How does the programme work?
Twelve couples live and work alongside each other, building and furnishing their dream home in the chocolate-box village of Witham Friary in Somerset. As the house goes up, the number of couples goes down as those not pulling their weight are voted off by their fellow contestants. The series culminates in a head-to-head between the two remaining couples as the viewers vote to decide which of them gets the keys to their new dream home. It might sound a bit naff, but it is actually more Grand Designs than Changing Rooms, and it is very well constructed.
How did you land the job?
The production company knew of me from television work I have done for RTE, the BBC of Ireland, and asked if I could put some names forward. They were particularly keen to have a woman architect and I suggested people such as Sumita Sinha and Sarah Featherstone. Those auditions went ahead, but they came back and said theyâ€™d really like me to do it. Apparently, they liked my Irish accent. That said, they were also taken by George Ferguson, who was offered the job before he became president. He turned it down because he was too busy.
Why did you accept it?
Because it is educational. Itâ€™s important that the public sees an architect who is a woman and itâ€™s important they see contemporary architecture full stop. I am very pleased with the scheme, an extension of the historic village pattern established around Witham Friary. Long thin forms are used that are similar to the nearby agricultural buildings, though they are, of course, detailed and constructed in a contemporary way. The building is a timber structure packed with recycled newspaper and wrapped in a combination of timber shingles, stone walls and clay roof tiles.
I have done the whole thing very seriously. Weâ€™ve done a site analysis and had site meetings.
I have done a super 1:25 scale model and theyâ€™ve seen me get the scheme through my insurance, which wasnâ€™t at all easy. And most important they see me, the architect, as the head of the
team. I insisted on a traditional contract and every decision comes through me. I am the architect and I am the boss.
The television company, Zeal Television, knows very little about architecture and didnâ€™t know who should be in charge, the architect or builder. I am very keen for them to learn about the whole process. Originally, they wanted me to work on a dog-box pattern scheme and I refused. I have also refused attempts to have a second-rate kitchen foisted on me and I have said no to a concrete tile from the programmeâ€™s roof sponsor. These are my clients and I must give them the best, I say.
Linda Barker is presenting the show. How have you two got on?
She has no option but to get on with me, but I think itâ€™s been quite a learning curve for her. Sheâ€™s a trained interior designer, but sheâ€™s never had to deal with the architectâ€™s world of building regulations and planners. And she really likes the design of the house, which obviously helps â€“ that and the fact that she is very professional and confident.
What do you think of the contestants?
Their brick-laying skills have impressed me and I have been pleased by how open they have been to my suggestions. Ranging from Tudor couple Viv and Alan to juggler and tattoo man Leb, they are a colourful group, so it has been surprising how similar their ideas are. They are all, for example, happy with the idea of an octagon-roofed kitchen as the heart of the home and they all want generous rooms. And most important, they have certainly learned that you can be inspired by an existing design without doing pastiche.
What have you learned from the programme?
I havenâ€™t learned a lot yet â€“ only that television companies donâ€™t know much about architecture.
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