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Newsletter, January 2009 (Issue 174)

An Architect's Work

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 golden opportunity.

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 parents.

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 crunch.

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.

Neil Salmon

    Front cover of issue 174 Cover, issue 174

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