Ufuk Bahar, founder and managing director of Urbanist Architecture, and architecture Mentor at the University of Westminster, sat down with us to discuss how he set up his own architecture practice in London, what the British architecture market is like and why he’s mentoring future architects in his alma mater.
What sparked your interest in studying architecture?
I was first interested in architecture when I was around 9 or 10, and my interest became my profession. I decided to study architecture to gain deeper knowledge in this field, improve my skills, and come up with creative designs.
How did you set up Urbanist Architecture?
After completing my dissertation at the University of Westminster, I joined an architecture firm for a month and I became frustrated with the limitations of expertly crafted design solutions and the inability to help clients with their investment.
At that time, I knew that poor design affected more than just property development – it’s a pervasive issue, impracting everything from planning permission to a client’s return on investment. I knew there was a better way to run an architecture practice, a way that is both effective and efficient.
I decided to start my own architecture company at a young age. You would be surprised to know I started Urbanist Architecture with almost no experience in the field, but this allowed me to look at the way architectural practices operate with fresh eyes, not encumbered with how it ‘should’ work. I saw what was lacking, what would be ideal and what was required.
How many people does the Urbanist Architecture team involve and what are your fields of service?
We have over 10 architects in our team, each specialised in different disciplines extending from town planning to urban design, architecture to interior design. Thus, we are able to offer solutions for almost all needs of our clients that want to develop projects. Our services begin with the step of developing the project brief and conducting a feasibility assessment for planning permission.
We understand the lifestyles of our clients and hear their needs; then, we ensure that they invest in a better future in the light of a good design. We provide turnkey solutions with tailored projects covering architecture, interior design and urban design disciplines.
Do you have strategies to get ahead of the competition?
Architecture and design industries are constantly evolving and changing. As a consequence, we need to provide solutions that can address challenges of today’s real estate issues. Being one step ahead of the competition requires building your skills, reinforcing the image of your brand, and offering the best architectural services.
And one of the most powerful factors that can change the rules of competition is good customer service, in other words interacting with your clients to meet their needs and requirements. I believe that we have made a difference in the industry by delivering solution-oriented projects with our mindset that has both analytical and creative characteristics.
What does the process look like for a prospective client, from start to finish?
We always get excited when we start a project, as we have the opportunity to use our imagination and talents in new ways. At the first stage, it is especially important for us to understand the priorities of the client. We conduct every project with this sensitivity. After the project scope is determined, we clarify important and practical matters such as budget, timeframe and design requirements. We continue with an efficient strategy and formulate the initial ideas and concepts.
The purpose of our design stage covers creation of a strong image and an attractive visual identity for our client as well as the fulfilment of objectives aimed at application. After the design concept is approved, it is time to realise the idea. At this stage, we obtain necessary statutory consents such as planning permission.
We carefully select main contractors, subcontractors, engineers and other consultants. We provide guidance in every stage of the job, from planning permission to building regulations, from project management to construction. We also use innovative technologies to provide simultaneous information flow on a digital platform involving both our team and our clients and bring together all individuals within the project.
Could you describe pleasant and challenging aspects of running an architecture business in Britain?
British architecture is actually a global success story that has lasted from past to present. British architecture has always been at the forefront in design, technology, and sustainable architecture with its constantly evolving texture, and it has been one of the major elements of global urban design.
This means that we are competing in geography with world-famous British architects and designers that drive the industry and pioneer architecture, maybe even the best in the industry. This may seem challenging, but we interpret challenges as opportunities and learn from every experience.
What are your suggestions for young architects that aim to launch their own architecture firms?
As an entrepreneur, I can say this: the dream of most young entrepreneurs is to have the luxury to work at their own pace by selecting their team and clients; however, this will come with a great responsibility.
For example, they will receive contradicting suggestions regarding several matters from human resources management to operations, crisis management to marketing strategy throughout their professional lives. They will go through many trials and errors.
In these circumstances, they must determine their visions and make quick decisions. Yes, launching an architecture company might sound challenging, but if you are committed to your mission, if you have a growth mindset and if you are able to innovative and unique design solutions that offer value to your clients, you can overcome most obstacles.
Young architects and particularly architecture graduates may chase after different ideas before stepping into the real world. They like to brainstorm about their ideas and share these with their friends and families. Manifestation of perfect ideas is undoubtedly valuable; however, an idea cannot become great until it meets its first client.
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs in architecture fail in realising the ideas. The reason for this is their solution is not something that the market is interested in. They need to find solutions that respond to the issues of clients, and optimise these solutions to become available, consistent, and feasible in the architecture business.
Speaking of the youth, I can conclude with my observations during my role as a mentor in Westminster University. I am carrying out studies with both undergraduate and postgraduate students at the university. Some of the young people that I encounter are afraid of making mistakes. However, success will not come to you, you need to go to success. There is no formula for achieving success without making mistakes.
Thus, I adopt a constructive approach rather than a judgmental one in my architectural mentoring activities. I ensure that they focus on the process rather than the outcomes, and I also reinforce my communication and leadership skills thanks to them. Our company also paves the way for many students to discover and benefit from internship and job opportunities. The pleasure of helping students go after their objectives is hard to describe.