Laura Carrara-Cagni of Edward Williams Architects answers ADF’s questions about the things that drive her, personally and professionally

become real. This gives me energy. When a project is complete, I can see that the spaces really work and everyone’s experience is bettered That’s when all the effort to get there is rewarded.


The daily fighting. To be recognised beyond being a woman and a foreigner is particularly difficult in the UK. Then there is convincing client and consultants to do better and push boundaries, often through extra work, more resources, and more research. This doesn’t necessarily mean extra cost; on the contrary, often you can compensate for a small budget with extra research and really optimise the client’s budget. In our studio, we are always experimenting with some new material, use of design, and new technology. We like to push ourselves. Pushing others is the struggle, but it is always worth it and it pays off in the end.

Laura Carrara-Cagni

WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ARCHITECT? I love travelling and I wanted to become an interpreter, so I actually studied languages first. I was spending more time helping a friend with her architectural drawings. I realised that architecture was a real world- shaping profession; much more exciting! But with this creativity came responsibility: I needed the tools to actually become an architect. So almost a year late, I switched faculty to the Architecture School in Genova and caught up with my peers. Passion gave me the energy to work very hard at it. I still wanted to travel, so as soon as I finished my studies I got a COMETT European Community Scholarship and moved to Nancy in France for two years. I then moved to Austin, Texas, until I finally settled in London in 1998.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT MOST? I love engaging with the end-users of a project. I love putting myself in their shoes, experiencing how they use a given space and improving it, then being rewarded with their project buy-in. Design is an iterative process; I use my creative and technical tools to improve people’s living and working spaces.

I also love being on building sites. The ideas on paper suddenly and unalterably


DO YOU HAVE A KEY SUCCESS FACTOR WHEN MANAGING MULTIDISCIPLINARY TEAMS? We deliver programmes on time and to budget because we succeed in getting the design team and client all working towards the same goal. It is always possible to achieve this. I have delivered very large, complex projects with initial “impossible conditions” because I was able to align all team members to the common goal, whatever it took. This is a profession founded on teamwork; no large project can be delivered by one individual alone. The difference between working well together or otherwise is what determines the success of the project.

WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT AND WHY? Following many years’ experience at Hopkins, eight years ago, Edward Williams and I started our own practice. That was an exciting venture. Since then, we have doubled our team size every year and completed some extraordinary projects. We always have multiple projects onsite and have an established team which we mentor. We are growing together and we are winning awards.

WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST CURRENT DESIGN CHALLENGE? Since 2015, we have been lead designer for The Midland Metropolitan Hospital, just


outside Birmingham. Within a complex PFI2 team structure, employed by the main contractor, we managed to win the competition with an alternative scheme that pushed the building to one side of the site – leaving half of the 16 acres available as open space for green, publicly-accessible outdoor space for sport, creative and community activities. MMH will be the largest A&E in

Western Europe, so we decided it would only be fitting to give it the largest hospital winter garden in UK! Our design is all about promoting a sense of wellbeing instead of institutional confinement: the Winter Garden at Level 5 functions as a public space, undercover. Seating and planting, cafes and shops, and a Gallery are designed into the break-out space for patients, staff, visitors, and members of the public. We even made space for a natural habitat for redstarts on the pedestrian- accessible deck outside the winter garden. The project is two thirds complete and stopped when the main contractor, Carillion, went into liquidation last year. We are working very closely with the trust to get it going again, and this is now in sight.


All projects in our studio are carried out in BIM (Building Information Modelling). This means that all projects are designed on a 3D complex model. It is a great tool but still presents important limits, so we often spend a lot of time in order to achieve what we want. Revit, which is the BIM version we use, still struggles to model basic elements like landscaping and curved handrails!


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