Latest News | 25 May 2023

Celebrating 25 years of grand designs

Matthew Montague Architects
Derby City Council
University of Derby
Derby County Football Club
Derby Arena
QUAD Derby
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This year marks 25 years in business for Matthew Montague Architects.

To put that into perspective, 1998 was the year Google was founded, pretty much everyone had a Nokia 6120 (Nokia sold 22 million that year), no-one had heard of the Kardashians and a four bedroomed detached house in the Derby area cost around £70,000.

It takes something special for a business to keep its doors open for more than a quarter of a century, especially in evolving markets in a competitive industry like construction.

Here, we catch up with architect Matthew Montague to reflect on some of the changes, challenges and what he thinks the future could or should look like that shapes our cityscape and built environment.

Q. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and Matthew Montague Architects?

A: I studied and worked at my father’s practice; Montague Architects in the early days and qualified as an architect in 1989.

I think it is every architect’s dream to build their own house and I was no different.

In 1995, while still working at Montague Architects, I purchased a small piece of land in Derby, an infill plot and got to work!

It was building this house that was the catalyst. We applied to be on a TV programme; Channel 4’s Garden Doctors – and were successful.

The programme generated some fantastic PR, then came the call for my first job; a friend wanted me to build them a house!

I branched out on my own, opened an office in Duffield and increased to a team of five. We were there for three years before moving to larger premises on Friar Gate, in Derby, increasing to a team of 10.

In 2013, we relocated to The Cheese Factory in Longford, near Ashbourne. I was delighted when the opportunity arose in 2017 to merge with my father’s practice; Montague Architects, we are now a team of 12 and are firmly based in Longford.

Q. You have worked in and around Derby for many years focusing on the built environment. How much has it changed over the past 25 years?

A: There are two main sites that instantly spring to mind, and they are Pride Park and Derbion.

I think the development of the shopping centre was a huge change – it replaced an old-fashioned, unattractive 1970s shopping centre with a much-needed, more modern development.

While the development was good, I think it is a shame that it created a divide between the historic Cathedral Quarter and the south of the city and took the heart away from the once bustling St Peter’s Street.

It would be great to see incentives to reintroduce connectivity to these areas.

QUAD is another development that is a great resource and facility for the city but again I think it lacks connectivity to the public realm, probably because of the inactivity around the Assembly Rooms.

Pride Park has gone from strength-to-strength and is seeing significant development again at present.

The catalyst to this was Pride Park Stadium, and as a staunch Rams supporter, I grew up watching games at the Baseball Ground.

Since Derby County moved to Pride Park we have been fortunate enough to have worked extensively with the football club over the years, from the ambitious World Cup bid, refurbished lounges, the Clough Taylor Statue, works at Moor Farm and an extension for the East Stand, which was submitted for planning in 2017, incidentally one of our longest running planning applications.

Other members of our team love Derby Arena and think it is a fantastic building – they like the form and the colours.

I’m not as much of a fan of the design (that’s architects for you) but there is no doubting that it was another positive development for the city.

House prices have risen by 54% in Derby in the last decade, so it is not surprising that residential developments are proving so popular; the Nightingale Quarter and the Becketwell regeneration scheme being a great example and are going to assist in re-vitalising the city centre.

I have always thought that Derby sold itself short, it didn’t believe in itself, it lacked ambition, the built environment has been makeshift and under invested.

That said I think we are moving forwards now with a much stronger vision for the city.

Organisations such as Marketing Derby, the University of Derby and Derby City Council are pushing ahead, and the future looks bright.

Q. How has the industry changed over the past 25 years?

A: I feel like I could shoot myself in the foot here, I need to be careful what I say!

A multitude of things have changed, many for the greater good, sustainability, carbon neutrality, biodiversity, there are many more environmental considerations than there used to be.

The materials that we use, glazing, heating systems, insulation systems, cladding system, so many technical advancements.

Also, in the office, the technology we use to create visuals, videos, 3D printing, virtual reality, drawing methods have evolved; no more drawing boards.

Other things that have changed, not quite so positively, are regulations and planning.

Anything that includes improved safety, working regimes etc, are of course welcome and often necessary.

What I am referring to is the planning process – it can be incredibly long, protracted and very drawn out.

This doesn’t help keep business moving but also, from an architect’s perspective, we often find planning regulations stifle great design.

Q. What is your greatest achievement; building, development or restoration that you are most proud of and why?

A: For me, personally, it is Redmire; which is a stunning family home in a beautiful setting.

What I love about this building is that the design, the architecture, the form, there was no ‘value-engineering’ or compromise in the design and construction process.

An architect’s dream, even now, every time I see it, I stop for a minute, as it literally takes your breath away.

In parallel with this, and one of my colleague’s designs is the dining room at Repton Preparatory School.

It is a fantastic design, modern, high quality, it flows and sits seamlessly in its wonderfully historic setting. There is a great sense of satisfaction seeing a building completed as it was originally conceived.

Q. What’s the worst scheme that you can’t escape?

A: I designed the shopping centre in Heatherton Village in Littleover when I first qualified, which I always felt was a missed opportunity; it was cheap and cheerful and as a district centre I always thought it could have been so much better.

Obviously, one that has stuck with me, as this was quite a few years ago now.

Maybe, if I stick around it will be re-developed and we will get chance to have another go!

Q. What is the greatest lesson that you have learned over the years in business?

A: Well, very early on in my career I learned not to get planning permission for a three-storey block of apartments and then build a four-storey block!

The first we knew of it was when the solicitors called. They were doing the conveyancing for the client that had bought the penthouse! A retrospective planning application and a few nervous months rectified the situation.

In all seriousness, things can and do go wrong in this industry. We pride ourselves on always doing the best for our clients, so I’d say the key lesson that I’ve learned is to get on with people and if anything goes wrong – always blame the builder!

Oops, I mean, hold your hands up, whoever is at fault!

Always deal with problems quickly, efficiently and professionally as a team. That approach has always served me well.

Q. Going forward, how is 2023 looking?

A: For us as a practice, 2023 is looking to be a good year.

We continue to work with the university on their vision within the city.

We have some exciting projects with Repton School, several commercial developments and incredible houses.

We are actually working on a project to refurbish Lonsdale House, which is fantastic as this was my first commercial job back in 1998, so 25 years later we are doing it all again!

We will be celebrating our 25 years with a few social events and look forward to seeing many of you there.

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