Jessica Ellis: Associate Architect

30th November 2020

Jess has been with the Cardiff office for nine years. As an Associate Architect working in the Healthcare sector, she knows a thing or two about healthy, people-focused design…

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work?

I work mostly in healthcare. I think it’s one of the most rewarding sectors in that it’s really flipping hard but you can actually see what you’ve done make a real difference. If I can make that patient experience better for one person, or allow the staff to work with one less obstacle in the way, then I’ve done my job.

Can you talk me through the design process when you’re working on healthcare projects?

Healthcare is a unique sector in that you have to design a lot upfront. When you’re dealing with complicated departments, the equipment is so important that you’re almost designing the building around it. For each project we’ll get long, long lists of equipment, even down to the number of sockets and data points that each room needs.

It sounds very technical?

It is but, technical things aside, the most important thing for me is the patients and staff and how they use the spaces. So early on we have a lot of user group engagement where we get to know the nurses, the doctors, the porters, the estates guys. We think about everything, even down to where they would plug a hoover in.

Can it be difficult to get the balance right between aesthetics and practicality?

Hospitals are always very clinical spaces that require such a lot of maintenance, so it can be difficult to achieve beautiful design. As an architect I try to humanise the spaces and make them more homely. Interior design, especially colour, is something I’m super passionate about. I always make sure I know there’s enough money in the budget to be able to do something, even if it is just with paint colours or artwork. Those small things can make a big difference to patients and how they experience a space.

Is it a question that you ask yourself when you’re in a building; how do you feel?

Yes, I think you should walk into a building and feel something. It’s surely a good sign that your architecture is working, unless you walk in and you go, ‘I absolutely hate this, what have they done?’ But still, it’s a feeling, isn’t it? I think the worst is when you walk into a space and it’s just a bit beige.

What do you feel when you’re in Treglown Court?

When you walk into Treglown Court, you’ve got those glass doors and immediately you can see the reception, people smiling, people working. It’s kind of obvious what the building is doing on the inside as well as the outside. You can see everyone working away, you can see models in the window. As soon as you arrive you feel ready to work. It’s bright and airy and all the good things that offices should be, and often aren’t.

Has Treglown Court had any influence on your healthcare work?

I think as a designer you absorb everything that you’re doing and seeing. It’s a constant learning curve and you definitely take aspects of your working environment through into your design work, whether it’s subconsciously or consciously. And if you’re living and working in an environment with natural ventilation, like we are, you can then start to see how that could be added into your design process to make a project better for the end-users. There have been hospital staff areas and kitchens that I’ve modelled on the breakout spaces at Treglown Court too. So, from an environmental point, I think it does have an impact on your design work. But on a more simple level, I’d say if you’re happy in your environment then you are more likely to produce better quality work.

So you’d say Treglown Court has created a happy work environment?

It’s a really nice place to work, I absolutely love it. Our job is incredibly stressful sometimes but the people and the environment at work make a massive difference. It’s obvious really – you’re going to facilitate a better work culture if you’ve got a better environment to work in. If we were sat in call centre style booths, cut off from other people’s faces, drawings and chat, that would definitely impact the overall culture of the office. The office chat is actually what I’ve missed most over lockdown – not in a time-wasting way but in a ‘have other people solved this problem before’ way. It’s just so much easier to go and chat to someone when you can see their face.

Has working from home had a big impact on you?

The boundaries are blurred. I don’t say I’m working from home, it’s more like I live at work. It’s strange really, I sit in my spare room working and I’ve got natural light and everything I’d have at a desk but I miss the people. And the environment is so important as well. I think if you didn’t have that well designed, airy space, you wouldn’t necessarily want to go to work. So, I do think Treglown Court offers something that your home never can.

Can you describe what that is?

Compared to the other offices it’s definitely got a different feel to it. I think because we’re open-plan and we don’t really have structured teams, the ethos of the office is all about sharing knowledge and resources. The building 100% facilitates that just because it’s so open and you can hear conversations happening across the room. Or someone might walk by your screen and say your work’s looking good and it sparks conversations or gives you a boost to carry on.

Do you think the building has brought the Cardiff team closer?

I think our kitchen area is really good at that, it’s full almost every lunchtime. It’s just nice to have a break from your work and get to know your colleagues better – you learn about their kids, their dogs and cats and their bikes! It definitely makes that connection with your colleagues stronger. The people here are not just work colleagues, they’re friends and I don’t think you get that in a lot of workplaces. I do think the architecture here has facilitated a lot of those conversations and fostered those friendships.

Finally, can you tell me what you think the future holds for Treglown Court?

My lockdown revelation has been flexible working. Working at home has enabled me to do my job well but also be a better parent at the same time. So in future, I’d like to mix it up and have regular contact days in the office for the camaraderie and team-based working. I also really miss the printer!