Architect profile: Chris Austin is Managing Director at Leeds based architecture practice Brewster Bye. The firm was established 23 years ago and now employs 24 staff and has seen consecutive year-on-year growth in a range of sectors including the residential and commercial property markets, education, health, community enterprise and the arts, as well as the sports and leisure industries.
What is your earliest memory of architecture having an impact on you?
I do not think I had ‘eureka’ moment with architecture, I was always just interested in art and design at school and just got slowly sucked into architecture. The one building I remember that had a profound effect on me was the Taj Mahal which I first visited in 1993 and I was blown away by its proportions and exquisite beauty.
Where did you study architecture?
I grew up in London but came to Leeds in 1982 to study architecture at Leeds University. I enjoyed the whole education process and considered a career in education and started a doctorate, but in the end the actual process of delivering buildings became more attractive.
What kind of architect did you aspire to be? Has it worked out that way?
I wanted to ensure design was at the forefront of everything I did. I guess as you mature as an architect you realise that there are so many other factors that your clients have to consider, but I still try to ensure the value of good design is always at the top of the list.
Who are your design inspirations?
I have been inspired by travel more than any one individual, just keeping your eyes open and absorbing different styles and cultures develops a multitude of design inspirations.We can learn a lot from different unmanaged urban environments and how people and places function together to create great places.
What does Brewster Bye represent as a firm?
Architecture is a person business and we ensure that each member of the team knows who their client is and fully understands their aspirations. This gives everyone a personal responsibility to the projects and ultimately delivers better buildings.
Where is the majority of your work based?
Although we work throughout the UK, we are based in Leeds and the majority of our work is within a two hour drive of our office, in all directions, which is a reasonable chunk of the country.
Have you ever worked or lived anywhere else? If so, how has this helped to shape and influence your ideas on design?
I worked for a number of years in London at the early stage of my architectural career. There’s no denying London is home to some of the world’s finest architecture but its main influence convinced me that I didn’t want to work or bring up a family in London because of the long hours wasted commuting. My ideas on design have been formed from a multitude of places and persons rather than coming from one individual point.
What has been your biggest design commission to date?
We are mainly a residential based architectural practice and I have been fortunate to work on a wide range from individual client houses to large mixed used schemes.
The largest scheme built was City Island in Leeds city centrewhich has 600 apartments and rises up to 21 stories. The £80m development has become a prominent feature on the city’s skyline,occupying a prominent island site between the River Aire and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and won a number of prestigious awards so it’s a great project to put our name to.
What will the global face of architecture look like in 10 years time?
The greatest change in my lifetime in architecture has been the speed of communication, and I would imagine the world will continue to become a smaller place and design influences and areas of work will continue to become more dynamic and fluid.
If you hadn’t become an architect, what would you be doing?
After finally qualifying as an architect travelling became a big passion. I took a year out and travelled around the world and have travelled extensively ever since as money and time has allowed. So if I had not returned and had to pick another career to pursue, I might have been tempted to consider developing hotel resorts in developing nations and sitting on the other side of the table for a change.