Blog: SME of the Year SECBE Awards 2020 finalist - Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt

16 June 2020

sponsored by CIOB

SME of the Year SECBE Awards 2020 finalist - Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt

In 2009 Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt was a team of three with grand plans and big ideas, working out of a garage in Basingstoke. Today, they are a multi-award-winning practice with a 50-strong team and studios in central London and Hampshire. 

Along their journey, they have collaborated with clients, stakeholders and design teams to develop a portfolio of high-quality projects across a breadth of sectors. The practice was named European Young Architect of the Year 2017 and World Architecture News Practice of the Year 2018.

At Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt they believe that good design is about creating great places to live, work and play. By consulting, collaborating and thoroughly understanding the streets, spaces and connections around us, they create exciting, functional and sustainable environments.

The practice in more detail

They made some important decisions early on to help them stay robust enough to take knocks while growing the practice. Working across multiple sectors – housing, education, workplace, cultural and community - gives them income from a variety of sectors and sources, and resilience to withstand changes across markets. They also work across the country, ensuring a wide geographical spread.

They operate a Quality Management System (QMS) based on ISO9001 with project, process and operations audits. Projects are audited by internal auditors on a regular basis during the life cycle of a project. This extends to include a ‘lessons learned’ project review after completion, as a part of their continuous improvement strategy. In addition, every project is reviewed at least once a month by all the directors and each team holds a weekly Design Crit which is open to anyone in the studios. 

Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt work in creative, high-specification studios and with staff involved in creating vision and strategy and receiving all the benefits you would expect, including flexible working and study bursaries. They hold weekly breakfast catchups to share company news and project updates. Every autumn they take a trip together to a place of architectural interest giving a chance to bond as a team and learn together – recent destinations include Copenhagen, Berlin and Liverpool. In spring they visit an architectural scheme in London and in summer they have a ‘Family BBQ’ in Hampshire. Wellbeing is also high on their agenda and this year they appointed a Wellbeing Group to implement and support new initiatives.

Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt’s strategy is about working smart - they believe there is software for everything and invest to make architects more productive. Rather than working from a single idea outwards, they collaborate, experiment and take cues from a variety of sources to introduce greater scope into the design process - innovative solutions often arise from early discussions with contractors or major suppliers. They promote the use of lifecycle analysis throughout the design process to ensure that the best decisions are made for the long-term benefit of the building and users, looking at running costs in use, maintenance and durability of materials and systems.

They aim to increase productivity by 10% year on year. A continually developing workforce, bespoke training, high-quality studio environments and developing workflows are key. In December last year, the London Team relocated to The Building Society – a flexible co-working space in central London for the built environment sector. This has offered opportunities for collaboration and inter-disciplinary knowledge share. Additionally, an active investment in new technology to support these aims and efficiencies means that business growth will not be facilitated purely by increasing staff numbers.


  • Business growth – in 2009 they were a team of three with grand plans and big ideas, working out of a garage in Basingstoke. Today, they are a multi-award-winning practice with a 50-strong team and studios in central London and Hampshire. 
  • Innovation - they engage the team and collaborate widely with a range of industry and academic institutions to expand understanding and further their impact beyond that of just a medium-sized practice.
  • Design - they have an established reputation for design excellence, recognised with various industry and business awards. They understand that quality design stems from the collaborative process. They work closely with clients, communities and the end-user, responding to their needs and realising their aspirations whilst respecting the social, cultural, economic, historical and environmental contexts of place.

About the SME of the Year Award: 

SMEs are the backbone of the industry and are recognised by Constructing Excellence for their dominance of and contribution to the supply chain. Department for Business Innovation and Skills suggest that 99.9% of UK construction contracting businesses are SMEs and some of the greatest innovation and best practice can be identified in this sector.

> Find out more about the other finalists here

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