As our 30th anniversary year comes to a close, we put some more questions to our senior and founding partner Edward Nash.
What services does Nash Partnership offer which might not be associated with a traditional architects firm?
We began over 30 years ago as a one-man band general practice. Based at first only in Bath, the value and regenerative potential of historic assets and the issues associated with them were inevitably a big part of our development as a practice. As planning consultancy grew to become a specialist skillset, we embraced this around 15 years ago to best understand all the things the statutory planning process was being shaped to protect and enable. We did this partly because we didn’t want to lose the opportunity to work face-to-face with Local Authority planners. Our projects grew in size and started to include large scale new housing. We realised we needed a greater depth of urban design understanding.
As the years passed and many of our larger projects were built, we began understanding more about the way major regenerative change happens. We realised our founding discipline of architecture seemed to present itself to the client world as far narrower in its placemaking ambitions than we wanted it to be. We realised, too, that what the best design projects could achieve is so often fractured and frustrated by recessions and societal challenges which undermine investment confidence. So, we understood we were in the “confidence building business” and recruited socio-economic research geographers. This helped to build the tools of research and data analysis that now help to underwrite so much the work we do for both private and public sectors.
It has all been a journey of intellectual curiosity – so much more than one just about building market share. But our broad skillset has allowed us to understand how the built environment world works, well before individual architectural projects even get conceived.
Why do you believe it’s important to offer a diverse range of services?
As consultancy businesses grow, adding new skillsets is one of the ways to help grow market share. But for Nash Partnership, our skill base is more about “cross understanding” the complexity of the built environment than it is about “cross selling”. To us, the built environment is at least as complex and interesting as the Amazon Rainforest is to an ecologist! Because we have the skills here, our staff are better at understanding and better at cooperating with members of other teams. We have come to see each of the professional career foundation pathways individuals go down as unhelpfully siloed in their understanding of the world and feel more could be done by mixing everybody up.
What do you think the future of built environment services will be in the South West?
I do think, as in other walks of life, big is only better up to a point. Multidisciplinary consultancies tend to be larger and, as such, to be drawn to particular kinds of work to suit their level of the market. But change management and adaptability can become more difficult in larger organisations. I think there is a lot to be said for smaller organisations which can be more nimble and more adaptable if they are prepared to identify the business model niches that exist. It’s best not to try to be all things to all people. Follow the area in the property world that really interests you and you might thereby make your best contributions in it.
What new built environment projects do you think the South West will see in the future?
Services that show understanding, analysis, change prediction and management on a scale so much larger than components such as a new building on an individual site. The time is long overdue when society and all the built environment disciplines recognise the need for conceptual models of understanding the dynamics of built environment change in the same sort of way we take for granted an ecologist might hope to understand the change dynamics of the natural environment.
In the climate change adaptation era, being able to understand and account for the global impacts of the way our built environments force us to live is going to be absolutely essential.