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14 INSIGHTS


condensing communication channels and streamlining workflows. The strategic approach to BIM, for this practice, isn’t about experimentation. It’s about “investing in innovation, working with the standards, and making sure it’s adding value.” Adams states his mantra as follows: “Innovation isn’t something that just happens, it’s an activity that you engage in and do.”


BIM and best practice is gradually being embedded into the Niven design process, with an increasing number of projects making use of the technology. “We’ve got Liam [Needham] working on data validation, James [Anderson] looking at point clouds and photogrammetry; we’re looking at how to make the most of lumps of land, and working around employer information requirements.” Niven Architects’ interest in future-oriented solutions has seen it spill into other areas such as offsite and modern methods of construction, and increase its profile. They have been working in partnership with Teesside University and the Ministry of Building Innovation & Education, to develop a series of courses around advanced homes and the future of residential construction.


Exemplars The firm’s high-tech aspirations are countered by a keen sense of place, with the practice’s feet planted firmly in the Tees Valley. Beyond collaborating with local educational institutions, Crowe has made a point of embedding the practice into the community, working on a number of advisory boards and key initiatives to share management best practice and digital strategy knowledge with other local SMEs. Feethams, a leisure development in the town is proof of the architects’ profound understanding of the local milieu and its


demands, as Crowe explains: “We realised that Darlington was in desperate need of a retail development project – a lot of people were going outside of town for those facilities.” In 2011, the architects came up with a concept which doubled up on the number of parking spaces expected from the plot, proposed it to the council and developers, won through competitive tender, and saw the scheme constructed and fully complete by 2016. The development now provides a platform for growing the town’s night-time economy and delivers the gravitational pull for graduates which Crowe says is so important to his region’s success. The architects’ sensitivity to demand is coupled with a focus on sensitive design – as the project’s form demonstrates. Tapping into Darlington’s railway heritage, red brick railway arches were incorporated as a reference to the local vernacular, as well as providing a foundation to the floors above. Even as the practice continues to push the envelope with technology, Niven Architects are great advocates of long- established design principles, citing the greats such as Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright as key influences. “When you’re designing a building of scale,” says Crowe, “you need to create a strong base, a centrepiece, and a light top. Styles change but throughout you see this rhythm repeating itself.” The massing rationale specified by Crowe is equally representative of his approach, working from a solid foundation of tested principles, and barring ego from creeping in.


Combining this appreciation of refined forms with technological ambition and a welcoming embrace of change, Niven Architects has an extensive toolbox which makes it fit for the future challenges and disruptions facing the profession.


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ADF APRIL 2018


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