Ask the Architect: Marion Room


Marion Room, the new director running DMWR Architects’ Manchester studio, answers ADF’s questions on future plans to grow the practice in the north west, and her personal goals

What made you want to become an architect?

I was good at art (I achieved a top GCSE pass grade at the age of 12) and I suppose this led people to ask me what I wanted to do for a career. From around that time, I focused on the idea of designing buildings as a structured way of using my creative visual skills.

What made you want to make the LEAP and join DMWR?

I relocated from London to Manchester at a midpoint in my career. I had spoken to DMWR previously about joining the fledgling Manchester team but, at that time, I felt as though I needed more exposure to the projects and clients offered by the larger, more established commercial practices in the region. Since then, DMWR has grown and I have had the chance to gain a much better insight into how the construction industry operates in the north-west, so when DMWR contacted me again in 2022, I felt ready for the challenge of heading up the Manchester studio.

How does your role differ from what you were doing previously?

Previously, I was part of the senior management team in a much larger company, whereas now I am running a whole studio team with more responsibility for the overall direction of travel of the practice.

Has work fully ‘returned to normal’ for you since the pandemic?

Although it was a difficult time, there are many positives to come out of the recent pandemic, including forcing the issue of remote and flexible working practices. While these have been normalised in other industries for decades, the construction industry has been behind the curve in understanding how to adapt to incorporate flexibility without impacting on creativity and production. Since the pandemic, we have made some giant leaps forward in resolving this issue which benefits us all in achieving a balance in our lives at work and at home. The new definition of ‘normal’ in the workplace is one that needs to embrace these changes in order to be successful going forward. 

Are you looking to fully embrace the possibilities of mentoring at DMWR?

I see mentoring and coaching as an intrinsic part of the post-covid culture in the architecture office environment. We will adopt an approach based on monthly one-to-ones with staff where the focus will be on strengths-based personal development, the outcome of which is intended to be simultaneously beneficial to the growth of individuals, the team and the wider company. The ‘ongoing conversation’ is now widely considered to be more beneficial than the traditional singular touchpoint of the annual appraisal. 

What is your proudest professional achievement?

There are several but this is one that resonates with me. When I returned to my home city of Manchester at the midpoint in my career, I became involved in the design of a new theatre and cultural arts complex, HOME, located at First Street. The brief for this building was to create a new destination for the former Corner House and Library Theatre organisations – both iconic Manchester venues and of great significance to Mancunian folk. It felt like a great responsibility to get the tone of the new venue right, and to do justice to these well-loved arts groups to enable them to grow and thrive in the future. HOME is now a key venue in the city where we attend construction industry events, and is also a favourite destination for my family at weekends. The technical aspects of working on the design development of a new theatre was definitely a career highlight for me as an architect.  

What’s your biggest current challenge?

The main challenges that we’re seeing at the moment are around rising material costs which are putting pressure on the development of projects. Delays that occur early on in the programme, such as at the planning stage, can contribute towards the uncertainty. Some sectors are more resilient than others in the current climate and we hope that this positivity will carry projects through any forthcoming market challenges. 

How does the ‘Women in Property’ organisation help female architects?

I have become involved in Women in Property as it offers great opportunities for networking and champions the success of women in the industry – working to ensure that the industry is balanced, diverse and inclusive. There is a well-established group in Manchester that holds frequent events to enable professionals from across the construction industry to come together to meet new people and to learn about business opportunities across the region. 

I am delighted to share that from 1 March 2023, I will become a Women in Property North West Committee member, overseeing the Education Roadshow, Student Awards and Inclusivity Support. In addition, our DMWR London studio was one of the host venues for the 2023 WIP Student Awards assessment days which was held at the end of January. I was involved on the panel of judges reviewing the project presentations of around six to eight shortlisted undergraduate students, offering constructive feedback and nominating a winner to go forward to the national finals which will be held at a dinner at Claridges later in the year. This is a great experience for both the students and judges – and one which helps young people to begin to form their support network as they come into the industry.

Which sectors/typologies will you initially be focusing on AT DMWR?

We will continue to pursue opportunities in the PBSA, residential, commercial and industrial sectors to build upon the legacy of the team in Manchester and the work across the wider practice. The senior team has a collective range of experience across a wide number of sectors so there will be a chance to expand our targeted areas of work going forward.

how is your training to become a certified Passivhaus designer going?

Last year, I attended the Passivhaus Institute’s Retrofit course looking at how EnerPHit standards can be achieved for both domestic and non-domestic buildings. Now, I am working towards the Certified Passivhaus Designer qualification. This focuses on new-build projects using a specific approach to form factor, orientation, building services and construction detailing in order to achieve a stable internal environment, resulting in very low annual energy consumption and bills. 

Do you hope to be able to pursue Passivhaus schemes for DMWR in the near future?

We would like to pursue this in our business going forward. However, the opportunities to work on Passivhaus schemes are still fairly limited. It is still considered to be costly when, in fact, there are now some Passivhaus solutions on the market that can be delivered at the same cost per square metre as traditional-build, social housing schemes. From 2025, the Future Homes Standard will deliver new homes that are ‘zero carbon-ready.’ This change to the Building Regulations will challenge the thinking in relation to current building methods, and undoubtedly increase the perception of Passivhaus as a viable solution.

What’s your main priority as you embark on a new phase of your career?

I am really excited to be heading up the Manchester office for DMWR and working with the highly talented team to continue to grow our portfolio in Manchester and the north west. I am fully engaged with the current thinking in relation to sustainability and the built environment, and also committed to the urgent need to move the debate forward for both new and retrofit schemes. We are currently working through our approach to ESG, and we are investing in creating a range of new policies. It is exciting to see where this will take us as a company going forward.