It’s often said that the friends you make at university are the ones you keep for life. And in the case of Archiphonic, the story is no different.
Studying Architecture at Liverpool John Moores University, Adam and Dave made their connection not only surrounding a dedication to design – but because of a passion, they shared for live music. Both being bass guitarists, the duo set off in pursuit of their musical ambitions along-side their architectural studies back in the early noughties. What this experience gave them, was a first-hand view of “what it meant to create memories in spaces, performing separately in venues large and small across the country.” And it was these experiences that directed a purpose and link between their two passions which later came to form their business; ArchiPhonic, which was set up in 2012.
Confucius once said, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without”, it produces a soulful connection, creating memories and a feeling that often is difficult to put into words. So can taking the concept of music and applying it to architecture create the same experience through environment? This is the approach that creates the foundations of who ArchiPhonic are and why they exist, “we wanted to establish an architectural design practice whose work was rooted in principles derived from music and committed to creating spaces where memories could come to life,” explains Adam.
“Scale, rhythm, proportion and communication all play a part in our architectural design process. Rhythm relates to the patterns that can be found in the shapes or structural elements in architecture, while the right proportions of materials in architectural design can create harmony and balance in a space, in the same way, notes and intervals create harmony in music… Just as music conveys a particular experience or emotion to its listener and has the power to evoke memories, our buildings and designs communicate a particular use or experience of the space to its inhabitants, so they can fill it with memories and make it their place.”
Using the principles of music is what underpins ArchiPhonic, and is something that the design firm still remain true to today; delivering sustainable, residential projects with long-term functionality and harmonious spaces in the residential sector. It is also an approach that sets them apart from other firms, in terms of how they build client relationships and their outlook on their projects. “Applying the principles of music to architectural design means we can have very unique creative outputs, even in situations where a job seems straightforward. This approach helps the team think differently about the possibilities of a space and that in turn helps us to create solutions that combine functionality and aesthetic appeal and a bit of heart too,” Adam emphasises.
The knowledge and skill that ArchiPhonic can provide spans over a wide range; having involvement in the entire process of designing buildings, urban landscapes and just about anything else with architectural elements. “That means that as well as houses, flats, offices, aviation and religious buildings, we have also designed installations for experiential activities and really unique stage sets for festivals, gigs and awards ceremonies – as well as the actual awards and mementoes being handed out,” Dave tells us. And taking account of such a diverse business means that the team’s creativity and innovation are constantly flexing and being exercised.
Naturally, maintaining such wide variety of projects creates a diverse client base; from private landlords to festival organisers. For each client, the architectural firm provides extensive design, construction and project management services through an initiative to deliver cost-effective design solutions and spaces that don’t disappoint in terms of style, sustainability and long-term functionality. This delivery is something that is extremely important to ArchiPhonic and their ethos.“ We’ve never failed to deliver because we have a fantastic, tenacious and highly skilled team that takes great pride in its work.”
Over the past half a dozen years since setting up, despite being a small and fairly new company, ArchiPhonic have landed themselves some huge, globally acclaimed projects; a moment that Adam, describes as a “brilliant – but slightly terrifying”. And in these highly pressurised situations, people revert back to their ‘flight or fight’ instincts; either dodging them and staying within their comfort zone or rising to the challenge with everything they’ve got. And it is the latter that the co-founder describes within their team culture. “It’s that kind of opportunity, with a time pressure and the highest of expectations on it, that really brings us together as a team. We’ve never failed to deliver because we have a fantastic, tenacious and highly skilled team that takes great pride in its work.” This team approach and mindset is something of a highlight for both Adam and Dave, who view this mentality in times of pressure one of the company’s ‘best moments’.
But having been in action since 2012, the best bits don’t stop there. Dave describes how working on inspiring and challenging projects that allow people to improve their quality of life within their home is a standout moment for him. By understanding the needs of the client and providing the best use of the space and ensuring that the solution will work for the long-term, “we often see ourselves as creating a framework or canvas for our clients, a space where they don’t need to think about the design and can just enjoy living there and making memories.”
One renovation in particular that provided purpose for both a family and an unlivable space in Birkenhead became a highlight for the team, providing them with a feeling of accomplishment within its ultimate cause. And it was a project that came in the form of an Edwardian terraced house; “it had damp, poor light and the layout meant that there was limited usable space,” reflects Dave. Filling the space with brightness and designing areas for the family to congregate allowed the residents to turn it into their own place and make their own memories. Something that ArchiPhonic often get to see as an integral part of their client relationship, “going back when a client or tenant is in the property – something we often get to do – is always an amazing feeling as we can see our work achieving its ultimate purpose – creating functional yet stylish spaces where people can make memories.”
From initiatives that provide purpose for others, to fulfilling a project filled with personal experience, the team were also fortunate to work on a development that surrounded nostalgia and a love for their original connection of bass guitar playing. “We were also really happy to be approached about redesigning the scheme at Crash Rehearsal Studios in Liverpool,” Adam recalls. “It has a very special place in our hearts as we practised there for years and it’s the origin of so much great music coming out of the city.” Yet another project that provided career highlights that brought together the love for music, and the ability to design functional spaces.
It’s unsurprising for a firm who base their design approach on music, successfully complete global projects and passionately speak about the clients they work alongside, that they describe themselves as a “fun, creative and hard-working bunch”, with a commitment to their work being their first unifying factor, but the second being music.
“We’re also not your traditional suited-and-booted and super formal firm, from our offices to the way we dress – not that there is anything wrong with the formal approach, but it’s not what everyone wants or needs. We’re a team of absolute professionals (and of course we do suit up at appropriate times!) but we prefer to take a more relaxed approach,” Adam admits. “This has always been well received by clients and the various suppliers and public bodies we work with. It’s nice to offer an alternative to the industry ‘norm’ and it means we’re all working in an environment that we all feel comfortable in, which helps us to produce great work.”
This bunch may appear informal and relaxed, but the real force behind this comfortable environment with the ability to produce great work is the collaboration within the team. “The best thing about our team is that we work so well together. Nothing we do is down to an individual – it’s always down to the team.” Anything from divvying out a heavy workload, to making a brew… The teamwork as one well-oiled machine and are sure to celebrate their successes together.“ Her portfolio of work blew us away and while she’s only been with us for six months, she’s a key player in our practice.”
So, breaking down the team – who’s who? As we know, Adam and Dave are the co-founders of the company and built the foundations of friendship, leading to being business partners in university. Although the pair have so much in common, their backgrounds and interests within design set their job roles apart, Adam taking the lead on the conceptual design, while Dave comes from a family of building contractors and manages the technical side of the firm.
Providing us with an introduction to the youngest team member, James, Adam and Dave explain his fascination in architectural history and traditional construction methods: “He will do everything he can to ensure original features are celebrated and that any changes fit with the original period”. He also doesn’t leave the team short of conversation, being able to talk about his many hobbies, from skydiving to playing the ukulele. What a musically talented bunch; watch out for the up and coming Archiphonics band!
The fourth member of the team’s experience is also firmly rooted in music. Ionna’s Masters’ project surrounded creating a music village within a festival by setting spaces for performances. “Her portfolio of work blew us away and while she’s only been with us for six months, she’s a key player in our practice.”
Despite Archiphonic being built on the principles of music and each one of the current team members having a connection in their background to music – design concept lead, Adam says “believe it or not, a musical background isn’t a requirement!” when the team are recruiting for new talent. They do, however, look for the following three key skills:
To be thick-skinned – “This doesn’t mean they can’t be fun, friendly, quiet or sensitive, it’s just that the industry we are in can be quite harsh and unforgiving. You get a lot of knock backs and can deal with some difficult characters – not to mention challenging projects. You need to be able to learn to deal with all that and not let it impact you generally. It’s not personal, it’s just the way the business it.”
Be a team player – “it’s important that we work in an environment of mutual respect for one another’s ideas and contributions”, especially when working in such a tight-knit team.
Confidence and creativity alongside working well under pressure – Not only to fulfil the variety of projects that Archiphonic complete, but also because “we have quite an intense recruitment process (which we are kicking off again soon as we have some vacancies to fill) which involves, first of all, calling a telephone number and leave a voicemail answering a set of key questions. That puts a lot of people off immediately and that is fine as we know people who couldn’t or didn’t want to do that wouldn’t be quite right for us. We need people that are prepared to do something a bit different.”“ Regardless of position in the company, everyone has a voice. We discuss everything and listen to all ideas as they all have equal validity...”
Within this intense recruitment process, once successfully getting through the phone call stage, the team at ArchiPhonic hold a group interview whereby they have the ability to see who works well within a collaborative setting, teasing out competitive nature and personalities. Following this, a design challenge is then set, usually based on what was once an ArchiPhonic live project. “We provide them with the brief, photos and site details and give them an hour to draw everything” Adam explains, and to end they round it off with a presentation to one another.
For the design firm, this is a process that has proven over the years to bring in talent that not only delivers in terms of their projects – but also culturally fits into the team as if they’ve always been a part of the furniture. And these candidates tend to be the ones that thoroughly enjoy the intensity of the recruitment process as it has been designed to be a condensed representation of the working day. Not only does it give the firm a good idea of who you are, you get to experience first-hand what your day-to-day could look like.
Once a candidate makes it through this process, what can they expect from the culture that the team have built within the firm? And the answer is one of mutual respect and support toward one another. “Work-life balance is key. A happy, well-rested team that gets to spend time with friends and indulging in hobbies is far more productive and creative than a burnt-out one that is living on a couple of hours sleep.” Sounds easy, right? But the group work incredibly hard to plan their projects meticulously to that they can be complete within office hours and allow each other time away from work to have that all-important R&R time.
Not only are ArchiPhonic complete advocates for leaving the midnight oil locked away, but also for presenting support in the face of idea generation; a discussion that remains inclusive of the entire team. “Regardless of position in the company, everyone has a voice. We discuss everything and listen to all ideas as they all have equal validity – we’re from a range of backgrounds and we have such different experience that we’d be foolish not to.” And the same goes for challenging ideas. Keeping the mindset taught to them in Liverpool John Moores – working through design reviews with discussion and the concept that no idea is ‘wrong’.
As we know, music is something that runs deeply through the veins of both the co-founders and the design firm. But something that people often don’t know about the duo, is that the truth behind the musical pursuit is one that goes further than many realise. Both having toured the country (and beyond) as musicians, Adam has played in the Manchester Arena and Dave still channels his love for bass playing and being on stage in a band called ‘Red Men Don’t Walk”.
Other than continuing to scratch the musical itch, if you will – what else is on the horizon for Archiphonic? As well as a sparkly new website and office refresh, the team recently also won an exciting new project working on a 38-unit student accommodation block. “So, we are expanding the team due to that and other new projects, which is very exciting. We are recruiting an architectural designer and an architectural technician in our usual fashion – so we’re looking forward to meeting some new industry talent and seeing how they respond to our process!”