Robert Luck is the Managing Director of UK architectural design company LATIS. Focused on improving people's lives through sustainable design and innovation, LATIS are international architectural design and development consultants with a unique capacity to conceptualise opportunities, test ideas, overcome grand challenges - and actually build them. LATIS are rapidly becoming a leaders in the design of energy efficient and sustainable buildings and have recently launched a Green Ideas and Innovations Networking Group to promote innovations and trends in sustainability worldwide.
Dorothée Queyroux: Combining renewable energy with innovative design will translate into cost savings, improvements in building performance, and support among the community. How would you describe the design process which allows you to achieve those goals?
Robert Luck:The built environment is becoming increasingly complex, both from the changing demands of developers, occupiers and investors to rapidly evolving green tech advancements. Our ability to keep up with these changes, innovate and apply the most appropriate solutions within a given context is what drives our creative process. It also forms part of the changing nature of the business of architecture, something that I believe LATIS is pioneering in many ways. The term 'sustainable' which is often used as a catch-all phrase is also extremely broad in the design sense and offers both challenges and great opportunities for the design process. It can mean creating a low-energy technologically advanced building that manages and generates its own power, or simply consideration of how the building is assembled, its longevity and how the overall embodied energy can be reduced over its entire live-cycle. In most cases it is a combination of the two together with an appreciation of the opportunity and impact of a project within a wider social context; how new skills and employment can be created to the ways in which local businesses can be supported in the construction and operational phases. All of these factors contribute to what we believe creates a holistic 'sustainable' design cycle – it is something that we are constantly debating, learning and evolving at LATIS, with the objective of capitalising these opportunities in new and innovative ways.
DQ:As an architect and a developer, does LATIS have a fundamental conflict to overcome? In general terms architects focus on the quality and purity of design in a scheme whereas a developer, particularly during the last two years, is incentivised to maximise profit by ensuring cost-effectiveness. How do you balance these two approaches?
RL: LATIS is about realising the value in the built environment through sustainable design. It is also about great ideas and creativity, not simply in the 'architectural' sense but every aspect of the design process – from the way in which a project is financed through to construction, facilities management to marketing. We believe that these factors are complementary in design terms – all with equal weighting. Understanding and combining these ideals is the magic that can make a particular project succeed. LATIS also has a vested interest in establishing the long term value of our sustainable, design-led brand and this can only be achieved by creating the environment where we can actually make innovative projects happen. In this sense LATIS are not a conventional Architectural practice, nor conventional developer - more of a response to the changing dynamics of both industries. In East Africa for instance we will shortly be launching our sustainable-affordable housing, where LATIS are looking at ways to reduce the cost of overall home ownership through a multitude of design, social and economic factors. Our response comes not only in the way in which the homes are designed and built but also how they are financed, how renewable energy can be harnessed to enable construction outside of the infrastructure grid, reducing land cost and bottom line home running costs. The implications of land title security have also been considered to enable affordable mortgages together with pre-fabrication to reduce the construction risk. These factors combined, together with high quality design and urban planning will significantly contribute to the growth and success of the sustainable communities we develop over the long term. This is one of several LATIS projects that outlines our innovative approach – a vision that is not fundamentally conflicted, but actively makes a positive contribution to the challenges of the 21st Century.
DQ: Voltaire work with a number of architectural firms who also develop schemes in their own right. How have you managed to stand out from the crowd during a period that has been difficult during which to raise real estate funding?
RL: LATIS concepts and designs go far beyond the conventional approach to architectural design, not only in the form or our buildings, but the technology, operations and strategies we apply - re-thinking the conventional idea of building procurement, whilst simultaneously addressing the implications of wider social economic responsibilities. This broad approach has enabled us to capitalise on opportunities, beyond the traditional realm of architectural services. It has also enabled LATIS to clearly differentiate its service and product with tangible energy and cost savings. Apart from this, we are also a highly flexible and dynamic company with an enthusiastic, energetic and creative team – I think this has been our most valuable asset, particularly during the past two years when projects have been difficult to get started both for developers and architects alike. By working in partnership with developers, understanding the new criteria within which they operate, particularly on the funding side, we have been able get projects started which perhaps would not have gone ahead in normal circumstances. Our approach to fees is flexible, and beyond our capacity for design, this is an area where LATIS has been able to stand out from the crowd. From the outset we have been willing to negotiate fees based on a 'fees for equity basis', taking the planning risk hand in hand with the developer, in return for share of the equity proportionate to the increased value of the site. Working in partnership with industry leaders such as Philips, we have also been able to promote solutions with significant energy and operational cost savings – a value-added approach to conventional architectural design services, which in the current climate is an attractive offering for both developers and building operators alike.
DQ: What's next for LATIS?
RL: Our focus is primarily creating 'in-house' scalable, design-led concepts and realising them. By developing our own concepts, from first principles we are able to innovate and test ideas which perhaps would not be possible in the normal architect-developer relationship. LATIS then also benefits from the value creation at each stage of the development cycle, whilst maintaining control of the overall vision and concept value. Our first such project will be our affordable-sustainable housing in Kenya where the primary objective is to establish LATIS as a brand for affordable, sustainable mass-housing. We believe this can be a model that can be replicated across the developing world where the development parameters are comparable.
In The UK we are currently developing a concept for eco-affordable hotels, re-inventing the 'hostel' model with a completely fresh design-led approach. These ideas and opportunities capitalise on our ability to think creatively and deliver on the ground. It also offers an opportunity to develop LATIS beyond that of purely architecture and development towards our vision for a diversified brand dealing more specifically with 'sustainable built environments' and the lifestyles they promote.