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Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson Haar Architects Leith Edinburgh

Since establishing my company as A449 in 2010 I grew the practice and built a reputation as one of the best emerging practices in the UK. This was recognised by my professional body with awards three years running between 2015-2017 including the Saltire Society Medal for Excellence in Housing Design.

My practice is characterised by proposals that are considered with care and wisdom, proposals that create a relationship with the context through form and material authenticity.

What does this practice specialise in?

Primarily in a domestic new build, extension and refurbishment context.

What’s the first question an architect will ask a client?

I tend to open with something along the lines of “Are you ok for me to get a wee bit excited about the potential designs for your project as long as I temper it with sensible economic realities?”

What’s your aim when you design a home?

To effectively understand and interpret the ideas and aspirations of the client with the emphasis on quality of space rather than quantity of space.

How would you describe your approach?

Purpose driven. My objective on every project is to make a thoughtful contextual response, one that understands the clients needs, and forms a respectful connection to the history of the building or site and how people used it in the past. All of my work ensures that the context does not suffer from the intervention, but is complemented and supported by it.

What innovations is the practice adopting?

I am incredibly excited about the opportunity this presents for my practice and workflows. Midjourney, ChatGPT, and the generative content tools in the latest Adobe apps are a gamechanger for my output.

What’s unique to the company?

My approach, not all practices are purpose driven.

What’s been the biggest challenge to date?

Things changed quite significantly in 2018 when I had a serious cycling accident that almost killed me. I was in hospital for a month with a broken collarbone and shoulder blade, five broken ribs, a punctured lung, a torn diaphragm and sepsis. This took the wind out of my sails a wee bit, and just as things were getting back to normal there was a global pandemic. 

What are the challenges now.

Getting my name out there again. A rebrand in 2019 from A449 to Haar was muted by Covid. In order to navigate a global pandemic and maintain continuity of the practice I reverted to operating on my own. I was most successful when this was my business model, and I am delighted to be back to that.

What inspires your designs?

Historic and popular culture, people, products, art, music, landscape, technological advances, in short, everything. The important thing is to able to interpret and filter this in relation to making a considered response to a brief.

A home for the future is… ?

One that prioritizes the well-being of its inhabitants, responds to their present physical, physiological, and emotional needs, while also anticipating future challenges.

What are the future plans for the company?

2024 feels like a fresh start, and I am resolute about my 15th year of practice being a success. I have a small number of wonderful clients, and several more interesting prospects in the pipeline, but I am seeking clients whose values align with those of my practice.

Where do you look for inspiration?

There is so much inspiration available on social media and online, but there is richness in taking a more analogue approach. While I am excited about the tech potential of AI to contribute to the profession, the realities of aspect, orientation, natural light and shade, topography and materiality of a building or site is more important to me than what other practices are doing.

What top two things do readers need to know, that they don’t think of, prior to pursuing the house of their dreams?

The process is often longer than expected and it is as important as the end product.

That the architect is working with them not for them.

Tell us a secret?

I used Chat GPT for one of these answers.

How to build a house in ten words?

Find an architect whose sense of value aligns with yours