Property insider view: Architect Lorn Macneal

Job title I am principal of a dedicated team of seven architects, a senior technologist and three assistant architects in a boutique New Town architectural practice, specialising in private client work.Although our studio is in central Edinburgh we have projects across the length and breadth of the country and into Berwickshire.
Lorn MacnealLorn Macneal
Lorn Macneal

How did you get started? I was always fixated by the Forth Railway Bridge – it being, to my mind, the Eighth Wonder of the World. This drew me to civil engineering and maths at university where, with dyslexia, I struggled. By chance, we shared some courses with architecture, and I saw an opportunity to switch and never looked back.

Architecture is seven years of training with two “year outs”, when I worked in residential projects. I was fortunate in being well mentored in both practices and learnt so much. I will always see it as our duty to ensure our “year outs” are similarly treated.

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How did your career progress from university? It was the ’80s and work was scarce, with many graduates unable to find work. A government initiative to create full employment in the construction sector offered 90 per cent repair grants to refurbish tenements throughout Britain.

Scottish Home Awards residential development of the year, the Queen’s Hotel in GullaneScottish Home Awards residential development of the year, the Queen’s Hotel in Gullane
Scottish Home Awards residential development of the year, the Queen’s Hotel in Gullane

I saw an opportunity and printed off and delivered hundreds of flyers to many common stairs in Edinburgh.

I had a remarkable response –within a month I had two years of committed work. My expanding reputation in building refurbishment led to prestigious projects with the National Trust and Historic Scotland.

I joined my profession’s Investigation Committee, addressing complaints against our members, which was hugely informative in seeing first hand where matters can go wrong. I learned very quickly the importance of keeping clients informed and, in turn, maintaining goodwill.

What is your favourite type of project? Our website is testimony to our eclectic range. The full restoration of the 16th-Century Woodhall House in Colinton has been a wonderful project for a Hong Kong client returning to Edinburgh.

Macneal's practice’s award-winning house design in the Capital’s Grange areaMacneal's practice’s award-winning house design in the Capital’s Grange area
Macneal's practice’s award-winning house design in the Capital’s Grange area

New homes too have given us great satisfaction, amongst others is our award-winning house in the Grange, with another recently completed home in Inverleith.

Being mathematically minded, I have always found residential conversions hugely challenging and rewarding. The 18 different apartments and two new homes at St Andrews Court transformed a historic hotel hotel in the heart of Gullane and won the Scottish Home Awards residential development of the year.

We enjoy many smaller projects –every bit as rewarding – creating lifestyle-changing kitchen/garden room extensions.

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What advice would you give someone choosing an architect? Engage with one with whom you feel an empathy. Don’t be lured by a low fee, but instead look for value in allowing your architect the time to invest in you and your home.

What is your typical day like? In the past, I have been hunter gatherer but now I spend more of my time encouraging others in this role to best ensure the future of what will shortly become their practice.

What has been the biggest challenge or worst time in the profession? Over the years, we have endured recessions when many projects were put on hold. During these times I worked hard to market our practice abroad in making presentations to the expat communities in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and the US. From this initiative, we have established strong international relationships with those looking to return.

Where do you live? Our family home for 30 years has been a Victorian end terrace in the West End of Edinburgh. It has a large west-facing garden over the Water of Leith, giving us tranquility, and it is an eight-minute walk to Haymarket.

Does your job affect your social life? None of our children chose to follow my career path, believing I worked far too hard! But I try not to work weekends. My wife is an avid hill walker, which gives me time for golf.

What advice would you give someone wanting to work in your profession? In encouraging friends’ children or addressing sixth form groups, I will always make them aware that architecture is a noble profession. Like being a school teacher ornurse – hugely enjoyable, hard work, and very rewarding But if you are looking to own a yacht at 30, then maybe it is not for you.

For me, a great strength is in sensitivity, in communicating with clients and their contractor. For many, any major project can be an emotional rollercoaster, where our role is to offer care, comfort and encouragement from inception to completion. The end result is always so worth while.

What innovations in architecture do you see making the biggest difference in the future? Most certainly, computers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with three–dimensional modelling and virtual walkthroughs.

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Young architects no longer need to draw, as that is replaced by a keyboard skill set.

That said, as a practice, we still find some computer imaging harsh unless you invest an awful lot oftime – and, in turn, cost – in the presentation.

We still encourage drawing at the practice, where the spontaneity and softness in crayon and watercolour presentation are still appreciated by many clients.

Life file

Born and raised I am a Weegie Ginger brought up in Lanarkshire and life-long Motherwell and Glasgow Warriors fan.

Education Loretto School Musselburgh, where in turn I served a governor for many years. Edinburgh University. At 35 I was proud to be amongst the youngest to become a Fellow of my profession.

Family An ever-patient wife who is involved in charity work, and four children. Our oldest daughter is a novelist, our sons are in medicine and building surveying and my youngest daughter is a vet.

First Job As a thirteen year old, loading lemonade crates onto lorries. It was hard work and a long day but it taught me the value of my ten shilling wage, and above all gave me my desire to achieve at school and have a career.

Plans for retirement For now I am happy with a three day week.

Personal motto Never be complacent, there is always room for improvement.

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