Hugh Petter Tells the RIBA Journal his Top Collaborators in their Contacts Book Series

September 8, 2023

Read this article on the RIBA Journal's website

The traditional architecture specialist’s go-to contacts include master stone-carvers, a young blacksmith and imaginative planning and heritage consultants. 

The Art Workers' Guild

This was where the arts & crafts movement started in the 1880s. When I was a student, I did my dissertation on the late work of the first generation of arts & crafts architects. I joined the guild 25 years ago. I was asked to be a trustee and chairman at a time when it was in financial difficulties and needed to recapitalise, which it did with the help of a bequest from architect Roderick Gradidge. It’s now growing again, is a hive of activity and is attracting younger members in its role as a lynchpin for the crafts world. I am proud to have been able to help give it a new lease of life.

It is an incredible pool of people. Guild members are all peer group reviewed and are at the top of their game. More than 80 crafts are represented and I use its network to find all sorts of craftspeople including carvers, ironworkers, stained-glass artists and letter-cutters.

When I needed a flat colour artist to produce a poster for a project for the Duchy of Cornwall, I found Andrew Davidson. I have done numerous projects with master carver Charlie Gurrey who is a fellow member. He modelled an ostrich-feather capital for the new Pavilion Portico we designed at the Oval Cricket Ground in Kensington. I met a brilliant young metalworker and blacksmith, Dewi Prysor, some years ago and have done several projects with him. He is now flourishing as a member of the guild.

Andrew Cameron

Andy’s a highways guru who learnt his craft at Poundbury and co-wrote Manual for Streets when at WSP. He now has his own company and gets piloted into projects to work on highway matters.

I’ve known Andy for over 30 years from when he was working at Alan Baxter. We both share a fascination and passion for creating really good, characterful urban places. Andy has a profound understanding of urban design, tempered with the technical knowledge of a highways engineer and so is invaluable in helping local authority officers to think outside the box in terms of the kind of details they might otherwise require.

I’ve been working with him at Nansledan – an urban extension to Newquay, which I’m masterplanning for the Duchy of Cornwall. Here we have an LDO (local development order) for 4,000 homes – the largest granted to date in the UK.

At Nansledan, Andy and I promote shared surface streets to regulate traffic speeds naturally, as well as parking courts in the middle of urban blocks, which are inhabited and designed so people can walk through them. In these ways, they are naturally policed and used as an integral part of the town’s fabric.

A lot of local authority officers are nervous about parking courts. But Andy and I together engage with officers at local authorities and explain to them what the key attributes are to make them safe and useful as part of a dense mixed-use urban environment.

Andy helped develop a suite of key highways details for Nansledan and these are now being adopted all over Cornwall. We’re managing traffic speeds naturally through good design. If roads are properly designed, drivers will be more cautious. We worked out the traffic speeds we wanted on each section of the main streets and then looked at how to design those roads to achieve these without signs everywhere. For example, when you turn off the main street, you drive up and over the pavement which acts as a speed bump and so prioritises pedestrians and cyclists over motorcars.

The development is a 40-year project. So far we’ve finished 600 houses, 30 per cent of which are affordable, and aim to create one employment space per house.

Roger Hepher

For complex planning matters I like to collaborate with Roger Hepher. He’s one of the most experienced planning consultants in the UK, having had his own firm (Hepher Dixon) before becoming national head of planning at Savills. He’s now at HGH Consulting. He’s a very clear and strategic thinker with a wise head and is really stimulating to work with.

For example, I’ve been working with him for two and a half years on a project in Norfolk. There, my client has created a 400ha deer park on the estate of Gunton Hall, which was long ago largely destroyed by fire. The park needs about £250,000 a year to sustain it annually, and our task was to find a way to secure this. Working with Roger, we came up with the idea of a management plan for the whole estate, tying parcels of land to individual houses around the edge of the estate and then, through a Section 106 agreement, requiring the owners of those houses to look after their area of the park in a consistent way. That left the centre of the park with no significant house to tie the land to, so there we proposed one substantial new dwelling tied to the majority of the parkland landscape. Anyone who could afford a house of the size we proposed could afford to maintain their piece of the park.

Although on the margins of all normal planning policy, in our mind this is a great way of securing the future of a designed landscape where the main house had disappeared. We now have buy-in from Historic England and the Georgian Group, which agree that it’s a good model in such circumstances. The council is also on board and we are now discussing the fine detail of the Section 106 legal agreement. We wouldn’t have got to this point without Roger.

Our client loves the picturesque, and the plan is that the new house, where he will live, will be designed in the 18th-century Gothic style of Strawberry Hill.

Chris Miele

Chris Miele of Montagu Evans is my go-to heritage consultant. I’ve worked with him on projects for more than 10 years. As an ex-trustee of the Georgian Group, I’m pretty confident handling historic buildings. But on very difficult sites where there are significant heritage issues, Chris adds the extra firepower I need to help put forward the most compelling case to the regulating authorities.

He’s a very experienced and articulate expert witness with a deep knowledge of both heritage matters and planning policy. There can be a temptation to jump straight into the design but on heritage projects, it’s really important to understand properly the significance of the building first and the policy context. Chris is qualified both as a planner and a heritage consultant and so is ideally placed to give clear strategic advice.

I think we’re a great team. We got planning permission for Park View, a development of 300 homes and workspace for the Blenheim Estate in Oxfordshire right next to a World Heritage Site and a scheduled monument when a previous scheme by others on the same site for 200 homes had been refused.

At Chettle House in Dorset, we were asked to replace a scruffy outbuilding with two cottages after two schemes by other architects had failed to get planning permission and listed building consent. We had previously restored and converted the Grade I listed house back into one property. Chris helped us to secure the support of both the local authority and Historic England, working as a team with our in-house historian Helen Lawrence-Beaton.

Chris and I like to work collaboratively with planners and Historic England from day one of a project using Planning Performance Agreements. These help to get all relevant interests aligned quickly and so save time down the line; the costs involved are negligible, and the confidence that can grow in the project team can help reduce the number of conditions attached to any consent.

Granite Le Pelley

Based in Guernsey, Granite Le Pelley is the best stone specialist I’ve ever worked with – and I’ve worked with quite a few. I’ve collaborated with Phil Le Roy and Richard Breban there for 15 years. Projects include an upmarket apartment building on the harbour at St Helier in Jersey and a significant new house on the clifftop.

When you’re working in a maritime environment, it’s vital you choose a stone that doesn’t degrade because of the salt. Granite Le Pelley is highly skilled at helping us choose not only the right stone but the right bed of the right stone to suit the local context. For another residential project in Guernsey, Phil helped us choose Cadeby, a Derbyshire limestone, which is one of the very few limestones that doesn’t degrade in maritime climates.

We go with Granite Le Pelley to the quarry to choose the stone. Then, once the stone block has been delivered to the stone yard, I’ll go to the yard with them and we’ll work together to discuss weathering and the best way to approach the stone with the cutters. It’s about striking a balance between the aesthetic range we’re after and making sure that we don’t throw too much stone away during the cutting. Some stone specialists are really scientists with limited aesthetic sense. In contrast, Granite Le Pelley makes every effort to understand the architectural intent and then to work closely with the consultant team to design and deliver the building to an exceptional standard.

If you use the right bed of limestone, you don’t need to use any lead with it. I have a pathological hatred of lead flashing on projecting stone details - it looks so much more beautiful when it’s just stone! In terms of joints, my preference is for no more than 3mm joints with matching lime putty. You need a specialist like Granite Le Pelley to achieve that level of refinement and to help design the fixing to the substrate behind.

Hugh Petter is a director at ADAM Architecture. His book Living Tradition: The Architecture and Urbanism of Hugh Petter (Triglyph Books) is published on October 5 2023.