Architect Guy Hollaway invites us to his studio to talk about design, regeneration and his plans for the future
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Guy Hollaway “the man who built Kent” given the number of iconic buildings his studio has created across the county.
With its long-awaited F51 multi-storey skate park just opening in Folkestone this month, we sent a reporter Rhys Griffiths to find out what drives him to continue transforming our cities.
For more than an hour, Guy Holloway expounds his philosophy in precise and carefully chosen words.
He’s clearly a man who takes his job incredibly seriously, and to talk to him about architecture is to feel intellectually stimulated.
From his studio in Hythe, he sets out his vision for what his work can bring to the county where he grew up and where he believes coastal communities in particular are undergoing a transformation not seen in a century or more.
“I personally think we’re going through a coastal renaissance right now that we haven’t seen since the Victorian and Edwardian era,” he says.
“What we’re seeing now is this incredible period where there are investments that I haven’t seen in the same way, and a post-pandemic society where you can monetize from home or you have greater flexibility in where you can work, so you can actually live where you want to live.
“And what a beautiful place to live and enjoy all that it brings in terms of environment and beach and sea, culture, food, sport or leisure.
“Now you can also have your job here because your job is completely mobile, and if you have to go to London you can take the high-speed train and you can be there in less than an hour. That’s an extraordinarily powerful thing.”
After growing up in Herne Bay, Hollaway left Kent to study at the University of Brighton, before graduating in a recession that meant opportunities for young architects were slim in the field.
A family friend, Nigel Thorpe, ran the practice of Cheney and Thorpe Architects at the Tramway Stables in Hythe and, in exchange for board and lodging, the newly graduated youngster was offered a free job.
The foot in the door was all he needed, and soon he had worked his way up and bought the business, which was later renamed Guy Hollaway Architects.
“If we invest in the next generation, we think it will come back in spades…”
Nowhere is the company’s heritage more evident than a few miles along the coast in Folkestone, where a long-standing relationship with billionaire philanthropist Sir Roger De Haan has seen Hollanday produce a series of buildings that proved essential to the ongoing regeneration of the city.
“I feel like I was very lucky to be part of his regeneration plan,” he says of De Haan and his charitable trust’s continued investment in the community.
“This plan is about creating a fantastic city to live in. If we can create a really meaningful place, we can invest in the city, invest in the people of the city, and really focus on investing in young people, so we can create what we call “generational regeneration”.
“If we invest in the next generation, we think it will come back in spades.
“If young people can see the opportunity to create a career in a community they are invested in, then they’re more likely to stay and they’re more likely to contribute and that’s a really powerful message.”
One of the first major projects the studio worked on in the city was the seaside restaurant perched on the edge of the harbor that would become Rocksalt.
Its role as a “destination” dining venue, alongside the Creative District’s thriving arts scene, was key to what could be seen as the first wave of De Haan’s overarching vision for the city’s transformation.
I ask Hollaway what he thinks of the criticism, made by some neighborhoods in the community, that a restaurant like this has done nothing for locals struggling to make ends meet in one of the neighborhoods the most disadvantaged in the county.
“I grew up not having a lot of money,” he said, “I understood that.
“So when I designed Rocksalt, I consciously designed the best seating in the house on the outside of the building. So when you get to the entrance, you turn around the corner and those steps turn in these seats overlooking the inner harbour.
“The idea was that you could go get fish and chips, sit on those steps in the sun, watch the fishermen bring in the fish, and have the best seats in the house even if you couldn’t afford it. At the restaurant at that time.
“So it’s kind of an ambitious entry-level idea. I think it’s really important to try to make a building very accessible and ambitious at the same time.
“Every time I go down there, if I have time, I walk around to check that someone is sitting there and more often than not there is someone sitting there eating fish and chips and I think ‘wow, it works’.”
Accessibility and aspiration also appear as guiding principles for the new £17million F51 skate park in Tontine Street, which he describes as “a gift from Sir Roger to the city”.
A stunning building that houses climbing, bouldering and boxing facilities along three floors for skating and BMX, the brief was to provide a venue that could accommodate everyone from children taking their first lessons Olympians preparing to go for gold in elite competition.
“It’s a gift for these young people that he’s incredibly proud of,” he says.
“This skatepark should be accessible from beginners to skating professionals. It should be a challenge for everyone.
“It’s an amazing brief to try and do, and if you think it’s complicated enough, we decided to place the concrete bowl in the air, so you can walk under it and hear the skateboards above you.
“Then the whole building is cantilevered. It’s a big building and it’s getting bigger. From the outside, it looks a lot smaller than it is and that’s not is that when you venture inside that you begin to understand the scale of the building.”
“Then we put the whole building on still images. It’s like building in Venice…”
Other projects in Folkestone have included Three Hills Sports Park in Cheriton Road, the Primary Academy, Harbor Fountains and of course Rocksalt.
But the hallmark of the Hollywood studio can be seen in many other places in Kent. In Ashford – on either side of the railway tracks – stand the Elwick Place cinema complex and the Curious Brewery.
during this time at Canterbury the company produced the Hampton by Hilton hotel built on the site of the former Slatters Hotel in St Margaret’s Street, and in margate the studio worked on the master plan for the revived Dreamland and the restoration of the Scenic Railway.
But it’s the planned headquarters for bicycle manufacturer Brompton, to be built in the heart of Ashford, that really energizes Hollywood.
“I competed with Manchester and Birmingham,” he said.
“I had to face very tough competition and two cities that have cycling at their heart.
“But what we did was we managed to find a site that was in a hundred acres and green space downtown, which is unheard of, but it just so happened to be is in the floodplain.
“So we had to come up with an amazing design solution to improve the floodplain, turn that into an advantage, and then we put the whole building on stills. It’s like building in Venice.
“In 10 years, if everything goes according to plan and we complete all phases, we will have created between 2,500 and 3,000 jobs at this site alone, but not only that, we have created an architecture that can regenerate 100 acres so it’s in a park.”
And what about its philosophy and, if that’s not too grand a concept, its heritage?
“If you understand the whole, then you can think of the individual,” he says. “So if I understand the whole of Folkestone, I can start to feed myself and understand how to react to individual buildings or what the sum of the whole would be. to be.
“I would much rather be invested where I live because it comes with responsibility. I don’t want to leave behind something that I’m not proud of, that I don’t want to go back to in 10, 15, 20 years.
“I want to go back and know that we made the right decisions at the right time. I have a responsibility to do something that I believe in and that is something good for the community and that will create greater prosperity or a better place to live or help the city economically or whatever.
“So I feel a huge responsibility in that regard.”