In this interview, we are joined by Architect Bronwen Gombert – Founder of Connected Architecture, located in Maidenhead, Berkshire. With 13 years of experience at a well-renowned architectural practice in London, Bronwen can handle regional and international architectural projects. Recently awarded Best Modern House for Chilterns Buildings Design Awards 2021 – Connected Architecture sets the tone for contemporary architecture with their unique twist of personal service.
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Who are Connected Architecture and Bronwen Gombert?
I am Bronwen Gombert the founder of Connected Architecture an award-winning, contemporary architecture studio focused on compelling and sustainable residential design based in Maidenhead, Berkshire.
I set up Connected Architecture in 2017 following 13 years at Jestico + Whiles, a well renowned London practice where I was an Associate co-leading the practice’s work in the education sector.
I am an experienced Chartered Architect with over 15 years of designing and delivering projects both regionally and internationally. I enjoy a reputation for project delivery of the highest calibre.
I founded Connected Architecture with the intention of creating dream homes for clients and forming strong and lasting relationships along the way. My people-focused approach and desire to create buildings that are both deeply connected to my clients and their surrounding environment truly sets Connected Architecture apart.
How did you get interested in architecture?
When I was at secondary school, my best friend’s dad was an architect at a very well-known commercial practice in Durban, South Africa.
I was at boarding school at the time, so I would often spend weekends staying at my friend’s house and we would go into the studio with her dad when he needed to catch up on work.
We’d wonder around the studio to look at the designs they were working on and the amazing architectural models being built. I was totally fascinated and captivated by the balance between the artistic and logical thought processes that went into the creation of the designs and knew that this is what I wanted to study.
It didn’t occur to me then that it was the weekend and they were all still working! That should have been a clue about how demanding the job is!
What are your main responsibilities in Connected Architecture?
I am responsible for everything as I am a sole practitioner so my role encompasses all aspects of running the business;
From meeting clients to creating the designs, preparing the drawings and visuals to submitting planning applications, creating marketing, sending out invoices, keeping up to date on insurances, etc the list is endless.
No two days are alike and that is what makes the work just so enjoyable.
Describe your architecture - design style?
Unlike some architectural practices, I don’t have a ‘house style’ as such. You could describe my designs as modern, but I prefer to approach each project with an open mind, beginning with an in-depth consultation and continuing with open communication from start to finish.
This ensures the design of your home will truly flow and work around you and your family. The design is therefore deeply rooted in how the home needs to feel for my clients but equally important is how it sits within its environment and context.
Tell us more about your latest achievement?
I was absolutely thrilled for my project Sable House to be selected recently as the joint Best Modern House and Overall Project Winner for the Chilterns Buildings Design Awards 2021.
Winning this award really is a highlight for me since setting up in 2017.
Sable House is a project I am immensely proud of as it is a remarkable home, not because it is a ‘glossy magazine’ home, but because it incorporates some very clever thinking, beautiful detailing, and sustainable design that achieves a striking but perfectly functional and comfortable family home.
I was very grateful to Heinz Richardson (formerly of Jestico + Whiles and now director of Buro Nineteen), for the opportunity to take on the detailed design and delivery of this project following planning approval in 2019.
Architecture details - what drives the philosophy at Connected Architecture?
The simple answer is that my clients are my inspiration.
I am a people’s person and I love seeing the happiness and joy that I can bring to my clients through my designs.
I love to translate their needs into innovative and outstanding architecture. For me sustainable design is a great design and I aim to create inspiring, contemporary, healthy places for people, with minimal impact on the environment and reduced running and lifecycle costs and I deliver this with an entirely personal service.
What was the "lightbulb moment" in your architectural career?
That’s a tricky question as there have been many moments.
Initially, it was working on school projects that would benefit children’s educational outcomes and life opportunities and now it’s knowing that I can make a positive contribution to people’s everyday lives that really is what drives me in my career.
How does it look the feasibility phase for every project at Connected Architecture?
Initially, I start with an in-depth consultation with my clients including a site visit to really understand them, their needs, and aspirations.
This is then woven into my thinking whilst I undertake a thorough review of the site, existing house (if applicable), context, planning constraints, precedent examples, etc to start to form the threads of the initial design options.
The designs then flow from here, but always in close collaboration with my clients. I usually produce up to three different design options initially, then meet with the clients to run through these together to discuss their merits and establish a preferred design option.
Quite often this can be a hybrid of the options.
Tell us about your most recent encounter with obstacles at work (with project or client)
There are always obstacles in architecture, but one of the most common is gaining planning consent for projects.
Just recently the planning department wrote to me to say they would be recommending an application for refusal on the basis of the design not being in-keeping with the existing period property.
The solution: I called the planning case officer and explained the full rationale behind the design intent and why I felt that this was entirely appropriate for the setting.
Following a few more rounds of correspondence, I was able to use my powers of persuasion to convince them of the merits of the scheme and turned the refusal into an approval without changing the design!
Are you into long term planning? What milestones you have set for the firm in the new 12-24 months?
Having reached the 4-years in business birthday this year, I did decide now is the time to deeply think about Connected Architecture and where I want the practice to go over the next few years.
When I first set up, it was largely driven by a personal need to achieve a better work-life balance with a young child, a demanding job, and constant clock watching commuting into London taking its toll on my family life.
But now, I have reached a point where there is space to dream and think about goal setting. Initially, I really need to focus on bringing clarity to my brand, so that is the key milestone for the year ahead and after that, I will be considering taking steps to expand into a small studio
How do you see the future of architecture in the next 10 years?
Architects have a huge responsibility and role to play in tackling the climate crisis through sustainable design.
The built environment contributes significantly to the issues we are all facing and I believe there will be far more focus on sustainable architecture involving renewal, retrofit, and reuse rather than demolition and new build.
I am excited by this and much of my work at the moment is centred around breathing new life into existing buildings that would otherwise not remain sustainable to live in.
How to recognize Connected Architecture's project signature?
I believe that the reviews and referrals I receive from my clients are the biggest testimony to my project signature in that they all mention what a pleasure it is to work with me and some clients have even become long-term friends.
I put a great deal of effort into ensuring that your project goes smoothly and that the design really does achieve your aspirations.
The architecture that I design flows well, rooms are flooded with natural light, are comfortable to be in, kind to the environment as far as possible, and beautifully drafted. I offer clever thinking and will challenge my clients to explore the options available to them to achieve the best outcome.
On what projects do you work on at the moment?
I have a number of projects at various stages at present including extensions, remodels and new builds across Berkshire.
One, in particular, that is a multi-phase project in Russell’s Water near Henley-on-Thames, involves the careful refurbishment and extension of a Grade 2 listed former public house which successfully completed last month on time, on budget, and with very happy new owners.
Followed by phase two, contemporary new-build family home on the other half of the site starting construction this week! It is a very exciting project and I have been sharing the journey in my social media so do take a look for more information.
Do you use architectural renderings, and how?
I often use architectural renderings / 3D visuals as a means of communicating the design ideas to clients as I often find that 2D drawings just don’t convey enough about the design.
To truly communicate it clearly to clients to ensure they have a thorough understanding of what they are committing to before going to planning or when the work starts.
Clients always find these to be very useful and they then have the confidence to move forward with a design knowing it is what they want. Sometimes this is at the early stages of design options but most often it is before we proceed to a planning application on their preferred design.
Of course, they do also help in marketing my work and can also prove valuable in convincing the planners on the merits of a design.
What CAD/BIM software do you use in your projects?
I predominantly use AutoCAD for drawing work and SketchUp along with Photoshop and InDesign for creating visuals and presentations.
I am certainly familiar with BIM from my previous practice but I don’t find it necessary for the work I do now.
How do you organize your time around projects and personal life? Any tips?
As a full-time working mum to a very sporty 9-year old boy, my day is a dance of school runs, extra-curricular activities, homework and snacks around which I now fit my work.
I have to be very organised and I am quite strict about my working hours so that I can be there for my son, but being my own boss has provided me with the freedom to work flexibly to achieve this.
I think the last 20-months of the pandemic has taught us all the importance of family and safeguarding the time we spend together and making time for our own wellbeing.
It is quite difficult to plan timeframes on projects because a lot of factors are beyond my control e.g. how long clients may take to make decisions on designs, how long it may take to achieve planning consent, hiccups that may crop up on-site and at the moment delays in material availability, etc, but I believe that keeping clients well informed and clear communication always helps no matter the circumstances.
If you were to give advice to your younger self, what would be?
Don’t let fear stop you from realising your dreams!
I held back from starting my own practice for a long time because I was afraid of failure, but I really do believe that you can make anything happen if you put your mind to it.
It just takes courage to believe in yourself! The same can be said for taking those first steps in making your dream project a reality to.
If you want to work with someone who cares as much about your project as you do, then I would love to work with you to realise your dream home. The easiest way to find out if I am the right architect for you is to get in touch via email, my website, Houzz, LinkedIn or Facebook for a chat.