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12 INSIGHTS


Niven Architects PRACTICE PROFILE


A small practice with big ideas, Niven Architects is harnessing cutting-edge working approaches such as agile and lean alongside BIM, making it a force to be reckoned with in the north east. Sébastien Reed reports


N


iven Architects is a collective of 12 located in the north east town of Darlington. Since its foundation in 1984, the practice has morphed and fluctuated in size between a modest four designers up to 22 at one stage in its lifespan. Current owner Simon Crowe’s move to Niven was motivated primarily by what he says was the long-overdue prospect of “getting things done” – with the hope that working in a smaller practice would afford him more opportunity to see projects through. Following the 2008 economic downturn, Crowe (pictured, centre with John Adams, director, left and Karen Crowe, head of marketing, right) took over the management of Niven with a belief in a “strong design ethos” that has helped the practice to maintain its presence. “We work in all sectors,” explains Crowe. “When one sector is buoyant, others will be down. We move with the tide.” The firm has used the cyclic nature of procurement in the region to its own ends to develop resilience and hone skills across a range of different architectural typologies and clients.


From strength to strength Crowe outlines the tenets comprising Niven Architects’ philosophy: “We believe in strong design, strong project management, and a strong technological lead”. In applying these core values, the practice has produced an impressive total of 867 schemes since Crowe joined in 2003, ranging in cost from £500,000 up to £55m, with more currently in the pipeline. Deviating from the ‘two-track’ concept-execution model more frequently employed in larger cities across the UK and globally, the architect explains that things “don’t work like that in the north east.” Tees Valley projects tend to be seen through from design concept right the way to completion, says Crowe. In light of these regional dynamics, Niven fiercely apply their savvy project management skills to deliver projects effectively. “Balancing the right design, at the right cost, within the right timescales is one of our strengths,” explains Crowe. The architects attribute their skill in overseeing projects to the way they approach a brief – characterised by making time for, listening to, and being empathic to the stakeholders involved, as well as culminating a comprehensive and mutual understanding


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of the project among every individual working on the project. In Crowe’s words, “there’s no secret to it – if you listen to what they want, then you can deliver to the client what they’re after.”


Ahead of the curve “While I, personally, can find it difficult to keep up with the latest tech, the business certainly doesn’t,” Crowe laughs. Since 2010, led by a firm belief in the benefits of embracing change, Niven Architects have invested heavily in increasing their digital capabilities – including BIM. 2014 saw the launch of Niven Architects’ sister practice and digital consultancy BIM Strategy, now helmed by director John Adams, who joined the operation two years later. Adams’ background in product management for a 1000-strong multinational software house not only bolsters the practice’s management capacities, it also provides leadership in its pursuit of cutting edge architectural solutions.


Adams has worked hard to transplant working methodologies from his tech-focused past such as agile and lean to reform design management processes at Niven. Agile encourages working groups to scale their time to accommodate unexpected changes in circumstance. Adams explains: “It’s a robust, risk-averse, and fast way of delivering a project in a manner that’s flexible to change – put it together with BIM and you have a really powerful model.” Lean, on the other hand, is all about stripping out waste,


ADF APRIL 2018


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