Meet the Team: John Gheel Q&A

Meet John Gheel, who has joined the HRI Munro team as a Senior Architect. John started with us back in March after an interesting and varied career working in private practice, education, design advisory roles for public agencies, as part of the organising committee for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 and as one of Scotland’s first disability Access Consultants. Find out more about him:

1. What’s Your background/how did you get into architecture?

I was always sketching or drawing something as a youngster, trying to make something out of bits of scrap, and getting involved in anything crafty. My mother was an artist and a teacher, so she taught me and inspired me in a lot of ways.

As I got a bit older, a family member of mine was at the early stages of his architectural career and as I looked up to him the decision was made quite early to study architecture and off I went to the School of Architecture at Dundee University.

In my year out training I worked at Douglas Abrahams & Partners in Edinburgh where I received great mentorship and took a lot of inspiration from one of the partners, Frank Nowacki. I also learned a great deal working at James F Stephen Architects and still keep in touch with them. From there I worked with sportscotland for over 20 years, and used my architectural skill in other ways, becoming one of the first Access Consultants in Scotland. One of my jobs was conducting an access audit of Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

2. What drew you to HRI Munro?
I had always intended to go back to architecture after my time at sportscotland, a desire to get back to my roots if you like, so I was looking out for working with a certain type of practice. My partner is originally from Inverness, and even though I’m still effectively living in West Lothian, we’re looking at settling down in Inverness eventually, so I sent my CV to HRI Munro.

They got back to me very quickly and when I looked at the website and various projects they worked on, I thought ‘these are the kinds of projects I want to be involved in’. I spent some valuable time talking with our late Director, Mark Williams, and it felt right, so here I am!

3. How are you settling in?

I’m getting back into the swing of architecture project work and loving it. I like to get in early (which is easy to do since I only live 15 minutes away from the office)! I like to plan my day, making sure to join the dots with the various consultants on each project to ensure their specialist design package aligns with our design.

At the moment I’m working on pushing a project to building warrant stage 4, but some elements of the project are still at the planning stage so there’s a lot of going back and forth. It’s very much a team effort where we are simplifying potentially awkward design details, to make the project more buildable but at the same time mindful of not to compromise the architecture and concept. A key step for me early on is understanding the history of the project, and acquainting myself with all the details or stages the project has been through.

I really enjoy putting forward ideas for future development of our practice so for example at the moment we’re working towards achieving BIM Level 2 which would complement ISO 9001 that we have already gained. It would naturally be the next milestone for a practice like ours, so I’m working with colleagues to help achieve that as soon as possible and make project sharing and external collaboration more efficient.

4. What do you like to do outside of work?
Just now, I’m still getting to know Inverness, so enjoying spending time outdoors, playing golf and getting to know the best eating places – also, there’s so much beautiful scenery on the doorstep and with the weather we’re having at the moment, you can’t help but get out there!

I’m also learning Spanish – I think I’m at intermediate level at the moment, and who knows how long I’ll be there for, but I’m enjoying the journey. And I love catching up with my children, they’re now adults and all over the place with some in Australia and some in London, but hearing all of their stories and what they’re getting up to is really exciting.

5. What’s your favourite project you’ve worked on in your career?
One of the projects that I worked on at James F Stephen Architects was a residential project in a conservation area of Alloa. It had to be designed in a very sensitive way, and it received acclaim from the Scottish Civic Trust and also Historic Scotland as it was then.

I also worked on a competition project for Omagh Arts Centre which is where I grew up, and it was very interesting being interviewed by people I knew from the town. One of the judges was Ted Cullinan, one of my favourite architects so that was a memorable experience chatting to him about the design.

Being part of the Commonwealth Games team for Glasgow 2014 was amazing, to see the people I worked with who know their venues and their jobs inside out, as well as supporting the access and games overlay requirements.

6. Is there a project you’re most looking forward to working on at HRI Munro?

It is likely that I will be working on a pumped storage hydro project, which is currently being considered by the Energy Consents Unit and is a really exciting piece of work. Apart from the professional job at hand, I also feel a personal responsibility to do justice to the project, as our late Director Mark Williams contributed significantly to work which the office produced in support of this project.

7. What or who inspires you in your work?
I get inspired by a lot of things. I learn from just about everybody I come into contact with; whether it’s their drive, or a different take on design.

Architecturally, I get inspiration from small intimate spaces that stimulate social interaction and conversation, and from well designed urban spaces. I love glass and clever use of scale and proportions. I go back to the lessons I learned early in my career from Frank Nowacki - he was able to look at and explain how you could evoke the more classical styles with a modern architectural language just by using materials in a creative way.

When it comes to large spaces, the Great Court at the British Museum in London designed by Norman Foster which is flooded with natural light is a favourite. I love to see how buildings use daylight cleverly - it’s something that is difficult to control but when it works well it can be very uplifting.

And finally, I’d love to visit the Pantheon in Rome to experience the space with its Corinthian columns and coffered dome - you don’t often get to see ancient buildings in all their glory, so it’s very much on my bucket list!