Belfast Telegraph

Architects drawing up their own design for life

Architect Paul Millar says there's life beyond the housing market as recent projects prove

The implosion of the housing market could perhaps have signalled a death knell for many architecture firms.

But, as Paul Millar from Hamilton Architects points out, there's life beyond the troubled market - which includes some rather exciting projects.

Business is steady which is encouraging in the current climate. We are fortunate to have both public and private sector clients and are currently working on a good range of projects in the education, health, community, sports stadia, residential and hotel sectors.

The practice has been successful in winning major projects such as the Ulster Museum, the Crescent Arts Centre restoration, and design support for the Giant's Causeway Visitor's Centre. We also have a number of ongoing projects for the Belfast HSC Trust in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

The industry we work in, like so many others, has been affected by the economic downturn and as a result has become more competitive. When we are competing for new work we always focus on quality as well as price. This leads to much better design and construction.

We have just been appointed by The Trevor Osborne Group to design a new luxury boutique hotel as part of the restoration and regeneration of Armagh Gaol which will be an exciting project.

We are already working as conservation architects on the restoration of the listed buildings within the site, so we are delighted to also be commissioned as architects for the hotel.

Further afield at Clonmel, south Tipperary, we are designing a new state of the art greyhound stadium, with another one under construction in Limerick.

In the very near future work will start on our new larger office in Belfast city centre as we have outgrown our current premises. We are confident that when funding becomes more readily available over the next few years, projects which have been put on hold will be released, providing more opportunities for us to expand, diversify and invest in the future. Recently we were re-appointed to the Government Framework and are confident that work will flow from that.

The primary challenge for any architect is to satisfy their clients' needs and requirements.

Then comes designing buildings to achieve planning approval, although I would acknowledge the Planning Service has noticeably improved recently, both in terms of access and timescale. The third main challenge is the lack of funding available to clients to take their projects forward in the current climate. There's no doubt that the downturn in the economy has had a drastic affect on many businesses and industry sectors. Our industry hasn't escaped unscathed. On the bright side, house prices appear to have stabilised and perhaps this is some indication that the level of borrowing is improving. I do believe however that it will take at least another 12 months before we see any real improvement in the economy.

I was partner-in-charge of the £17.7m Ulster Museum refurbishment project, with the overall responsibility for ensuring that project requirements were satisfied and that proper resources were in place to achieve this. The Ulster Museum project is without doubt our key piece of work this year and was very much a team effort, with my partner Mark Haslett leading the design team.

I also advised on planning and listed building consent as well as Heritage Lottery Funding (HLF). We were delighted that the project received HLF grant approval for £4.5m; the largest ever grant in Northern Ireland.

As a practice we are extremely proud of what we have achieved in this much loved building which is a legacy to the people of Northern Ireland. The visible delight of visitors is humbling and we are overwhelmed by the public's positive reaction.

Be prepared for the long haul. Qualifying as an architect involves a combination of academic studies and professional experience, and takes a minimum of seven years to complete, so you have to be very dedicated. An architect also must commit themselves to ongoing personal development and learning throughout their career.

I would advise anyone hoping to join the profession to talk to a local architect and get a sense of what the job entails. Like many jobs it is very different once you get into the working environment. Whilst design obviously plays a huge part, once a certain level is reached you also have to get to grips with how the business operates. I have found it a very rewarding career, particularly my work on historic buildings.

It would be irresponsible of us as building designers and planners not to provide clients with sustainable design solutions.

When designing a building we strive to achieve a high environmental quality standard.

In every project we aim to deliver an energy efficient building which will minimise revenue costs for clients.

One of our projects was awarded a commendation in the Sustainability at the RICS Awards.