Harmonising architecture and design and looking to the future: The A and J D’Alton path to success

Published by Scott Challinor on October 7th 2021, 10:10am

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was a time when architecture and design were largely considered to be separate disciplines, as opposed to today where the line of distinction has essentially eroded. What brought about that change in mentality was a raft of change in the industry during the 1980s and 1990s, largely driven by the hotel industry. A&J D’Alton, an architecture and interior design practice based in the Cotswolds, was one practice that had to adapt and move with the times.

A&J D’Alton was founded by directors Anthony and Jacqueline D’Alton in 1979 as an architecture and interior design practice serving hotels and the leisure sector. By the late 1970s, architecture and design for the hotel and leisure industry was a growing and lucrative market which many recognised as essential for businesses to succeed. However, while the role of an architect was much more clearly defined, the field of interior design was yet to really stamp its mark on the industry, in professional terms, in the minds of commercial clients.

“The consequence of this was it often precluded the designer from a standalone project role, and reliance was still placed on engaging an architect to oversee projects”, Anthony D’Alton [pictured] tells The Parliamentary Review.

“However, during the past 40 or so years we have seen enormous changes within the industry, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s. The hotel and leisure industry recognised that there were benefits in having high-quality interiors that could drive their business forward; the distinction between architect and interior designer was fast disappearing and the professional bodies of CSD and BIID were emphasising the professional standards that applied to designers and creating greater awareness among clients.”

As these occurrences began to take effect in the market, multidisciplinary architecture and design practices were increasingly being established and began to control large portions of market share in the hotel and leisure industry, while interior design practices started to offer clients the professional skills required to carry out large-scale projects.

The key for A&J D’Alton to thrive in this environment was not solely in setting the standard for design and professionalism for clients, but also keeping the business small enough to enable it to remain focused on the key aspects of each client’s business.

Anthony explains: “Both I and my partner in the practice had previously worked for a variety of larger practices and organisations, in both the private and the public sectors. The objective for A & J D’Alton was to stay small and totally focused on all key aspects of each client’s business, to ensure design really supported it as it grew.

“We undertook a variety of work, from the initial briefing stage right through to project management and cost control, in order to deliver results that exceeded our clients’ expectations. This has always been one of our primary objectives, alongside creating buildings and interiors to the highest standard of design. Forty years later, these are still our objectives and they have helped us retain many of our commercial clients on a long-term basis, some for over 20 years.”

As design took greater precedence in the planning for international hotel and leisure buildings and interiors, A&J D’Alton as a firm has also had to adapt to ever increasing demand for design creativity, a challenge which it has taken head on.

“Design has become a key aspect of international hotel and leisure buildings and interiors, and forms a significant element of the branding of hotels – from five-star to city boutique – with guest expectations ever increasing as we all expand our travel horizons.

“The demands of design creativity are becoming more intense and alongside this, we have an unparalleled choice of materials and technology to draw upon. Design and architectural practices are required to adhere to the latest building regulations and health and safety project requirements, while simultaneously sourcing sustainable materials and keeping pace with the technology that allows a high specification of materials and finishes, thus meeting clients’ demands. At all times, we remain creative and intuitive to a client’s brief and deliver projects on time and to cost.”

While the market has continued to grow and provide a lucrative opportunity for practices, Anthony revealed that cashing in on major projects abroad comes with its own set of unique challenges.

He outlines: “Our work on major hotel projects on the Red Sea and in Cairo has demonstrated to us that the availability and choice of materials we can call on in this country and in Europe are not necessarily available abroad; design has to follow from a much more limited choice. There is also a reluctance to import materials and goods from abroad due to the very high level of import tax and therefore it is not as easy to achieve the standards of workmanship that we are used to within Europe.”

To meet these challenges as positively as possible, Anthony says that industry leaders must view them as a problem to be solved rather than as a stumbling block which could potentially grind a project to a halt. The answers to these problems, in his view, are already there in today’s solutions.

“We see this as a challenge, rather than a stumbling block, in achieving inspirational buildings and interiors on projects overseas. The range of information available to design practices in terms of materials, interior and exterior building products, technical support and statutory requirements is vast nowadays – coming via websites, professional journals and seminars – and as a result, project research has taken on a different dimension.”

Of course, the range of resources available to architects and designers to help deliver on projects brings its own suite of challenges, with clients now expecting far more of a return, delivered even more promptly.

“While project research has taken on a new dimension, so too has timescale”, Anthony says.

“Clients expect more in less time, as finance drives projects, and we have to deliver results within ever faster timescales. However, we succeed in this, and much of that is a result of the professionalism of contractors on site and the immediacy of information that can flow between a design office and site.”

Having established itself as a small but successful practice that regularly provides clients with the high-end, innovative design solutions for the buildings and interiors of today that bring commercial wellbeing to clients, A&J D’Alton has found itself in a strong position to help promote the good reputation of the design profession to younger generations, thus inspiring the next set of architects and designers.

“Over the years, we have been approached by local schools and asked to take students for a period of work experience, which we have been delighted to do”, Anthony reveals.

“By setting them projects and introducing them to the various stages involved, visiting live sites, meeting clients and generally allowing them to observe how an office is run, we enable them to make a better-informed choice in terms of their eventual career. In fact, two such students went on to train as interior designers and are both now very successful. Where we have taken on work placement students, professionalism in design has been one of our key educational drives to help set the standard for the future.”

Part of setting the standard for the future of the sector will be by taking note of and addressing the concerns of today, which revolve around making the industry a more sustainable and eco-friendlier one in order to safeguard the planet for the builders of tomorrow.

“Going forward as a business, we endeavour to continue exploring and using the latest technologies, responding to the need to use more sustainable products and take on board environmental concerns regarding project manufacture”, Anthony declares.

“All of this will come while we enjoy the work that we are privileged to do in this wonderfully creative field we are in.”

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Authored By

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
October 7th 2021, 10:10am

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