IF you choose to study architecture, you are in for a long ride.

Those who put themselves through seven years of study must be dedicated to the cause.

Coming from a family of architects, Ben Downie was clued up even as a child.

Now with more than 40 years of experience, he has worked on some of the most challenging and unique projects in the county.

Ben, the leading light behind Inkpen Downie Architects in Colchester, said: "Both of my parents were architects, my father Norman worked in Colchester and he designed the Mercury Theatre.


"My dad's office was at home, so I literally grew up in an architect's office."

It was natural for him to be inspired by his mum Peggy and dad Norman's creativity.

As a fitting tribute to his parents, Inkpen Downie's office is now based near the very theatre his father designed, in Balkerne Passage.

He even worked with his dad for a short time, after seven intense years of study.

He said: "I did an architecture degree at Liverpool University in 1973 - you have to do three years at university, then one year practical work, then another two years at university, then another year practical, and then another set of exams.

"After university I stayed in Liverpool for about six years, working on some very innovative social housing. I moved to Colchester in the mid 80s and the core of Inkpen Downie was set up at that time.

"We have had offices in Maldon and Tollesbury, but we have been in Colchester for a long time."


His work is not just based in Colchester, he has clients in London and Suffolk.

One of his most famous projects was Clare Priory in Suffolk, which included the transformation of a medieval priory into a modern religious monument.

Ben, 63, from Maldon, said: "Clare Priory was an interesting project, it was an extension of a medieval priory, which is a scheduled ancient monument that was heavily protected.

"It took a lot of negotiation and discussion with Historic England and the planning authority.

"We had to persuade Historic England to let us knock down some openings in the medieval walls and take a quite modern approach.

"The whole project took about eight years, it is a long game."

His work in Colchester is diverse, ranging from timber-frame buildings to school blocks.


He said: "We were involved in The Stockwell pub, as the owners progressed they realised they needed an architect with experience and it turned up some interesting things in terms of structure.

"We were also involved in the early stages of finding a new use for Brown's in East Street, it used to be a famous hardware shop.

"It was in a very poor condition and we had to work with the Preservation Trust to find a use for it, it's now housing."

One of his best projects in Colchester was at the Royal Grammar School, creating a performing arts block and science block.

It was a whole new world from timber frames and medieval walls.

He said: "The performing arts block had to be squeezed into a very tight site which had Roman architecture underneath and protected trees.

"These are very modern buildings with a completely different set of problems."

Regardless of the project, his ethos is always to create a green and sustainable solution, saying a healthy environment is an enjoyable one.

The first step is speaking to clients about their requirements, when a brief has been agreed he looks at the site in terms of planning regulations.

He will then come up with sketches which are made more detailed and technical, before awaiting planning permission, meeting with surveyors, establishing a budget and appointing builders.

It is understandable how some projects can take up to seven years to complete.

Still, the wait is worth it.

Ben said: "It's not just about the finished product, you have to be able to manage people as there are so many people having an input the whole way through.

"I think with historic buildings it gets you into some strange places you would never go to otherwise.

"There are some fantastic buildings that tell their own stories. There are always new things to be discovered."