Five minutes with... Justin

Thinking back to when you set up Mohsin Cooper in 2010, what did you want MC to be like?

Both Abe and I have always wanted to maintain an honest and open approach.

I’m very candid with clients and colleagues, which means that if I don’t think an idea will work, I’ll tell them, because I strongly believe that that’s the best way to get to the right outcome for any given project.

I distinctly remember that we chose to intentionally start off small, so that we could really finesse the nuts and bolts of delivering for a client before moving on to more complex sites.

That good grounding has served us well, twelve years on, on both householder and developer schemes.

What is your favourite sort of project to get your hands into?

My favourite sort of project is a constraints-led project. We always kick off by taking a detailed look at the constraints. Before we ever pick up a pencil, I like to build up a solid foundation of understanding the constraints. It’s a very rational process but it means that you can have more certainty that your design is going to work in practice.

What project are you most proud of?

The design for the urban extension at Angmering was really strong. There were a fair few constraints (as always) and we had a high bar to reach because it was the first parcel of a much larger urban extension that would be subsequently delivered. It required a clever design to satisfy both the planners’ ambitions and the client’s important commercial considerations.

The final design incorporated a fantastic public square and shared surfaces to promote active travel. It looks really stunning.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

It’s a tricky question.

I do know that I don’t enjoy chaos!

So in that vein, I really do love having a clear plan of action to stick to – whether that’s running the business or running a project.

I find it very satisfying to formulate a plan – once I’ve done my due diligence to know where the pitfalls are likely to be – to get the right result for the client.

What happens when things don’t go to plan?

We are always very open about it - even if it was our fault. An open dialogue early on is better than a client finding something out later. Always.

When it comes to architecture and planning, there’s often something outside of your control that means a strategy doesn’t go to plan.

But, when we raise problems with a client, we always present a solution too.

Where was your first architectural job, and what do you remember most about it?

My first “proper” job was in the Middle East. I remember finding it overwhelming and working very long hours in order to learn as much as I could.

One memorable project was for a huge food production plant in Sharjah, UAE. The building was positioned right on the dockside, so there were endless constraints and complications relating to the tide and changing water levels.

Oh, and the client needed it to be built out in two years. So yes, it was a tricky one!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

I think the wisest advice I ever received, and it’s something that I really ascribe to now, is to be considered in your responses.

Rather than reacting in the spur of the moment to unexpected issues or other people’s emotional responses, it’s important to take the considered and polite way through.

It all comes back to having a strategy, and sticking with it. When you’ve got that clear in your mind you can weather any storm.

What’s next for Mohsin Cooper?

We’re excited about the way that the team is growing in strength and we’re bringing in systems that will make us even tighter as a team.

Projects wise, a shift towards social housing is something that both Abe and I think will start to pick up over the next couple of years and we’ve also been increasingly working in the healthcare sector, designing dental surgeries for example.

So all in all, there’s a lot to be looking forward to.