The Leeds architecture firm revolutionising the way it works with Zoom consultations

A Leeds-based architecture firm has seen great success after being forced to “get clever with technology” during the pandemic.

Thursday, 15th July 2021, 9:34 am
Pictured managing director Chris Lawson, left, and senior architect Marlon Cooray. Photo: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Staff at CK Architectural, based in Thorpe Park, had to get creative when the coronavirus struck and they were suddenly forced to work from home.

They began utilising online services like Zoom for consultations and found that they were able to work virtually with their clients very successfully.

Now, as the country eases lockdown restrictions, the company said it will continue offering its online services as well as its more traditional, hands-on approach after positive feedback from clients.

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Pictured Managing Director Chris Lawson, Architect Technician Joe Grimbleby, Project Co-Ordinator Liz Drummond, Architect Designer Charles Speight and Senior Architect Marlon Cooray. Photo: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Managing Director Chris Lawson said the business had been looking to introduce remote working as it expanded across the country, but the pandemic brought the change about much more rapidly.

Mr Lawson said: “We were looking at having more people working remotely, being able to give a door to door service up and down the country but still plugged into our network, working to our standards and our system.

“It was kind of in the back of my mind as we've grown to have somebody remotely, and then when we got busier in the area to get a small team, with a smaller office, and have that sort of interface.

“The pandemic really brought that forward and modernised the way we approach it.

“[Initially] we did lose a lot of sales but they started coming back as confidence grew in the marketplace

“We were able to do quite a lot of online assessment and Zoom played a good part in being able to talk people through the process, getting them to provide us with the right information to do the job, the information we normally have to travel and gather ourselves.

“We got quite diverse and clever with technology.

“Something we came up with during the lockdown was the ‘PFR' project feasibility report.

“Clients take photos or share floor plans and we give them a 10-15 minute overview and see if there are any obvious and easy ways to achieve what they want, giving them as much information before they make their decision.

“What we have found is it adds another level to our business because people still like the online approach, where it's maybe a bit more streamlined and they're a bit more involved from the earliest stages so it gives them that flexibility.”

Architect Marlon Cooray added: “We do all the technology around screen sharing so I'll put my AutoCAD screen up on the screen for 20 minutes and I'll sit through the job of the client and the design on the screen so they can see it there and then in real-time.

“That's the other thing that we bring to our clients is that full engagement with them, we don't just take a brief and then wander off for a couple of weeks, we hold their hand all the way through.”

Mr Lawson started his company in 2015, working on his own in a bedroom with a friend's son training alongside him, before moving to a small site in Hull.

Now the firm has three offices in Leeds Hull and Manchester and is working remotely with other staff based across the country.

During the pandemic, he has seen demand for design works like loft conversions and extensions go up, as people look to maximise their homes to meet their new demands, such as working from home.

However, the home-working has also had a knock-on effect, with the company picking up a lot more commercial contracts.

Mr Lawson said: “The obvious thing that happened during the pandemic is people stuck in their houses, staring at the same four walls, and looking for things they want to do like the garden or extend for more space.

“Work from home generated a want for an office or separate rooms so people can shut the door on the kids and have a bit of quiet space.

“We're finding a lot of that led to domestic changes, and the knock-on effect from that is a call in the commercial marketplace to offices convert into residential units

“We are quite fortunate to have a wide variety of experience behind us from all different backgrounds; architects, technologists, surveyors, anything from the professional elements of the building design industry.

“We're unique in our offering as we can be affordable for people on a small budget who just want a simple extension and don't need the expensive consultants, or we can turn our hand to a full RIBA stage approach on a multi-million-pound commercial project.”

Mr Cooray added “I come from a pedigree of commercial architecture and it’s having that flexibility in the marketplace that we’ve been able to adapt to.

“That's made us resilient to the pandemic - our understanding of the housing market has given us a wide range of skills, being transferred easily to the commercial sector.

“Interestingly, a lot of some of the work that was done in houses has introduced us to commercial clients that we might not have otherwise had the opportunity to work with.

“We've got a couple of commercial projects here in Leeds for a mixed-use development which will have large industrial and residential spaces.

“It's kind of cutting edge because we're looking at and working with some quite high-profile environmental specialists to create living buildings.”

Ultimately, Mr Lawson says, the business just wants to be a reliable business that gives people the homes and spaces they want at fair prices.

He said: “If we mess it up, it's not only unforgivable, it can ruin their life and how they go forward with the value of their house.

"Sometimes they'll have a vision of what they want, we'll have a vision and it's about meeting in the middle.

“We do the best we can to show that they can trust us to make sure we do the right thing at the right time.

“We plan to make sure everybody gets a fair run through [the designing and planning process] and the best results for their money

“We just want to be a reliable, honest company and get it right. “