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WSA graduate Ross Hartland launches new practice 'Initiate'

10 May 2021

Welsh School of Architecture graduate Ross Hartland
Welsh School of Architecture graduate Ross Hartland

Welsh School of Architecture graduate Ross Hartland has recently launched his own practice 'Intitiate' based in Bridgend, South Wales.

Crediting his confidence to the guidance and support he received from academic staff at the Welsh School of Architecture, we caught up with Ross to find out more about his time in the School and learn more about his new endeavour.

Which courses did you study and how did you find your time at the Welsh School of Architecture (WSA)?

I studied RIBA Part I, II and III (BSc (Hons), MArch, PgDip Professional Practice) at the WSA, beginning Part I in September 2013 and graduating Part III in June 2020.

I truly loved my time at the School, it was seven years of hard work and full of challenge but an incredibly immersive and rewarding journey that has offered me so much. I enrolled in 2013 with all the passion in the world for creating and making things but with no idea of architecture as a profession, and I qualified as an Architect in 2020 after meeting so many friends, colleagues and mentors along the way.

Was there anything particularly good about the School/course/teaching methods?

I found the courses very well rounded as they encourage highly-creative design proposals whilst providing the tutoring in architectural technology, history and theory that underpins meaningful and sustainable architecture. Complimenting this, the school are also committed to annual study trips and our cohort travelled to all corners of the world to learn about culture, architecture and history on the ground.  During my time I visited Paris, Limoges, Porto, Lisbon, Austria, Barcelona and Rome. I was fully immersed in all that the school had to offer, I loved that there was so much to learn and the diversity of knowledge gave me confidence when moving into practice.

Anyone who knows me will know that I personally enjoyed the WSA’s genuine focus on making, I spent almost all of my studio time in the modelling workshop and fablab. Since I was young I would always be making things, and this translated into my love for well-crafted models in architecture school. The WSA encouraged model making of all scales to test ideas, experience, light and shadow and to understand how many building components connect together to create considered buildings. The physical modelling skills I developed at the WSA now form a major part of my design process at my new practice, Initiate.

How do you think your time at the Welsh School of Architecture shaped your future career?

My time at the WSA has shaped my career in too many ways to note!

I always found it great that the WSA’s courses offer their students choice of a wide range of design units with briefs that tackle 21stcentury issues and allow emerging architects to follow their own interests and passions. I am interested in architecture for the social value it could offer individuals and communities, so I chose to explore the conservation, retrofit and re-use of existing and historic buildings for new, sustainable and beneficial uses. The freedom to focus my design theses around this topic led to my employment in Purcell Architects who specialise in the conservation and re-use of the historic environment, and ultimately laid the foundations for setting up my own practice to explore the same issues.

I must also mention the calibre of tutors at the WSA, many of which are recognised thought leaders in their specialist sectors of the profession and provide authoritative knowledge.  I’ve kept in touch with almost all of the tutors I’ve met throughout my education at the School, and many continue to support my developing career through generous commitments of time and knowledge that never fails to surprise me.

What happened after you graduated?

After I graduated RIBA Part I I begun working as an architectural assistant for Purcell Architects, a role I secured through my Part I design tutor and conversations with Purcell who, amongst many other AJ Top 100 practices, attended the end of year design exhibition to view the year’s work. I worked between Purcell’s Cardiff and Bristol studios from 2016 and 2021, progressing from a Part I assistant to a qualified Architect working exclusively on the conservation, extension and re-use of Grade listed heritage buildings.

I live in Bridgend and I’m originally from Ogmore Vale in the South Wales Valleys, so I was fortunate to work on developing the future vision for locally and regionally significant buildings close to home, including Maesteg Town Hall, Porthcawl Grand Pavilion and the Muni Arts Centre in Pontypridd. In collaboration with Purcell I am currently working as the Project Architect for the £8M conservation, refurbishment and extension of the Grade II listed Maesteg Town Hall. Through the conservation of the Town Hall, the enhancement of its existing theatre and the addition of a new studio theatre, community library, foyer and café/bar, the project will provide enormous social value to its local community and wider region and safeguard the future of a locally iconic building with much social and cultural heritage for the former mining Valley.

What was your first time working in practice like?

I remember the exciting but daunting experience of leaving university to head out into practice for the first time, for most it is the first experience of a full-time job.  As with the first experience of any job, it was a very steep learning curve to acclimatise to the realities of practice and the business of architecture, but I was fortunate in many ways to visit sites regularly and have an active role in diverse design projects.

It’s worth mentioning the way in which the WSA Part II course is structured, with a first year of integrated learning whilst in full-time practice, and a second year return to full-time campus based learning, so whilst its undoubtedly demanding undertaking part-time academic work and a full-time practice role concurrently, the ongoing support and mentorship from the WSA during my first experiences of practice was reassuring. I found many benefits to this integrated learning model, particularly by gaining the tuition and support of Purcell on my design projects, and also having access to working industry professionals in the field of conservation, re-use and retrofit that informed my developing written dissertation works and emerging passions.

What made you decide to launch your own practice?

I think I always knew that one day I would set up my own practice, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit toward architecture and for me it was a case of when would be the best time to give it a shot. In this respect I owe a great deal to the WSA’s Part 3 course and the course leaders Professor Sarah Lupton and Manos Stellakis, their curriculum goes beyond what is expected at Part 3 and provides very relevant and useful knowledge which gave me the confidence to launch my own practice.

Launching Initiate has allowed me to start practicing on my own terms and to continue to explore the common thread throughout my work at the WSA and Purcell, which is my passion for working with the existing in creative and considered ways.

What do you hope to achieve with your new practice?

The practice is called Initiate and we look to bring new life, light and joy to the old, mundane or otherwise overlooked. We specialise in the well-crafted extension, alteration, re-use and retrofit of existing residential, commercial and historic buildings and hope to make better, more sustainable design visible and accessible.

The name Initiate is founded from its definition to ‘cause a process or action to begin’. In the contemporary climate crisis Architects have a major role in considering how we deal with existing buildings and, wherever viable, we believe existing buildings should be retained, upgraded and re-used before building anew; this way we retain the carbon embodied within their construction. When we cannot re-use, in our new construction we must consider ideas of flexibility circular economies, how we may meet evolving future needs and how buildings may be deconstructed as opposed to demolished, so their components can be redeployed.

We hope to engage with individuals, groups, schools and communities across South Wales to bring creative design solutions that touch the planet lightly, exploring how we can upgrade existing buildings to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and how we might sustainably re-model, alter or if necessary extend to allow existing buildings to serve contemporary needs.

For more information visit the Initiate website or follow them on Instagram.

For more information about the courses available at the Welsh School of Architecture please visit our website.

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