‘The joke that cycling is the new golf seems to be true’

Practice name Roach Matthews
Based Bermondsey, south London
Founded March 2021
Main people James Roach and Andy Matthews

Where have you come from?
In a moment of serendipity, we agreed to start Roach Matthews over a curry and beer in south London. We met through cycling and somehow knew this was the right time, despite not discussing the idea previously. We share similar values ​​and goals and, importantly, have complementary skills, but most of all we wanted to make some really good architecture together.

We both worked at Rick Mather Architects on several projects and competitions. James later worked at Knox Bhavan Architects and Andy at Pitman Tozer Architects and Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt.

What work do you have and what kind of projects are you looking for?
We love challenging projects with good clients and want to keep doing that, regardless of sector. We love solving problems in a pragmatic way.

We currently have a range of work, including new-build private houses, a Class Q barn conversion, café and restaurant fit-outs, as well as a number of residential alteration and extension projects. We have experience with heritage and cultural work and have recently started a feasibility study on a Second World War ammunition store, later used as a boat workshop, in Suffolk. We’re really enjoying the direct hands-on nature of it all, the variety of scale, and the challenges it brings. It has been great to apply our bigger practice experience to our smaller practice and projects. In the future we want to work on housing projects, especially on tricky backland sites.

Friends and former employers have all been generous in referring work to us

We take care of our physical and mental wellbeing and are comfortable saying no to projects; also we are careful of over-engaging in competitions, instead of being selective about which ones we enter as we grow.

Our work to date has come from talking to people in our network and referrals from friends and former employers. Ström Architects, Tigg Coll Architects and Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt have all been particularly generous in referring work to us. We hope to be able to do the same for others at some point.

Are you being asked to do more retrofit work? And are you steering clients in this direction?
Very much so! It is being discussed a lot more and people generally seem to be much more aware of it. We always steer people to be more ambitious about the extent of the retrofit on existing properties or the performance of any new fabric, regardless of their existing knowledge.

We have a few retrofit projects in the studio, one of which is a deep retrofit – a full strip-out and start again with air source heat pumps, photovoltaics, battery storage and upgraded thermal envelope of a Victorian purpose-built flat. Other projects are often a lighter touch, but we can apply principles learned from the more ambitious ones to almost all the others. They’re often very useful research tools and we feel we are developing important skills for carbon reduction, both embodied and in use.

We love intelligently solving a plan and one of the best ways of reducing carbon is to avoid, or reduce, the need for new development when the existing spaces can be reconfigured. We have a long list of aims for our projects to ensure the work is as ethically sound as possible.

Roach Matthews home extension visualisation

Source:Architecture on Paper

What are your ambitions?
We want to be recognised as good architects with a reputation for quality and rigour.

A healthy studio culture and environment is crucial. We want to grow organically, and that growth is driven by the quality of work, not a growth mindset. A team of 12-15 people would be a good size from our previous experiences. As we grow, we want the team to be made up of diverse characters with differing skills, backgrounds, and opinions. The most important thing for us is that our team share our ethos, values, and goals, as well as drive our work forward.

London is very much home; However, we would love to work all over the world.

What are the biggest challenges facing yourself as a start-up and the profession generally?
Focus, cash flow, doing everything, communication.

Knowing what to focus on and when is essential, as there is just so much to do as a small studio. It is very easy to lose focus and spread yourself too thinly. Prioritising the design work and intelligently solving problems for our clients generally looks after the cash flow.

We don’t do everything ourselves and recognise where we add value and where we don’t. From day one we agreed not to pretend we’re expert at all things. We rely on others to cover the areas that we shouldn’t be doing – graphic design, web design, photography, dimensional surveys, strategic business guidance, PR, and so on. We’ve also tried to do things properly from the start, in terms of systems and processes, again trying to apply lessons learned from larger organisations.

From day one we agreed not to pretend we’re experts at all things

The importance of communicating properly between us and with others can’t be underestimated. We always find communication helps solve the most difficult problems but is often the first thing to break down. We always want to be better at communicating.

The above are all nice problems to have and will get easier over time.

One of the best pieces of advice we had about starting up was from a former photography client, who simply said: ‘There’s no right time to go; you just have to fully commit to it and get on with it.’ And she was right! We did commit and are having so much fun with our work as a result.

We haven’t felt the effects of a downturn yet and we’re hopeful of a positive future as we move out of the pandemic.

Which scheme, completed in the past five years, has inspired you most?
The Weston, Yorkshire Sculpture Park by Feilden Fowls. We have long been admirers of the work and processes of Feilden Fowls and loved watching that project develop. The materiality, spatial quality, and attention to detail are fantastic.

The Weston 37 Peter Cook

The Weston, Yorkshire Sculpture Park by Feilden Fowles Architects

Source: Peter Cook

How are you marketing yourselves?
Most of our work has come from connecting with people while cycling. The joke that cycling is the new golf seems to be somewhat true, unfortunately.

At one point we found that 75 per cent of our leads came from our cycling network. We use a CRM to track where all our leads originate, our success rate and other metrics, which gives us some insight into what works. We use social media to present smaller updates and enjoy some success and engagement, but we see this as more general marketing and profile-raising.

The joke that cycling is the new golf seems to be true

We like to arrange direct meetings with potential clients to talk through our portfolio as well as public speaking opportunities. We feel that the investment in a professionally designed brand identity for our launch was invaluable.

Meeting people face-to-face is by far the best marketing tool for us.

Website address www.roachmatthews.com

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