ALT-Architecture’s ethos is to create buildings and places which are coherently simple, elegantly composed, progressive and imaginative, intrinsically sustainable and, most importantly, embrace the spirit of place.
Founded by Rhian Thomas and Amanda Spence, ALT-Architecture builds on our collective 28 years of experience designing delightful and functional spaces for people to live, to learn and to work. We call Cardiff our home but much of our work is across Wales and beyond.
Our alternative approach to practice explores the edge of architecture, where it meets the disciplines of art, landscape and theory. This intentionally places us away from the middle of the road and challenges preconceptions of value in architecture.
We pursue contemporary projects across a diverse range of type, scale and budget, from installation, to building, to landscape and urbanism. Our work is always underpinned by a critical response to site and context and an ambition to ‘build simply’.
We are experienced in developing projects from the first sketch to the finished construction.
BSc BArch Dip.Arch ARB
Rhian was born in north Wales and was educated at the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff. After graduating, she worked for the Design Research Unit Wales, and later Loyn + Co Architects. In 2018, she co-founded ALT-Architecture with Amanda Spence.
Rhian has worked on a wide range of challenging residential and healthcare projects. She was the project architect for the design of 30 new apartments located on the Northcliff headland overlooking Cardiff bay in Penarth; a new integrated living facility for the elderly in rural Wales; and a respite care home for young adults with varying care needs in Aberavon.
Rhian has a particular interest in design in cultural landscapes, and was a key member of the design team for the Margam Park Environmental Discovery Centre. In her approach to architecture, emphasis is placed on a critical response to place and context, and developing methodologies to interpret landscapes through experience, craft, culture, myth and legend, as well as more orthodox methods of measuring and recording.
She teaches at the Welsh School of Architecture at undergraduate level, and has previously led design units on the M.Arch. She has presented work in a variety of exhibitions on architecture, place and landscape.
BSc BArch MA MPhil ARB
Amanda is a fully qualified architect and co-founder of ALT-Architecture. She has an interest in the principles of ‘Building Simply’ which she explored through her MPhil thesis and which guide the design work of the practice.
After graduating from the Welsh School of Architecture at Cardiff University, Amanda worked at the school’s Design Research Unit Wales where she led a number of education and community projects. Whilst working at Hudson Architects in Norwich, she was Project Architect for a major refurbishment for Norwich University of the Arts.
Before starting ALT-Architecture, Amanda was Design Advisor at the Design Commission for Wales (DCFW) where she worked to promote the value of good design in the built environment. Here, she organised international design conferences, curated exhibitions and co-authored and edited a number of publications, including guidance for Welsh Government. In 2015, Amanda produced LandMarks - a conference, exhibition and publication which sought to dig deeper into the relationship between natural resources and human intervention to inform and inspire a future for design in rural landscapes. Amanda continues to be a member of DCFW’s Design Review Panel.
Alongside practice, Amanda is a design tutor at the Welsh School of Architecture.
WORKING AT THE EDGE
We like to work at the edge of architecture. At the edge there are overlaps with other related disciplines, and within these intersections there is a charged space where opportunities for purposeful innovation reside. This approach liberates our curiosity and imagination, and makes our practice more resilient and intellectually exciting.
We enjoy the space between the worlds of landscape and architecture. We are privileged that the country within which we practice is enriched with landscapes which we have great affection for. These demand a critical response to topography and culture. The studio is founded on the principle that we must first understand and interpret, at various scales and various levels, the contexts and places in which we work. We practice ways of looking beyond the technical and physical representation of a place to gain this depth of understanding.
Our design studies are developed in ways comparable to art practices. The iterative and exploratory quality of analogue model making and hand drawing is essential to our practice.
Our work is informed by the principles of ‘Building Simply’ - architecture of simple forms, thoughtfully composed and constructed in a logical, legible and resourceful way from local materials. Places are designed and constructed in a direct but refined way, reducing design to the essentials and doing more with less. A responsible, ethical and economical approach to resource use and a critical approach to site are adopted, resulting in buildings which are cost-effective, intrinsically sustainable and express an empathy with the landscapes in which they sit.
QUALITY, VALUE AND DELIGHT
Exemplary architecture enriches and improves everyday life, and can be cost-effective. Through simplifying complex problems and a thoughtful and restrained approach to design, we create meaningful places which go beyond meeting the needs of those who use them and add delight to the everyday. Expressing the tactile qualities of natural materials and careful consideration of daylight, sunlight, space and views - which are free - contribute to sensory experience, beauty, poetics and value.