Foster Lomas Architects: design starting from the site

Interview with Greg Lomas, founder with Will Foster of Foster Lomas Architects.

During this interview we touched on various topics some of which of current relevance, such as the impact of Covid-19 on architecture.

Listening to Greg Lomas  words, one clearly understands the attention this firm has for environmental issues and how the context can become not only a compositional reference, but a real resource for the procurement of materials.The architects’ passion for crafts is proved by the great number of exceptionally elegant and unique details.

How important is sustainability in your work?

It’s vital. I grew up in the 70s on a small holding in mid Wales, living a self-sufficient lifestyle that would now be known as ‘permaculture.’ For me, therefore, inhabitation and landscape are intrinsically linked to living sustainably. Creating an appropriate architecture that utilizes the resources on-site and has longevity is key. It isn’t just about energy. It’s about working with the surrounding landscape. A good example of this is creating a nature reserve or an educational facility that engages the local community as we did on the Isle of Man in the UK.

Is it possible to have a sustainable building without a big budget?

The most cost-effective way of achieving a sustainable building is to go for a fabric-first approach. Buildings can be well insulated by managing the solar gain, for instance. The solar gain can be harnessed in the winter and controlled in the summer. If you plan this properly, therefore, you can end up with a building that requires no heating and less maintenance.

During the design process, what kind of relationship do you have with the artisans? How important is it for an architect to have a deep knowledge of craft techniques?

It’s about a collaborative relationship where the artisan becomes a pivotal part of the creative process, offering ideas and solutions. Will (Foster) and I both have roots in various crafts which give us an insight into the skills required and the possibilities that are available, but as an architect, you don’t necessarily need a deep knowledge, what is required of you is an appreciation of the craft.

Now a question emerged from the latest world events. After the spread of Covid, do some customers have new needs related to home design? 

Since the pandemic, one of our clients changed their brief to include a gym and increased the emphasis on the outside spaces. The prospect of another pandemic may well bring people together with more multi-generational family units. People want to be closer to family and loved ones in case the worst happens again. I also expect increased interest in ‘off-grid living.’ This has been an aspiration for many clients in recent years and the pandemic may accelerate that trend.

Architects shape cities, buildings and decide how to experience space. Could the profession of architect play an important role in the battle against Covid?

The pandemic is a disruptive force and has focused us on what’s important in a city. It is more to do with city planning than architecture and the civic spaces are critical now in allowing people to socialise safely, exercise and nourish their mental health.

We are already seeing some people abandoning the city for a life in the country but that isn’t realistic for everybody. Cities are going to have to adapt and address the issues that have come out of Covid-19. How do we socialise? How will the economy operate? How do we look after each other? How do we work together? A focus on local living is a sustainable way of managing future pandemics but this also has the potential to diffuse economic growth more widely across cities and the UK as a whole.

Are there any materials you prefer?

Local materials. We recently gained permission for a new house in West Penwith in Cornwall, a protected Heritage Coastline and AONB (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) site, where we have sourced all the materials locally. Our ambition was to source everything within a 10-mile radius. We have a predilection for materials that can be worked by hand to create a tactile and poetic surface or elements within the project. The architectural experience is not just about the space that you create.  It’s also about the tiny details that you touch and you use every day, through which new memories and interactions are created.

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