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Like father, like daughter – a family firm making buildings better

Robert Adams graduated from Oxford Polytechnic with an Architecture degree in 1978. His daughter Tamsin Bryant did likewise in 2007 before returning to complete her Diploma in 2010. They are now co-directors of Adams Collingwood Architects – united not just by their alma mater and place of work, but by a philosophy of making every project the best it can possibly be.

“Rob and I share the drive to make things better,” explains Tamsin, “clients will come to us with some sort of problem, they need more space or the building’s not working for them very well. We’re there to guide them on how to improve their environment.”

They are also united by a share love of rowing. Tamsin is a member of Taurus, the Oxford Brookes alumni rowing society. And they were the perfect team to design a boathouse for Bryanston School, for which they won a RIBA award.

“It was a lovely project,” remembers Robert, “but with reasonably tight budget controls. Many school boathouses tend to be rather grand and expensive. We made it functional but still with an architectural grandness.

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Robert Adams ’78

“It was very carefully value-engineered, using the simplest form to house the boats and a canoe club, as well as providing a clubroom.”

A love of water clearly runs in the family. Another of their award-winning designs is the Salcombe Gin Distillery and Bar, which is built on a flood-plain overlooking a creek, and has a ground floor which is designed to be floodable. It was also built to a budget for a start-up which has gone from strength to strength – a success based on customers enjoying the space and location, as well as the gin!

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Salcombe Gin Distillery and Bar (photo: Jim Stephenson)

Another subject close to Robert’s heart is sustainability. He sees this as the most important issue facing architecture in this country and is determined that Adams Collingwood are at the forefront of changing things for the better.

“For the future, the big question is sustainability. What are we going to do with all the Victorian houses? As a nation we have to make a decision on how to deal with this and invest in research to find the answers.

“We’re looking for a local authority or housing association to work with us to do prototype schemes, in order to get to how we bring the housing stock in this country up to a sustainable standard.

“And a lot of the new houses being built are primitive. They could be so much better. As a nation, we need to dedicate more resources to this.”

Creativity is much richer when it has a range of ideas and influence.

Just as a change of priorities is needed to make housing more sustainable, so a change of culture is needed for the construction industry as a whole to become less male, pale and stale. Tamsin is a Women in Construction ambassador and sees increasing diversity in the industry as a gradual but important process.

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Tamsin Bryant ’07

“There is a big dropout rate of women from roles in the construction industry. All I want to do is hold up my hand and say ‘there is a place for us!’

“And the more of us there are, the easier it’ll be for the next generation.”

She sees this as a part of a wider need to open up the industry.

“Creativity is much richer when it has a range of ideas and influence. It is hugely important for the construction industry to be diverse, with people from a wide range of backgrounds, to keep it interesting.”

Adams Collingwood has a 50/50 gender split, and is by no means alone in being a welcoming and inclusive employer. But clearly this is not replicated across the entire industry, and Tamsin was aware of the issue while still a student.

“My course started as 50/50 but by the end, when I qualified as an architect, it definitely wasn’t. So we need to understand why so many women who are interested in becoming architects drop out, and find ways to help them carry on through.”

I wrote my dissertation on chocolate!

Tamsin’s experience of studying at Oxford Brookes was positive. In terms of the subject matter and format it was similar to what Robert had studied thirty years previously. But it was more centred on the students’ own interests, even if sometimes the connection with architecture wasn’t immediately obvious.

“”The tutors wanted you to find something you were interested in. So I wrote my dissertation on chocolate!

“I adapted the theme to how you experience architecture and how you design it to make the experience better. It received the School of Architecture prestigious thesis prize.”

She also witnessed daily one of the issues taught on the course – how people chose to take a particular route, and the need to entice them to walk along a particular path. Along with pretty much every other Oxford Brookes student and staff, she cut across the field between South Park and the campus rather than following the path that looped around the edge. The reality of the situation has subsequently led the path to be rerouted to the way people were choosing to walk.

We can continue to renew and grow.

Although Robert and Tamsin are like-minded on many issues, they also have differences which work to their advantage – notably and obviously the difference in generations.

Robert explains, “when my previous partner retired it was a great opportunity for Tamsin to come in as a Director. Because we’re family there’s a real sense of trust. But also because we’re different generations, Tamsin is able to bid to a new, younger clientele. So business-wise it makes a lot of sense as we can continue to renew and grow our client base.”

As a family firm, they continue to thrive – currently working on a project for the Royal College of Midwives, a partnership Robert is proud of – and the father and daughter team are set to continue designing and improving buildings so they are the best they can possibly be, well into the future.

Words: Sirius Gibson

Emma Parker ’96 talked her way onto her course, moved to Greece and set up a publishing services company – read about having the confidence to do things differently

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