‘We’re inspired by entrepreneurial architect-developers’

exercise name Alt Studios
Based Newcastle upon Tyne
Was established May 2021
The main people Paul Milner and Scott Savin, founders.

where do you come from
We studied architecture followed by urban design at Newcastle University before embarking on various professional career paths. For Scott, this included working in several offices across the North of England, particularly delivering projects across the UK with IDPartnership. Paul, meanwhile, spent eight years at Ryder Architecture, culminating in the design and delivery of the multi-award winning headquarters for Tombola on the River Wear, Sunderland.

For 10 years, alongside practice, we have both delivered separate MA modules and served as guest reviewer at Newcastle University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. We met often and talked about wanting to start our own design studio.

What do you do and what kind of projects are you looking for?
Our current architecture and interior design work spans the UK: from a workplace refurbishment in the capital to a hospitality pavilion in the Lake District and a horticultural retail building in North Yorkshire, right through to a former telephone exchange on the edge of a glen in the west. Heights. Our largest commission in Northern Ireland is a high-end private residential building with an adjacent mixed-use gated building.

Working across the country has given us more freedom to explore and explore our approach. Despite such diversity in scale, sector and location, they all share common customers who truly value our design and process. This process is founded by starting a conversation with each place and exploring its specific characteristics. Explore and adapt the opportunities of each field. It may be a coincidence to date, but every project is on a sensitive and mostly challenging site, which makes them more exciting and requires research-rich design responses.

In almost every commission there is something old and valuable that we should carefully review and appreciate. So, looking ahead, we welcome more of the same: commissions that align with our values, and make working on them rewarding and meaningful.

Our initial short-term business plan changed significantly almost from the start. Through existing contacts we have launched hospitality-friendly projects in the pipeline – design yet quick successes in terms of schedule. Strategically, this allowed for some real work to be created under the company name in a relatively short period of time.

An epidemic broke out and the department was shut down overnight

An epidemic broke out and the department was shut down overnight. We then delayed our launch, pivoted and began building a new client base which ultimately led to a range of feasibility and viability commissions for private business clients. These larger projects, several with undefined initial deliverables, resulted in more work, many of which are still ongoing.

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We are seeing an increasing number of applications focusing on tasks typically associated with RIBA stages 0 and 1. It’s more of the lay clients who come to us to initially assess and identify opportunities in their property portfolio and land, enabling us to foster adaptive reuse. From an early stage to the present, this has involved creating rich summaries of research before considering anything significant in terms of design – the weight of importance given to this ‘slower’ yet desirable analytical process, freshness and It has resonated with our morals.

We have been able to champion adaptive reuse from the early stages

In particular, since we feel “slow” has a deeper meaning, it goes back to the idea that we want high quality and have to work hard for it.

What are your ambitions?
Short term, along with further establishing our name, to continue the natural flow of interest, followers and subsequent diverse commissions across the UK in line with our design ethos. This will coincide with the growth of our team and close associates – which has probably been one of the main reasons for our success so far. We are actively looking for a larger studio space that could be a self-funded development project.

In the long term, it’s about diversifying our revenue streams, increasing the number and scale of in-house developments or joint ventures for that matter, and over time, creating an equal split between private commissions and our own entrepreneurial ventures. We’re often asked about our ambitions in terms of practice size, and to stay true to the ethos and environment of our studio, we don’t see a team of 10 or 12 at the top.

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To those we work for and with, we aspire to be known as an alternative design studio that exceeds expectations. We want our architecture to somehow reflect the unique aspect of each place, no matter how big or small. Naturally, we hope our projects really transform people’s lives and make them feel better about themselves in these places, while providing evidence of carefully crafted design, based on careful research and commitment to detail. Quite simply, it is our responsibility as architects to positively influence our perception of places.

Rambler’s Retreat, North Pennines – Plans, Plans and Elevations section. The mass of larch shingles is raised above ground level, allowing views framed by the surrounding stone wall, while maintaining the original use of the site as a sheepfold.

What are the biggest challenges facing you as a startup and as a career in general?
The most immediate and potentially enduring challenge is employment. Naturally, success like this comes with the infancy of our studio, but with the addition of two talented and valuable team members this year, we’re about to grow our core team after a long process.

The best advice is to be patient and take your time.

However, the best and most appropriate advice we have is to be patient and take your time. All our decisions, rightly or wrongly, were calculated and strategic. We held off on officially launching the business until we felt the time was right. Basically when we can interact effectively with people in person. Projects were unexpectedly transferred to long-term commissions, so the execution of our design work naturally took longer than expected.

We’ve found that our clients prefer to work with smaller methods because they can quickly ascertain who they’re investing in—designers with whom they can build close relationships based on trust. The resulting experience is often more personal.

Because we identify equally with the projects we take on, they also feel comfortable with the value and importance we place on their projects for the growth of our studio. We try to make a careful selection based on customer motivation and chemistry.

Considering the recession, we’ve been lucky. This does not preclude our current projects or those in production for next year which are deliberately diverse and not limited to one sector. However, the speed at which some break ground can be delayed due to documented increases in material costs and delivery times.

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Which project completed in the last five years inspired you the most?
We are more inspired by the growing architect-developer architecture movement as opposed to a specific design. We took part in RIBA’s Guerrilla Tactics 2019, where this topic was explored through the entrepreneurial efforts of a number of practices.

What was attractive is the growing confidence of not relying on traditional methods of service and procurement, but rather positively exploiting the skills of the profession to create additional income streams and reduce reliance and impact on the market, which can often be volatile.

This resonated with us before Alt Studios was founded, and we have since acquired some properties at auction to explore this arm of the practice in the coming years.

Ravensworth Nurseries, North Yorkshire; 1:50 model

How do you market yourself?
Everything, no matter how mundane, is an Alt Studios development and in turn may have marketing value. So our attention to detail applies to everything from web development, smart documentation templates, to letterpress printing and on and on – which ultimately reflects our daily approach to project work.

Neither of us used Instagram before starting our practice, but it has become a cohesive insight into our studio’s project work, collaborations, and exploratory activities. However, like everyone, time is of the essence, and we mainly market the practice personally by consciously attending and participating in select non-architectural events.

We look to other markets and disciplines for inspiration, so we’re not afraid to reach out, take advice and mix it up. In doing so, we have created a few mentors who have in turn made fruitful introductions. Likewise, surrounding ourselves with valuable and like-minded creative colleagues has helped organically expand our reach and contacts. For a small studio, communication and collaboration with the best experts in any field is essential.

In terms of giving back and presenting ourselves to the next generation of architects and designers, we introduced a student career program, Candid, to both regional architecture schools.

More than 120 architecture students participated and benefited from our series of informal yet comprehensive workshops this year. Incidentally, it will return locally in 2023 before expanding to other architecture schools in 2024.




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