Practice Profile: Scott Brownrigg

Consistently ranked among the leading UK architectural practices, Scott Brownrigg have grown steadily and diversified over the decades. Tom Boddy speaks to CEO Darren Comber about how they have evolved while nurturing talent internally

Scott Brownrigg’s origins date back over 100 years when all-rounder architect Annesley Brownrigg was inspired to establish his own practice in Guildford after winning a series of design competitions. Since its humble beginnings, the practice (which rebranded to its current name in 2003) has evolved at a steady and sustainable pace, and today is one of the UK’s most successful practices, currently ranked 18th in the AJ100, and within the top 100 internationally. 

Following service in the First World War, he began to see success with help from cofounder Leslie Hiscock. On Annesley’s passing in 1935, the ownership of the company landed at the feet of his son, John, who was at the time only loosely involved with the practice. He decided to band together with other cohorts in the industry – firstly Newman Turner to form Brownrigg and Turner, later with Brownrigg’s old friend Duncan Scott, forming Scott Brownrigg & Turner. 

These moves not only broadened the firm’s offerings, but also provided them with the skillset and resources to take on major architectural programmes such as the Queen Elizabeth Barracks –
a “significant project of its time” which was opened by the Queen in 1964, says Darren Comber, current CEO. By the late 60s Scott Brownrigg & Turner had bloomed into a practice with national reach – boasting offices in London, Glasgow, Peterborough and Woking.

The practice’s early maxims of recognising the power of collaboration and diversity, as well as acknowledging the value of embracing different views, have sustained into the 21st century. “The legacy of these early beginnings has lived on within the practice across the decades, and in many ways, still influences our approach today,” asserts Comber. 

Venturing overseas

One of the practice’s first forays overseas saw them being “early pioneers” in the Middle East in the 1970s, designing structures ranging from airports in Iraq, to new islands off the coast of
Abu Dhabi. The practice has since been involved with projects across four continents (Europe, Africa, Australasia, and North and South America).

An ongoing project on the Atlantic coast of Morocco is the development of an ‘eco-wellness’ and sports tourism destination, Turtle Bay, in a project which aims to connect the Sahara Desert and the Atlantic Ocean, and “build on a unique genius loci,” says Comber. The practice’s CEO adds that the building “celebrates its desert location” in a way that “eschews ‘green’ landscapes which are alien and unsustainable.” 

The firm’s international presence has not only bolstered its resilience to the vagaries of the UK market over the years, but also “crucially,” enhanced its understanding of local cultures, climates and building regulations – enabling the firm to collaborate more closely with local stakeholders and project teams. This expansion has also worked to consolidate the practice’s working methods: “We are now a totally integrated international team,” says Darren Comber.

Knowledge base

When identifying projects to pursue, each scheme is assessed against the practice’s defined set of requirements, to ensure it aligns with their “vision and values” as well as their “design and strategic targets,” explains the CEO. 

Comber asserts that the practice applies its criteria of rigorous analysis, quality of thought and quality of detail in every project. “How a building looks can be subjective, but the practice has always strived to be known for the quality of product, design and buildings or places that have longevity, and provide legacy rather than short term fashion appeal.”

The practice’s Design Research Unit (DRU), developed in 2004, monitors adherence to these principles while informing all levels of the design process. It acts as a ‘knowledge base’ and provides guidance when seeking out relevant opportunities and collaborations. 

“Knowledge sharing and embracing the skills of others at all levels and stages of their careers” is harnessed as a way to help create a cohesive and united workforce. It also “keeps the design process innovative and forward thinking,” he says. This has been one of Comber’s core focuses since becoming CEO of the practice, he says – “fostering a working culture and environment where like-minded individuals can contribute and add value.”

With “robust and transparent” Equity, Diversity Champion and Inclusion policies in place, employee wellbeing is front and centre. Appointments such as an in-house Mental Health First Aider and Employee Assistance Program provide workers with personal support as well as independent, expert advice. Recently becoming an Employee Owned Trust (EOT) further showcases the value of employee welfare, with the EOT committee “supporting colleagues at all levels with issues such as the cost of living crisis.”

Climate literacy

Sustainable architecture has been embedded within the practice for many years. A project which demonstrated their early green ambitions was the Red Kite House – a new headquarters for The Environment Agency that “challenged the institutional norm of a ‘four pipe fan coil’ approach of cooling,” explains Comber. The building, completed in 2005, is naturally ventilated and cooled through night purging with integrated wind turbines on the roof to support natural ventilation via automatic openable windows.

The practice is a member of the UK Green Building Council and signatory to the Architects Declare movement, and the RIBA 2030 challenge, as well as AJ’s Retrofit First Campaign. It was also reportedly the only UK architecture practice signed up to the UN Global Compact on social responsibility. Scott Brownrigg is exhibiting a serious level of commitment to grappling with global issues. 

When designing for the environment, the focus is on building high quality structures and spaces that are flexible to the future needs of occupants. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” asserts Comber, “each design is bespoke and must provide an appropriate response specific to the local climate and needs.” The sustainability team have developed a carbon reduction ‘roadmap’ for both their studios and projects to guide staff towards meeting the environmental ambitions. 

A factor which the practice believes is vital to fortify the industry’s efforts to tackle climate change is improving “climate literacy,” as Comber explains: “We are working to give everyone core competency in sustainable design.” Across the firm, employees have access to a learning and development platform which aims to communicate and enhance their knowledge of sustainability. Sustainability reviews on projects, held from early stages, have proved effective at “bringing together in-house expertise with project specific challenges and requirements,” says Comber.

Working alongside the RIBA education team, the practice has launched the RIBA Scott Brownrigg Award for Sustainable Development this year. The award offers £5,000 to an individual or team interested in developing research projects or practical work in architecture-related topics associated with one or more of the 17 goals in the UN Global Compact.

Comber says this initiative brings together their “passion for and commitments to sustainable design, research, innovation, collaboration, academic partnerships and supporting the next generation.” The recipient of the inaugural award will be announced in September.


A challenge Scott Brownrigg are facing, along with many other practices, external financial climate: “PI and software costs have risen significantly,” says Comber, “yet fees have not kept pace; this has placed a strain across the entire profession.” However, he adds that their international diversity, as well as their sector diversity, has offered a degree of resilience to the UK economic outlook – allowing them to “divert attention to buoyant sectors.”

“Scott Brownrigg has always had the philosophy to be a practice where individuals can create something special and develop their careers,” says Comber. Encouraging people to thrive while developing their careers is a long-term ambition for the practice, creating an environment which allows them to express themselves as architects.

Moving forward, remaining relevant while positively contributing to society is the practice’s overarching intention. “We want to continue to design meaningful projects which leave a positive and lasting legacy on the built environment,” concludes Comber.