What got you started? 

Sitting in my sandpit building things.

Who and where have you learnt most about architecture from? 

Not much from University but, after, from working with poet-philosopher Ian Hamilton Finlay at his garden, Little Sparta, as community architect in the big, tough Edinburgh Housing Scheme of Wester Hailes, and from theorist and builder Christopher Alexander at the Center for Environmental Structure in Berkeley, California – people and places with radical critiques of the poverty of society’s approach to the built environment.

What project do you most regret losing? 

I’ve had invitations from Local Authorities to propose uses for old schools that have been abandoned for a shiny newbuild on the edge of town. I look at their beautiful stone exteriors, high ceilings, abundant natural light and location at the heart of their communities and report back to my clients – that they would make great Schools. So when it was announced that my daughters’ Victorian School, across the road, was to be replaced, I put huge effort into demonstrating that it could be most beautifully-transformed, following which we won through an ojeu. Not to be though, it’s newbuild after all; I’m told I’m just not “aspirational” enough in my thinking.

What part of the process do you most enjoy? 

When we finally get onsite I feel the same joy of making I felt as a wee boy in my sandpit – all else is, at best, rehearsal, at worst diversion.

Which house would you most like to live in? 

Our house on the Highland West Coast: a simple oak line of rooms, cantilevered out over the rocks to the sea, with otters, seals, dolphins and basking sharks in the bay and a staggering view out to Eigg and Rum. Heaven; with midgies.

What is your favourite city? 

The Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus (or “City of Brass”) of the Book of the Thousand and One Nights – wilder, funnier, sexier, more terrifying and extraordinary than any Calvino dream of Venice.

What building would you most like to see demolished? 

The Pentagon.

What would be your dream commission? 

Planner-Builder-Dictator for my most-lovely Edinburgh.

What are your favourite novels? 

Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman” and Ursula Le Guin’s “Tehanu”.

What are you listening to? 

New Orleans Funk, and Bill Orcutt’s scary guitar (look him up on youtube).

Complete the sentence: At heart I am a frustrated… 

bassist – I’m really Bootsy Collins, on James Brown’s “Sex Machine”, and Jah Wobble on early Public Image Ltd.

What have you sacrificed for your career? 


What does your family think of your work? 

They are sweet and understanding but are mostly architects too – Helen Lucas, my wife, runs her own practice and oor Issey is off to the Mack next year.

Is it getting easier?

Every year sees further diversionary bullshit, parasitic on the simple good client, good architect process at the heart of good architecture. But we’re up for the fight…

Frisealach, the house in which I'd most like to live. Image credit: Brendan MacNeill

Publication / Building Design

Part of a series of interviews with Architects.