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Angharad  Palmer


Design manager, Pocket Living

Part 2: 2011  Part 3: 2014

Angharad Palmer moved from Hawkins\Brown to London starter home developer Pocket Living because she wanted to understand where clients were coming from. She has made headway in bridging the gap between the expectations and knowledge of her colleagues and of architects. 

On tight city sites, Pocket develops homes at 20% below market rate for locals who might otherwise be squeezed out of the city, and the quality of the architecture is paramount. Pocket already had good architects working for it, from Haworth Tompkins to RCKa and Gort Scott, and Palmer takes seriously her role of educating practices about the risks and costs associated with development. She briefs architect teams on ethos, branding and design methods as well as reviewing and guiding tender production. 

When Palmer led a design competition for a community building at West Green Place, Haringey she worked up a fully developed brief to bring in emerging practices, including setting up plans for the winning team to be paired with more experienced hands. In the end this was not required by the winner, Dyvik Kahlen, and the brief and worked-through design went straight through planning. Practical completion should be less than two years after the competition launch.

  • Site for a design competition organised by Palmer, for a community centre in West Green Place. Haringey, north London.
    Site for a design competition organised by Palmer, for a community centre in West Green Place. Haringey, north London. Credit: HTA

Palmer has taken ownership of continuous improvement in design and quality issues. An internal ‘lessons learnt’ programme at the end of each project is starting to embed some of the best practice in procurement and design management in the minds of project managers and other team members. Externally she has used peer reviews on projects at similar stages to share information, critique and set up creative dialogues between practices and Pocket. 

Her work on turning Pocket into an ‘active BIM client’ has already seen the company issue its standard flat specifications as a Revit model and in future there will be efficiency improvements for the developers as practices are asked to submit tender information in standard formats. 

Russ Edwards, outgoing head of design at Pocket, brought in Palmer and describes her as ‘spectacular’. ‘Angharad… has been instrumental in lifting the bar for Pocket’s innovative portfolio of starter homes,’ he says. ‘Her tenacity and uncompromising belief in the role of design quality in housing delivery has allowed her to become integral to the business within a short period of time.’

The judges were excited to see architectural skills brought to bear outside traditional practice. ‘You have got to find ways to unlock what you can bring,’ says John Nordon. Now her boss has departed, the question is what next for Palmer?

  • One of Palmer's projects Gainsford Road, Waltham Forest, designed by Gort Scott.
    One of Palmer's projects Gainsford Road, Waltham Forest, designed by Gort Scott. Credit: ForbesMassey

What would you most like to improve about the industry? 

Clients need to change their attitudes towards architects, and architects need to find a way to return to the old notion of ‘master builder’. Architects have been stripped of too many responsibilities and to regain status something needs to be done to reverse this. 

As a client, the way we function at Pocket Living is a step ahead of some other clients in the industry as we have a team of architects working as advisors in house. This helps protect the architect’s concept from corrosion or dilution as a result of the value engineering that is common in design and build contracts. 

I would advocate that clients employ more in-house architects and design advisors in order to steer the project in a more competent manner. In turn they can expect higher design quality. 

Architects need to be more commercially minded and understand developers’ financial drivers better. This will allow them to gain the client’s respect and work more in collaboration with them to achieve the best results. 

What existing building or place would you most like to tackle? 

I’d like to continue working on small infill sites in London to try and alleviate the housing crisis in the city using modern methods of construction.

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