Introducing James

At NJ Architects, we are incredibly proud of the people who make up our diverse, talented and dedicated team. In a series of articles we are introducing you to some of them and discovering more about their inspirations and aspirations.

Next up is James Francis.

Why did you want to be an architect?

I have no specific reason for becoming an architect, I was just fascinated by models when I was a child and created miniature villages and towns for my model railway. I’ve always been interested in the built and natural environment as well as the sciences and humanities, and the outlet for all of these interests turned out to be architecture.

It does make sense. It’s a profession that needs one to understand buildings and their part in the world, the massive impact of construction on the natural environment, and how and why structures and materials interact and behave. It is also about providing for the needs of people too.

What was the first project you worked on?

I worked on the conversion of a former pumping station into a holiday home in Dedham Vale, a little building but a project that took time and evolved, becoming a creative and lovely reuse of a redundant building. This is partly why I have a soft spot for small projects – the scale is such that they can become crafted objects that are joyous and fun.

What are some of your favourite projects that you’ve worked on?

I’ve enjoyed the technical challenges of working on complex buildings including Plymouth Life Centre as well as other leisure and education projects. But the projects that really stand out for me are those where I have been involved in designing a new house for private clients where they talk about a home at the end of the project and not just a house.

One young couple once called into the office to tell me how much the building I had designed had given their growing family, showing me photographs of how they used the space. It was so beautiful to see something I had designed play a massive role in their family life.

What buildings around the world inspire you most?

There are a lot of buildings that have inspired me over the years, such as the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe and Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright. But as I go through life I am seeking out inspirations from buildings that quietly work, and the spaces they are part of.

One example is spaces in tube stations, and how they are tied into networks of movement. Or I might enter a house and see it has become the most essential space for someone – their home. These types of buildings are not about architecture for its own sake but about how design and architecture can serve people individually or as a mass so intimately.

Are there any architects whose work inspires you in particular?

Edwin Lutyens has always inspired me because his work was often associated with the work of the great garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.

I believe a building must have an intimate relationship with the landscape it sits in and the combination of these two great talents has produced some fantastic places.

I also love the precision and rigor of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and the efforts that he went to produce such simplicity as can be seen in the Farnsworth House – one of the most iconic buildings of 20th century design.

You work on a variety of projects from small scale residential/private to multi-million pound redevelopments. What type of projects excite you and why?

The easiest question to answer – any project where I can put my skills to use to make other people’s lives better is why I love my career in this industry. These could be small or large but it is so rewarding to see something that started as a sketch on my desk become a building that fulfils a need or just simply puts a smile on somebody’s face.