In this interview, we are joined by Architect Thomas Souster, founder of Thomas Souster Architecture and Design. The Devon-based design-led practice is focused on projects with warm, minimalistic, and contemporary details. Founded on strong technical design and sustainability principles.
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Who are Thomas Souster Architecture & Design?
My name is Thomas Souster, an Architect. I live in Devon with my fiancé, a Spanish architect from Valencia. I started my architectural practice in September 2020.
How to recognize a Thomas Souster Architecture project?
A calm palette of materials and colors is used and honestly, focusing on form and natural light.
How did you get interested in architecture?
It was a fascination with the beauty of objects and places, art, and architectural photography that started the journey.
I’m fascinated with Japanese architecture, in particular, their approach to thresholds; translucent links between spaces, and gentle transitions from inside to outside spaces is that’s something I try and to compose in my projects.
Describe your design style
The practice is design-led and founded on strong technical design and sustainability principles. My style has been described as warm minimalism; it is contemporary and finely detailed, focusing on using natural materials expressed simply and honestly.
Japanese and Scandinavian designers have influenced me, but I have lived and worked in Devon my entire life, and I spend a lot of my spare time emerged in its landscapes.
For me, the very best dwellings emerge from the landscape with materials and details inherent to the place. Its context-driven and external landscaping will form a strong part of the architecture.
The architectural style is the product of the design process; once I understand the site and the client’s desires, I will often begin a project by placing a client in the landscape and design the building around them.
What are the primary responsibilities for an architect in 2021?
As well as leading the charge on ecologically sustainable design, we need to push for socially sustainable buildings and environments, I believe that architects have an opportunity to influence people in positions of power, and that includes pushing our commercial clients to develop humane and affordable standards of housing for everyone.
Tell us about your most recent encounter with obstacles at work
My clients come to me because they want a unique design; one of the most important skills in our profession is managing a client’s dreams and expectations to suit their budget. Unfortunately, this often means scaling down the vision rather than the quality of the product.
What milestones you have set for Thomas Souster - Architecture & Design for the new 12 months
Typically projects last 18 -24 months from design inception to completion on site. Twelve months in, and I have many projects starting on site now and in the spring, and so by the end of next year, I expect to have a series of completed buildings with happy clients and beautiful photos on my website.
On what projects do you work on at the moment?
I’m an extension specialist, and most of my projects are contemporary extensions and internal re-jigs to countryside dwellings. I have many projects all over the Southwest. In all, I’ve worked on 18 projects over the last 12 months, all varying in size.
My main project is an all-new YMCA community facility in South Devon. The building program includes a baby toddler nursery, a sports hall, vocational training facilities for catering, hair, and beauty, and a public cafe that will run alongside support services for young persons and adults.
Also working on an exciting renovation project in Teigngrace. The site borders an established woodland is set into an acre of land; they have wild deer and woodpeckers in the garden.
It’s a charming 1960s brick bungalow with a flat roof and mid-century brick styling; I’m working with the client to reconfigure the interior to be more open plan, add a lightweight glass extension, and renovate the existing fabric to Passivhaus standards.
I have recently completed one of my first major projects for the practice – ‘Big Barn’ is a contemporary and characterful conversion of a 19th-century single-story milk barn into a three-bedroom family home and studio space.
The first floor was designed to appear as a lightweight insertion into the barn, sitting on top of the exposed steel beams that support it. This was partly achieved by using lightweight timber finishes on the first floor and using heavy, warmer earthy materials for the ground floor.
Do you use Architectural Renderings and how?
I like to start my projects by hand sketching plans and ideas. Then, with a pencil, I can work on the fly with clients in meetings, and as the project progresses to a final idea, I present my ideas with a 3D computer model with which the client can interact.
I’m not interested in photo-realistic computer renderings because even the best ones feel quite cold and unnatural; for me, the time is better spent conveying ideas artistically and playfully.
What CAD slash BIM software do you use in your projects
As well as hand sketching, I use AutoCAD and SketchUp. AutoCAD is just a digital drawing board, and SketchUp is a very intuitive tool, well suited to generating lots of ideas and playing with concepts.
I am fully trained in Revit and ArchiCAD BIM software. I will use that for larger commercial projects but otherwise prefer to use the most flexible tools.
How do you organize your time around projects and personal life?
I integrate it. I surf as often as I can after site meetings in Cornwall, and I regularly bake bread and brew beer to take to those meetings. The flexibility of working for myself is wonderful, and the trade-off is that I don’t take a lot of holidays.
Still, I never find myself approaching burnout because my lifestyle gives me the downtime required to keep myself fresh and motivated.
If you were to advise your younger self, what would it be?
Have a vision and spend time working on yourself.
When I started working in practice, I spent a lot of my time pleasing my mentors and superiors and not enough time exploring my own ideas as an architect and individual. I would tell myself to try and be more confident about my desires and aspirations and express those as often as possible.
It’s true that individual projects can launch a career, I think sometimes you just have to keep making the most of every project and eventually you’ll get the one that really embodies what you, and what you believe good design to be.