FGA has recently been commissioned to design and remodel the office headquarters for a global company based in the port of Liverpool. This will entail external and internal remodelling to create a high impact welcome for the reception and staff areas as well as interior refurbishment throughout. FGA has considerable experience in creating commercially striking design to reflect a successful brand.


Fitting that FGA should get involved with restaurant designs, having done various apprenticeships in restaurant kitchens both front and back of house in university years. The bustling steaming kitchen on Christmas Day or the summer evenings in an Italian pizzeria serving the locals are formative experiences during the architectural training.

Learning from friend Claudio how to make the perfect pasta sauce to the back drop of Fats Domino are strong smells still in the memory. I still cook sauces as if to expectant customers, an approach to drawing work has some parallels in being able to move quickly from idea to line and develop the component parts as you go. The skill to be learned was transitioning from the frenetic cooking to pouring a glass at front of house.

In all kitchen and restaurant interiors, it never went unnoticed to the designers eye of the precision engineered surrounding of all essential ovens, counter tops and stainless steel caverns that we inhabited, with extractor hoods and interiors that needed to stand up to the intensive works that took place. More so now is theatre cooking making the kitchen part of the overall dining experience as the customer is given view into the creative industry.

Restaurant Architecture liverpoolUnderstanding restaurant and kitchen requirements in recent projects has put me back in the familiar environments but now with a pen in hand, and producing precision coordinated information as well as concepts for new restaurant projects for ambitious clients looking to expand their successful brands.

A conversation in the local restaurant watering hole in Liverpool with the owner who is on site with a new restaurant build project, highlighted issues that have arisen when a keen eye for detail is not employed when expensive equipment is being coordinated with incoming services against an opening deadline. Add recruitment, staff training, increase build costs due to round the clock construction shifts and its easy to see how it can strain on a new venture.

The attention to detail seems more prevalent with the tight tolerances required for the operating spaces for staff and the creative back of house, where every space is accounted and designer Adam D.Tihany credits this approach which has made him renowned for world famous restaurants and hotel interiors, ..’ My obsessive need to be involved with the smallest details of every one of my projects..’ reflects the essential involvement required to deliver the high performance arenas that will enhance the clients evolving business needs.

So let’s make time for lunch, enjoy pouring over the menu specification and taking time to celebrate new commissions, for now, this designer is required in the back of house before taking a seat out front.


House Extension Liverpool - Architectural drawingsMeeting on site with a client as the new house remodelling nears its completion, is already informing new ways in which the family now uses the spaces. One half of the client couple performs as an improvising vocal performance artist, sensitive to the exploration of spaces when performing they have noticed the new ways the family experience and inhabit the changing spaces.

The process we have engaged in together from the first meeting around the blank paper to hearing how they delight at being able to view the moon through the new opening in the roof, has enriched the way the family interacts and this small insertion allows the morning light to fill the once dark kitchen space.

A room at the rear of the house, a previously cold utility brick structure with a dilapidated flat roof has been enhanced thermally, raised in height, and now becomes part of the remodelled kitchen area. Initially this was going be demolished, but has become, as described by one of the children as ‘perky’ in its now proud re-joining with the rest of the house.

House Extension build

The build has had some head scratching with roof sub consultant and main contractor as to the existing slate roof allowing a small water ingress, which was tested by recent downpours, and where it meets a new glass reinforced plastic roof. Testament to the good relationships, the works are happily revisited by the main builder to resolve any making good.

A family that has been present during the build during summer holidays, has allowed the family to grow into their new spaces and test them out, and see daily the details and build evolve around them. The new geometries that are now in front of the family create a new expectation that enfolds and stimulates new thoughts as to how the home can continue to change.

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A recent visit to a new client, was to discuss a two storey extension to the existing dwelling to an end terrace dwelling with unique and distinctive character. The existing layout in the main has an L shaped configuration and the proposal would square up the plan as a whole. More kitchen space and family living/dining area in open plan all opening onto the garden was the brief in the main, and also adding a bedroom above.

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The levels in the house assist with one solution to stay within budget, whereby the bedroom above can be accessed from the existing landing level which will be lower than the first floor bedrooms current. The existing main roof plane can extend over the new bedroom and would not compete with the distinctive character of the overall mass of the house and allow a largely ground floor extension to be visible.

At ground floor also continuing a roof geometry of the existing lean to roof element would allow an interesting wrap around roof with a hipped roof presented to the garden with roof lights inserted along the length against the adjoining wall.


The new open plan living and kitchen family room will be of contrast to the cellular rooms of the existing house and opening onto the mature garden area, will provide a distinctive space for family and friends to meet at all times of the day.

This is a feasibility project which quickly explores the design, budget, planning constraints and allows the client to make a decision to proceed with a planning application. The 3 dimensional model sketches allow the whole of the proposal to be explored in a short period, and provide real time sun path studies, and generally a clearer understanding of all that is discussed in the initial excitement of the first meeting and from here we will see where it may go next.



A recent instruction by a client involving a collection of farm buildings in the Lake District, including a barn with grade II listing, and a farmhouse with planning permission for a two storey extension highlighted to me the need to consider the appropriate procurement strategy for the extension and conversion works of this project type. That is to say how the design may be developed, tendered and constructed within the required programme and outline the controls necessary during the management of the works. So here is some technical information when considering the route to be taken to deliver a built project of this nature, the below is not exhaustive.




Appointment of a design team


A suitable design team will be the primary requirement including an architect, if not already engaged, a structural engineer, a quantity surveyor and assumed that the mechanical and electrical services content of the scheme would not warrant the appointment of a consultant, but consideration should be given to the necessity of obtaining independent advice if any special requirements are anticipated.

In all cases it is vital that members of the team are able to demonstrate experience in working on the conservation of historic structures, and are able to deal sensitively with the necessary repair and extension works.

The design team will appraise the existing buildings and site conditions, develop the design proposal to an appropriate level and prepare documentation. At this stage it will be particularly important to clarify what is to be preserved in the works and what work is to be carried out.


Investigative Works


The purpose of investigative works is to clarify the scope and extent of the contract work required, and allow the intending Contractor to price the works with some certainty. Whilst some research can be undertaken in the form of ‘desk top’ studies, an allowance should be made in the budget for a limited amount of opening up or inspection work, so that the design can be prepared on an informed basis. Where advice is required for items such as timber decay or insect infestation, this should be sought from specialists acting on behalf of the Employer, who can provide independent and unbiased advice.


Requirements for Contract Information


Thepreparation of concise and adequate contract information is common to all procurement routes. In most cases the contract documentation will include a specification to augment the drawings and is recommended to follow the industry standard such as the National Building Specification. This organises trades and activities into an arrangement of sections of standardised clauses, but is flexible enough to allow the inclusion of clauses relating to repair and alteration works.


Selection of a Contractor


The selection of a suitable and competent contractor is essential in view of the risk of damage to the intrinsic value of a historic building.

It would be usual to seek tenders from three or four contractors for a project to obtain a competitive price. As a preliminary to inviting tenders, information should be sought as to their financial stability, experience in this type of project and capability and resources for carrying out the work.


Types of Building Contracts


Whilst it is possible to engage in a contract on a simple exchange of letters, this provides little protection in the event that some eventuality befalls either party. Recognised forms of contracts exist for the conduct of building operations which have been developed over time and tested in law. Not all types are suitable for the particular requirements of conservation projects: Design Develop and Construct arrangements are better suited to ‘new build’ construction. More commonly used contracts are outlined below.

It is important to bear in mind that the procurement of any building project is a function of three main variables, Quality, Cost and Time, all important aspects of the project. The relative weighting of each varies according to which route is selected and will be fundamental in determining the final choice.



The ‘Traditional’ Contract


Traditionally an Employer engages in a contract for building using a design prepared by his professional advisers, and the contract is administered by the team during eh construction phase, normally by the Architect, assisted by the Quantity Surveyor. This can either be by way of a firm price or a ‘lump sum’ or by a schedule of rates which is then applied to the work carried out. The contractor is not directly involved during the design phase, although some elements of the work can be designed in detail during the construction phase. There is plenty more to expand on within the traditional contract route and would be the role of the Architect and QS to further advise on the advantages and disadvantages.



The ‘Design and Build’ Contract


As an alternative to the professional team providing full design services it is possible to transfer the design responsibility to the Contractor, under a JCT Standard Form of Building Contract with Contractor’s Design, with theoretically significant savings in time. To maintain continuity of design the team can be transferred from the employer to the contractor.



The ‘Construction Management’ Contract


A different approach which may be considered is that of the Construction Management route. In this the contractor takes on the role solely of a manager and tenders and engages a series of works packages during the construction phase and is normally based on the current JCT Standard Form of Management Contract.

Whilst the three routes pointed out have certain theoretical advantages, these should be considered in relation to the size and complexity of the work planned.




At a recent networking event I didn’t factor in having a direct conversation with Mayor Joe Anderson about Visions for Liverpool and further obtaining support to develop an idea put to him during our conversation.

My question to the Mayor was, as a city region with the lobbying for HS3 lines to the Liverpool Super Port, how are we linking the overall strategic visionary plans that will allow the Architectural Schools to contribute to a developing brief, that also showcase the visions for Liverpool and the wider region? Boston and New York run international design competitions to address similar waterfront and coastal issues, and myself having entered recent competitions collaborating with ARUP Engineers, it provides a valuable discourse for the cities as to how they see the future of their cities developing.

My architectural education came from growing up in the city and later attending the John Moores School of Architecture. Studies focussed then on the realisable strategy for the overall shape of the river edge and its adjacent hinterland, following the strategic urban studies, focus would then be on integral micro components that gave birth to a revitalised urban landscape. The far reaching strategies distort the familiar landscape as they look to view the urban fabric through a new lens that works with existing commerce and industries.

An urban study undertaken by John Moores University in the late 1990’s was the City Works 1 which focussed on a new high speed rail transport infrastructure and the opportunities that integrating this line into the texture of the city raises. This initiative was to explore long term strategies for Liverpool which were already visible in Rotterdam and other European cities. Fifteen projects within the overall urban study would become pivotal in a strategy addressing medium to long term regeneration and population growth, with an eco-city at Formby Point to assist coast line erosion, a Mersey barrage proposal and an expanding port proposal amongst others. The proposals all distort the familiar image we have of the existing urban landscape but grounded in the real economic aspirations of the city, which not unlike a brief which could develop which aligns with the Mayor’s lobbying for infrastructural change.

This form giving or visionary plans from Aigburth to Seaforth could also be vital in providing the new RIBA headquarters in Mann Island with joined up visionary thinking coming from the schools of Architecture, Art and Design as well as local Architectural practice with links back to community involvement through schools.
Liverpool has a pioneering history directly linked with the waterfront and was written about in the Architectural Review January 2008 when the focus was on Capital of Culture year, the extract highlights the important impact of the previous Overhead railway. Liverpool decided to adopt from New York the solution of an elevated railway to run along the Dock Road but outdoing New York’s ‘EL’ by making it the world’s first electrified ‘Overhead Railway,’ carrying millions until it closure in closure in 1956,‘we can say, then, that the era of the Overhead was when Liverpool attained a comprehensible form as, in effect, a linear city running parallel to the river, from the airport of Speke to the Formby Dunes.’ The route along the working docks allowed the passenger to view the changing landscape of the docks as cargo arrived and departed, this ebb and flow has always been the changing skyline and also as the current liners park with a stature equal almost to the monumental buildings on the waterfront, this gives the waterfront its essential changing form.

Creating a vision for a future Liverpool will be how we distort the familiar.Inthe recent collaboration with ARUP Engineers the brief for New York was to reimagine the waterways that surrounded the Islands and the boroughs of New York. The linking of the five boroughs by a series of transit hubs would bring a new vision for the region and bring into use large amounts of inaccessible waterfront addressed by water orientated educational, cultural and commercial activities and demonstrations of clean technology and renewable energy.

Just as New York and Boston reimagine their city regions and coast lines, Liverpool needs to reimagine its own, and how it emerges and connects with the hinterland. So to develop a structure around Visions for Liverpool I will beexploring a strategy that can unite the rich capabilities of design, commerce and community. A recent meeting at Liverpool Vision in the city was valuable in addressing the early steps of taking the conversations further. The waterfront has always provided the form for the city throughout its history and with an architecture centre soon to be opened by the RIBA, the iconic waterfront would be the right platform to promote the joined up visionary plans for the future of Liverpool and distort our familiar views to let us see anew.


What a first few weeks….the daily surges in excitement, the meetings, the adrenaline, the head full of everything at once but not focussing on one thing. The frustration, the run along the river Mersey to clear the head, the small constant tremble beneath the surface of not wanting to fail and of course the life outside this, is there an outside? Everything seems to become consumed into this new quest.
Every aspect of running a new business relies on switching between the details of the immediate and one eye on the horizon. Another solo journey of small comparison in Morocco in recent times, a novice to the surf board for twelve days of surf school I joined a group of seasoned surfers. Not wanting to show lacking I spent my first days battling to swim out against the waves to even begin to start standing up and catch a moment of being one with the water. This place to reach beyond the incessant breaking wave sets seemed to drift further away in equal measure to my depleting energy.
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Paddling out against the huge waves as crouched stealth surfers glided past me, made me feel helpless clinging to my board as wave sets crashed me down to the silent bubble mists below and then back up into the thunder of another conspiring set of waves.
It tried to break me, and after one surreal hospital trip for an x-ray I recuperated for a couple of days and returned to the board with a new group arrival and an altered perspective on something that tested my mettle. I ventured back in to the sea and let go of all the tension of ‘trying’ to do it, watching the swell and picking my spot, I swam without frantic energy and eased up into position and relaxed and without gritted determination, allowed the wave to carry me and when more speed needed I pressed into the front of the board with the lightest of touch and glided into the beach. Too much speed I would lean back and let the nose rise up and wait for the crest of the wave and begin again.
My abilities began to become more akin to those around me and catching sight of a one of your fellow group who had tracked your travails and progress, gave way to a raised arm, this small recognition allowing you to appreciate your own small steps and celebrate with them.
These early weeks of my new business venture present me with different waves of energy as I go out into new places and meet new people along the way. As we strive to view what is on the horizon and working hard to maintain a balance we remember to salute others as they rise and flow along their own waves of progress.


A new project for FGA, for a client looking to create a bright, light and functional family room to the rear of the property from the existing kitchen and later added brick utility which when resolved will create a one room feel to what is an important gathering space for the family.


The existing raking roof at its lowest point creates a dark internal arrival at the end of the house and further smaller brick utility from previous owners further depletes any natural light.


Creating a clean break through from the dining to the kitchen and a further opening up from the kitchen to the utility area will greatly enhance this important part of the house, and introducing a large roof light and raising the height of the utility room will allow the eye to be drawn further through the kitchen area and to the yard beyond.


The clients who are very open to exploring design processes want a room different from the regularized cell rooms of the Victorian house. What does this new one room want to be apart from the all the regulations/rules/rational applied for user requirements? It wants to break free of the established house rules and go beyond the usual stacked functions that will determine the space. The family mode of living has been long determined by the functionality (which are very important to the working family home) They will get the working requirements of the kitchen/utility, but what else, when not driven by functional/regulation requirements?


This one room is looking for pure moments of truth, this is done (to my mind) in poetry, combining imagery and words that do not try to join all the dots, they create the spaces for the reader to imagine and devise their own symmetry.


You may never see the layer upon layer of tracing paper of discarded ideas, the layers of pen or pencil that press through from below and try and make it to the top. The stacks of lines and options explored that may need to return, which stops the immediate disposal and sometimes creates the sudden dash to the bin with the exclamation ‘I’ve already drawn this!’


The layers of trace and thought is where the rigour and joy takes place, it’s where the player hits a thousand tennis balls unseen, but nothing is wasted to try and achieve precision, but always trying to go to a new place which may inform the next pen stroke. The final cad drawing is the final result of the above and the laser printed line gives the air of the fixed immovable, as one tutor said ‘anyone can use cad.’


I can’t dispose of the sketches so readily, to have a cad drawing only to show for this process is to discard too much. I have learned a way to value the lines along the way, I know when the lines flow from a strain of focused design, when you are in the zone so to speak. This is when you lose yourself and my understanding of ‘God is in the detail’ when totally absorbed in resolving the design task in hand.


One colleague at a London practice questioned why I didn’t have a roll of trace always at my side and with the words of ‘just do it’ when he detected the whiff of paralysis in front of the computer screen. This necessity to have roll of tracing paper at arms reach that is not as precious as the heavy graded trace sheets becomes second nature, and can allow a softer exploration of ideas. This medium then rendered in other software allows the sketch can take on a new life and allow others to see and contribute to the design process, the cad line seems to say no and I have witnessed clients who feel stifled when confronted with such a solid line drawing that seems to say no, the sketch with its broken lines says yes and more please!


Sometimes I scramble for the trace roll to quickly pour out the flow of ideas that might lead somewhere, sometimes I need to warm up knowing that movement and thought will take me away at some point and maybe return me to where I started, then maybe it dares to be real, or it is simply time to empty the bin.


After over 15 years experience of working in practices around the UK, I have come back to where it all began to start the next phase of Francis Garner as an architect: Francis Garner Architects.


Getting here


The steps taken over the years recall the first days and weeks in various Architects’ offices, arriving too early on day one, the smell of the new place and a stillness that quickly disappears once the flow of staff swipe through the door. The receptionist arrives and finds a stranger in her Monday morning space. The new shoes which seemed like a good idea now burned with blisters after the dash across London via various tube lines.


One first day that sticks in the memory is a director being the early bird of other partners guided me to my workspace piled high all around with stacks of consultant drawings. Unbeknown to me it was the director on the floor above who found out a couple of weeks later that his new team member had been press ganged in reception to a team for the ministry of defence projects. Moving upstairs eventually to the team I was intended, for an office block on site which required an accelerated programme of drawing output, was a lesson in production information for a prestigious city project.


Each previous position taken always to improve on the gaps in experience or perceived shortcomings, created a need to prove myself and put out work that was good enough to stack up next to my new peers. The sometimes daunting peers became friends and collaborators on future projects and competitions, as we stepped into shared experiences of shaping our built environment. This sharing informed the way I approached designing, how not to hold too tightly to an idea and to try a new way.


So in my first days, I am on the next step of the journey, and having stood with my peers and friends along the way in both shared vulnerability and the joy of design, I am right now in a beautiful studio space looking over the Mersey working on some details for a drawing to talk through with a client this evening over a glass of wine, what a great way to start the weekend.