Ask the architect – Alia Beyg of AQUA architecture

ADF speaks to Alia Beyg, the Founding Director & CEO of AQUA architecture ltd, on her over 18 years of experience in driving several development projects in the UK and globally, and her focus on efficient and sustainable design.


Why did you become an architect?

From a young age I loved to draw and I became fascinated by design, and so a career in architecture allowed me to do what excites me. Furthermore architecture to improve the environment for everyone regardless of socio-economic status really resonates with me.

What do you like most about it?

​Creative, and ‘out of the box’ thinking is my favourite part in our design process. The AQUA design team and I work meticulously on our layouts and designs to enhance what we create, working to improve both user experience and net value. We translate that into our practice’s mission which is to maximise value with efficiency and smart design.

What is the hardest part of your job running a ‘niche’ practice?

Creating exciting architecture has always been the company backdrop, however integrating creativity into basic low budget projects can often be a challenge.

We overcome this through our design process, which starts with creative exploration of ideas to determine the best proposal within the project context. Despite limitations from commercial boundaries, we manage to make each project unique, with its own brief. As a result, our practice has been fortunate enough to be taking forward a wide range of project types within the residential and mixed-use sectors.

How would you describe your modus operandi as an MD?

​I always like to encourage teamwork and innovative thinking. Creating design excellence is never an individual task, hence why I collaborate, advise and mentorthe teams around me, in order to create collective solutions. Without input from my associates and colleagues, the proposals would not evolve to their full potential and utilise all the talent of the workforce. As a result of this, I believe good communication and coordination is a key focus in my daily work life, not only for our clients but also for the benefit of the end users.

What’s your proudest achievement so far?

​We have delivered several unique projects, each being exciting and interesting in its own way. I am most proud of​ ​the diversity of​ projects,​ styles and concepts​.

My personal favourite project is the Premier Gate development, which will be located in Woking’s town centre. This scheme integrates green design strategies to create a large massing with a conscientious approach to climate change and quality spaces.

How has working remotely been so far for you, in terms of navigating the coronavirus situation?

​These are challenging times, which has forced us to think and work differently as a team.  The work environment changed drastically in the past few weeks but we very quickly transferred the team to working remotely, sharing and communicating via technology minimising the impact of Coronavirus to our work. On the other hand, we found it to be a more efficient way to work, cutting out travel time and cost. Although this does make the process slower, I may consider these changes in a long term perspective for the team to be partially working from home, or ‘home work’ days.

At the same time we are aware that the industry is slowing down drastically, with little certainty for the future, hence we would like to work accordingly and efficiently to ensure that we make is through this time as a team.

Do you take a proactive or reactive approach to clients’ briefs?

​​I am always both. The balance between high quality design, innovative and green design, as well as keeping with budgets is challenging; primarily we always aim to meet and exceed clients’ expectations. In addition we integrate proposals from all other specialists consultants to provide good multidisciplinary coordination. As a result, delivery of our projects are carefully orchestrated to comply and inspire, within budget constraints and the client’s aspirations. ​

Is your role as a client advisor (for example in social housing/masterplanning) as important as your role as a designer of structures?

One cannot be done without the other as they are deeply connected.

Our residential projects are mostly private residential blocks, or mixed-use schemes, hence we are designing for private developers as well as the local communities. I believe that form with function leads the way.

What is the most satisfying sector to work in currently?

​All sectors have their own excitement however our current focus is sports and hospitality combined within housing schemes, for a more holistic approach to a work life balance. Recently we are advising clients to consider a different approach to their development, which provides an asset for the community as a whole.

How do you go about integrating residents’ views in social housing designs?

​We usually have public consultations during the planning stage of projects, as well as design reviews with local authorities, which provides input from the local communities. This allows us to refine and redesign schemes to a higher quality and respects a healthy approach to green and efficient design.

Social housing has similar parameters to the larger housing schemes we deliver. For me this is all about practical applications of design efficiency, housing standards, lifetime homes, and sustainable living, to name a few. The design approach should reflect what’s best for the community, and never about visual impact alone.

What is the next big challenge for you?

​Our next big challenge will be to expand the business and go international as well as continuing to be greener are two priorities for us. We are exploring potential projects with our international partners. We would also like to retain a green design focus, considering climate change and sustainable impact on all our schemes; the main challenge is to deliver these ideas within commercial constraints.

You’re interested in micro-housing – is there potential for architectural beauty and flair here?

​Micro units are essentially self-contained living spaces with efficient layouts, hence the beauty and flair is mostly in the functional detailing. Combined with good indoor and outdoor amenities this presents a co-living urban life style. The architecture should ideally portray this idea, however, this is not the only solution, or ideal solution to housing demands.

As a design studio we have studied many typologies and styles of residential developments. On each project the team spends a lot of time exploring various ideas and options.  Through working on 2D and 3D platforms, as well as sketching and refining the scheme we propose the optimal solutions. This process leads to the architectural beauty and flair we aspire for, on small micro units, as well as mansions.

Do you see more collaboration with other practices in future?

​Certainly. From the start we have focused on creating multi-disciplined consortiums, including collaborating with specialist architects, to bid for large-scale projects. Building on my experience at large international practices and the RIBA, I would combine our practice expertise with other industry specialists to create expert design teams.

What are your hopes for this year and beyond for you and your practice?

​Currently we are completing several projects that are going from detail design to construction, however we anticipate some delays considering the current circumstances.

We hope the future will be exciting for AQUA architecture, as we continue to reach our business goals and objectives and take on the global arena.