Five questions for creatives

Simon Devlin

Simon Devlin is a RIBA chartered professional architect with almost 20 years of experience in the construction industry. He has worked in Liverpool, Birmingham and more recently in St Neots, where he has set up his own RIBA chartered practice.

Throughout his career he has worked on a wide spectrum of projects, from the design and creation of an electricity substation and an inner-city synagogue, to high-end London domestic extensions and large residential developments. Geographically, his current projects are in the home counties and East Anglia and include large barn conversions, listed building consents, domestic extensions and two new school buildings.

Simon has a meticulous attention to detail and his designs combine innovative and imaginative creativity with common sense, practicable solutions. Although he brings his own wealth of knowledge and experience to the project, Simon also works closely with his clients to ensure their ideas, requirements and desires are reflected in the final build.

How did you get into the creative industry, and was there a defining point in your career that led you on that path?

I have been in the construction industry since the age of 16, when I began an architectural technician apprenticeship with a design and construction firm. This gave me solid technical background knowledge for working in the architectural field. However, I had always been creative and felt I wanted to develop this further. I completed my four-year part-time training while working in the company, then decided to change direction and go to university to study architecture.

Studying architecture is a long process (seven years) and in some ways, continues today, because with every client, site and building I learn something new, I develop ideas or use new materials. Although the length of the course is more than most, I learnt to develop my creativity, and explore my tastes and ideologies, and express them either in a drawing, a model or a building.

I have been lucky to work for some truly creative practices over my career. All have assisted in my development as an architect and enabled me to gain the skills necessary to complete projects to the highest standards. Having a broad range of experiences at these practices gave me an insight into how to run a practice, and enabled me to set out on my current path.

Is there anything you would change in your current career and if so why?

The business is only a year old and so every day is still new and exciting. I wouldn’t change being an architect, and working for myself has been a real breath of fresh air. I have learned so much over the course of this year, mainly on running a business, promoting myself and developing a good network of professionals.

If I could change something in my career it would be to have a second pair of hands attached to me so that I could then double my output! As this is medically not forthcoming I am grateful for how things have gone so far!

Where do you see yourself, and your career in five years time?

What a question! My wife asks me every day – “what are we going to do today?”, to which I always respond – “attempt to take over the world like we always do!”.

I am keen on developing the business further and growing to become an established practice that is renowned for designing original and interesting buildings. I want to ensure every client enjoys the process and I achieve the building and spaces they dreamt about.

The practice has a varied portfolio of work from new build education facilities and barn conversions to domestic extensions. Once completed, I will be able to demonstrate how we can deliver in a variety of sectors, and how each project represents the characters of the site, clients and the practice.

If in five years I have designed and built a one-off private house, gained our first international project, and secured industry recognition then I will be amazingly happy.

Are there any rules or habits that help you do your job more efficiently?

I don’t really have anything special. Every day I start by reviewing each project and ensuring I keep on top of each different stage. Where one project is just starting with sketches and briefing required, another project could be on site where I need to visit and review the works, or maybe resolve an issue. So really at present organisation is key.

I like to give myself a mind break between processes otherwise I find I run the risk of burning out and hitting a mental brick wall. So, altering between, say, hand sketching and compiling written reports helps.

The other is communication. I work with other professionals during a project (e.g. structural engineer, acoustics, etc.) so ensuring a high level of communication is important. This is the same with the clients so that they are a part of the whole process and there are no surprises along the way!

What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in the creative industry?

I would always say passion is key, especially in architecture. The seven-year course sees a hell of a lot of people drop out. However, doing the architecture course does give a sound basis for other creative industries. People I know through my career have gone on to form fashion labels, work for film studios or large tech giants. It gives a solid footing and broadens your creativity.

I really love exploring creative spaces and items, soaking in as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to then put something down on paper and create your own.

I once designed a staircase for a private house and was adamant it would work and sketched out several iterations, reviewed the details, convinced the client, convinced the structural engineer and now the stair sits comfortably in their home as an expression of creativity!

Be expressive. Be vocal. Be honest. Do work hard. Do learn. Don’t give up. Oh and enjoy it – as it will become you!

You can view more of Devlin Architect’s work on their website.