Al Hopkins

I was drawn to construction and building from an early age because of the practical differences you can make to your immediate surroundings, and left school to become an architect, with the belief that designers could make beautiful buildings that work both for their occupants and passers-by, which I thought would improve people’s lives and the world they live in. Needless to say I have found reality to be a little more complicated than this, but I still believe in the intention and work towards it on all projects.

alhopkinsI have six years’ experience in mainstream architecture in Scotland, where I have worked on a wide range of buildings, from public sector work (from industrial-scale waste facilities to specialised medical facilities), to the education sector (from high specification audio-visual suites to specialised research laboratories) and listed buildings; all built on a foundation of domestic work (small-scale house extensions to wholesale remodelling).

My primary area of interest has always been ecological building, low-energy construction, natural materials. To further my knowledge in this area, I did the MSc Architecture in Energy and Environmental Studies at the Centre for Alternative Technology, travelling every month to Machynlleth from Edinburgh, where I am still based.

I have always loved domestic scale work because the client is the end user, and you know their needs and ideas fed into the design, and they were involved in and understand the reasoning behind most of the design decisions. When you extend this to self-build, the connection is even stronger. Our homes are where we spend the majority of our lives, even if that’s asleep, which makes the health benefits of natural materials especially important.

I believe the built environment is incredibly important to our lives. It has the power to crush and depress us, or to nourish us and lift us, and we owe it to ourselves to get involved and make sure it’s not the former! If more people felt that construction was accessible enough for them to take an interest in their buildings, it could have a wonderfully democratising effect on the industry and the built environment we all inhabit. Even a couple of days’ work on site can break that barrier down, and I think straw bale is a fantastically tactile and human way into building. It’s also tremendous fun to be involved in!