Our winter lecture given on 22 October 2008 by Roger Gilles
This proved to be an absolutely ideal lecture for The Ipswich Society.
The built environment is arguably our most important area of interest,
yet we have had few talks by an architect. Roger Gilles, Senior Partner
of Barefoot and Gilles, fulfilled all our expectations by drawing upon
his twenty years of working in Ipswich and by giving a thoroughly
prepared and well illustrated lecture featuring the wide range of
architectural projects in which he has been involved.
He began by saying how much Ipswich has changed in these twenty years.
By the late 1980s St Katharine's Dock in London, for example, had
already been successfully developed. As a newcomer in Ipswich, Roger saw
inviting prospects for change, with the Wet Dock especially presenting a
Some of his early achievements in Gibbons Street and Riverside Road for
instance represent his aim to provide a standard good design for housing
associations. As he said, not RIBA Gold Medal standard perhaps but
honest and serviceable. He contrasted this approach with the kind of
design where architects and developers put in extra features to help the
application get through the planning process, after which 'value
engineering' takes place, meaning 'make it cheaper'. What Barefoot and
Gilles put into their drawings is what is then built: nothing is
filtered out. (He couldn't say the same for some other local schemes.)
His design for the six town houses of three storeys each in Upper High
Street was produced to make both "social and commercial sense". (They
sold quite readily and were awarded a Society Commendation in 2006.) A
more difficult scheme was that in Great Colman Street where his wish for
a more modern design met with pressure for a mock-Victorian scheme and
therefore led to a compromise. As he said, architects need to be
proactive and use their initiative but the resulting buildings are often
a good indication of what was possible at the time. Similarly, his new
extension to Salthouse Harbour Hotel (which he had designed as a hotel
in the first place) will not be based on his first design, but with its
extensive glazing and co-ordinated wall finishes he hopes it should
enhance the Waterfront.
On Wherstead Road/Rapier Street is the big 173 unit scheme for
Shaftesbury Housing. IBC wanted to create a strong impression here,
which led to his design of the external tower staircases. "Love it or
loathe it," he said, but it is "an honest design" - with an interior
landscaped courtyard which he is particularly pleased with. Also on
Wherstead Road is housing on the site of the Live and Let Live with
single slope roofs - "nothing wasted, so nothing can be taken out."
He has also designed two medical centres, one in Woodbridge and Haven
Health in Felixstowe of eight years ago, that being one of his favourite
achievements. Some of his newest work is the children's hospice on part
of St Clement's golf course where the design respects, and uses as a
resource, the protected woodland. Working on such a hospice he says is
an enriching experience because an architect knows that if it works well
it will enhance children's lives and provide valuable respite for
In Grimwade Street he has also designed the 49-bed students'
accommodation, although other student accommodation next to the Lord
Nelson in Fore Street has become a temporary victim of the credit
Finally he intrigued us all with his description of a new scheme at
Lingwood near Norwich, where he has designed houses in groups with three
types of energy efficient features which will be monitored by UEA. These
designs could be built in town or country. They have been nominated for
an award by the CPRE and are not seen as alien in this village. So it
was not surprising that Roger hoped he would have the opportunity to
create their equivalents in our area. I hope so.