Picturesque village

Architects practice with designs to make a difference in the Valley of the Tees

Corstorphine & Wright, one of the UK’s leading architectural firms, is already having a lasting impact on the region after opening a base in the North East. PIERRE BARRON reports

SIMON Crowe laughs when asked if he remembers what sparked his ambition to become an architect. “Believe it or not, it was a song by Simon and Garfunkel,” he replies.

He was a 14-year-old boy, growing up in County Durham at the time, and was inheriting his father’s unwavering love for the iconic album Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Art Garfunkel, who studied architecture in his youth, had Paul Simon write a song about an American architect called Frank Lloyd Wright. The result was a track from the album titled “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”, with the lyrics: Architects can come and architects can go, and never change your point of view.

“My dad was a huge fan of Simon and Garfunkel, and that phrase really touched me,” says Simon. “I became intrigued by the song and started to research what an architect was doing. ”

Forty years later, having accumulated a wealth of experience in the profession, Simon is the manager of the new North East studio at one of the UK’s leading architectural firms, Corstorphine & Wright, and leads a talented team on a range of projects intended to have a lasting impact on the region.

As a growing force in the world of architecture, Corstorphine & Wright employs over 200 people in 10 national studios, including Birmingham, Canterbury, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Manchester, Stourbridge, Warwick and most recently Darlington and Tamworth .

“The company could have chosen other locations for its northeast base, but its decision to come to Darlington is a blow to the city that should not be underestimated,” says Simon.

Corstorphine & Wright, winner of the Commercial Architectural Practice category at the Northern Design Awards in 2020, is ranked among the UK’s top 25 architectural firms by the Architects’ Journal and has the ambition to be in the top 10 over the next few years.

“The firm is a growing organization, and the North East was an obvious gap in its network of studios,” adds Simon, whose local connections and passion for the region were a key factor in choosing Corstorphine & Wright from Darlington.

Although born in Middlesbrough, he spent most of his life in the picturesque village of Heighington, near Darlington. Growing up, his main ambition was to become a professional footballer and he scored numerous goals for Shildon, Newton Aycliffe and Evenwood.

However, he had also excelled in technical drawing at Woodham School, then graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art at university. This combination of artistic flair and an eye for design – along with that useful push from Simon and Garfunkel – made architecture a more realistic career path.

He attended Leeds School of Architecture at 18 and impressed with his extensive experience working with the Architects Design Group. Despite other offers, he rewarded the group’s loyalty by accepting a full-time position after graduating with a “distinction”.

It was the start of a career that spanned three decades, with highlights such as the mixed-use development of Feethams in Darlington including the revival of the old downtown bus depot into a leisure district , anchored by a nine-screen cinema, Premier Auberge Hotel, restaurants and bars.

Now he’s relishing his current role with Corstorphine & Wright, during what he describes as “exciting times” due to historic levels of investment in Tees Valley.

Flagship projects to date include:

  • TEESSIDE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: Corstorphine & Wright is working closely with the Tees Valley Combined Authority and Mayor-elect Ben Houchen, on coordinating the redevelopment and expansion of the terminal buildings, which is constantly evolving.
  • TEESWORKS: Responsibilities for Teesworks’ 4,500-acre development include the redesign of Steel House – the former headquarters of British Steel – which will become a hub for the reclaimed industrial site. Corstorphine & Wright is also supporting the creative and eco-friendly redevelopment of other iconic former British Steel buildings, as the Teesworks site becomes one of the country’s focal points for green energy.
  • CAMPHILL VILLAGE TRUST: Corstorphine & Wright’s northeast studio provides new and redeveloped property designs across the country for the national charity, which supports adults with learning disabilities, mental health issues and autism. The company’s partnership with the Trust and its commitment to an inclusive approach to design are at the heart of its corporate social responsibility philosophy.
  • NORTH TREASURE: Corstorphine & Wright are in talks on a number of plans related to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement that more than 1,500 Whitehall officials will be transferred to Darlington. More details will be revealed shortly.

Director Karen Crowe is also leading the development of a company-wide sustainability framework, with this ongoing and crucial work leading to Corstorphine & Wright becoming a net zero carbon practice.

In addition, Karen coordinates a five-year corporate social responsibility strategy for the entire company, and Simon also manages the implementation of the firm’s digital design strategy, using the principles of Building Information Modeling. (BIM).

Key to the company’s future in the North East is Tom Harrison, who joined Corstorphine & Wright two years ago as an associate architect and is now an associate director.

Tom shares Simon’s passion for the North East. He was born and raised in Middlesbrough, studied architecture at Newcastle University and spent 12 years working for another firm in the area before deciding that the chance to join Corstorphine & Wright was too great an opportunity. to miss.

“For a long time, I felt the need to look beyond Teesside to achieve my ambitions and work on big projects. That has changed in recent years with the level of investment Ben Houchen has made as mayor of Tees Valley, ”said Tom.

“Now, working in one of the UK’s largest architectural firms, I feel I can make a difference where I come from, where my family lives and where I care most.

“The mayor stressed that he wants local businesses to be used wherever possible and it is a pleasure to work alongside teams based in Teesside. You can feel a real passion for the area, a pride in Teesside, and the buzz is definitely back in the area.

Corstorphine & Wright can offer a unique solution by combining these strong local relationships with the expertise, resources and cross-sector understanding of the entire firm.

For Tom and Simon, it is about wanting to leave a legacy to their territory: to give something back to local communities; engage with schools and colleges to promote architectural careers; design buildings that will have a positive and lasting impact; and, ultimately, changing lives for the better.

“The people of Teesside are good, honest, hard-working people who have been through tough times and deserve the best, so we want to do a good job for them,” says Simon. “If we can leave something of value behind, it is much more satisfying and important than financial gain.”

Architects can come and architects can go, and never change your point of view…Contrary to this lyrical suggestion from Simon & Garfunkel, the team of architects working at Corstorphine & Wright are determined to change the perception of Tees Valley in a way that will last for generations.