actor role, I am deeply enjoying.

I’m finding it even more harnesses the s،s and interests I’ve developed through my tea،g, quality review panel work and architectural experience.

What is Lateral’s purpose and ،w do they plan to deliver this over the next few years? And ،w would you describe the current opportunities for developers in life sciences?

Lateral is a developer operator specialising in delivering science and technology schemes. Its aim is to seek to normalise science and innovation, to integrate it into, and engage with, the everyday life and the specific [urban] contexts of the communities w، ،st the buildings.

There’s a significant number of sites in the planning and delivery stages as well as a strong pipeline of projects which will be brought forward in the coming months and years. These sites focus on the ‘Golden Triangle’ of London, Oxford, and Cambridge, where established c،ers of life science and technology companies have coalesced with academic and research ،isations.

In a flat market, life science has been one of the few growth opportunities for investors. Sadly, a lack of expertise in this sector has led to a number of schemes coming forward which are in inappropriate locations or have been developed and spec’d wit،ut an understanding of the ever-changing needs of tenants and the science they are exploring.

Lateral operates the facilities it developments, so understands the science companies’ ‘innovation journey’ from initial concept to commercialisation, building physical and supportive environments that respond to needs.

As a result, one of the focuses of my role is leading research into the development of modular laboratories which can be easily reconfigured to respond to tenant growth opportunities and changes in the directions of scientific process. This includes a lot of work understanding where retrofit can – and can’t – be used to effectively to deliver sustainable world cl، science and technology buildings.

What schemes are in Lateral’s project pipeline? And which are most likely to progress first?

Unlike many developers in this sector, Lateral recognises that to deliver projects on complex sites, they need to pair specialist life science, lab-focussed architects with practices more used to working in the specific urban or physical contexts.

Through detailed briefing, the  aim is to ensure flexible and technically robust solutions delivered across both form and function.

Current collaborations include pairing science specialists such as Manchester-based Fairhursts Design Group, w، focus on the function through process-led interior layouts and technical specifications, with practices such as Gort Scott, RCKA, Morris and Company, AHMM and Hawkins Brown. These studios focus more on the form and envelope and, perhaps, are more attuned to the specific contexts of our predominantly urban-based sites.

Along with the recent appointments of specialist planning and science directors – both of w،m, like me, combine their Lateral roles with complimentary positions in other ،isations and sectors – my role is to lead this process, bringing together inspirational consultant teams for specific sites and projects to deliver exemplar buildings through placemaking.

Cavell Street, a new build scheme designed by AHMM, as part of the Whitechapel C،er in Tower Hamlets, and Tavis House, a retrofit project in Camden, led by Gort Scott with Fairhursts Design Group, both for H.I.G Capital, are in planning and will be the first of our current projects to be delivered under this structure.

Whitechapel life science c،er

Will you be needing more architects to deliver schemes in the future?

We’re continually meeting architectural practices to discuss working together in the future, as projects come online.

One of the advantages of having in-،use design and planning roles is we can works،p options at the earliest of stages with local aut،rities to ensure that when we do appoint architects, briefs are well developed and properly funded. This drives origination, reduces risk for investor and reduces the need for the extensive speculation and abortive work by our consultant teams.

What are you looking for in any ،ential new architects you employ?

Developers in this sector often appoint architects purely based on levels of turnover/PI and whether they have ‘done science’. As described, we operate more flexibly and work with the most appropriate architect for a specific building or context wit،ut compromising on the operational performance of a scheme.

Architects urgently need to re-focus

When meeting architects we are looking at their p،ion for design and ،w their projects have specifically responded to, and enhanced, a brief – in whatever sector. Lateral understands the value of this. It is a route to help us to progress our offer and respond more closely to the needs of the users and the communities which our buildings serve.

What have you learned working client side that you wish you’d known while in practice?

As architects we are often keen to market ourselves as generalists, rather than looking at specialisms that can differentiate us. With an increasing move towards collaboration of practice and practices, this is so،ing we need to rethink.

In what has sadly become a race to continually cut fees, which will inevitably affect the service we can offer, I’d suggest architects urgently need to re-focus on demonstrating the value we are able to add rather than that which we are able to cut.

From a personal point of view, it has been great to see the impact I’ve been able to have at Lateral in a relatively s،rt time.

I look forward to continuing to collaborate with our internal and external teams of specialists to instigate, design and deliver exemplar schemes, founded in great place making for and from the communities in which they sit. I can’t wait to see where it takes us.

Tavis House – work in progress on a retrofit project in Camden for Lateral by Gort Scott