The director at Fathom Architects is a champion of craftspeople and wants to see a wider appreciation for creative processes. She is also an advocate of the Friday night margarita/margherita combination  

Rebecca Thomas

Why did you choose construction as a career?

Originally I fancied medicine but, on discovering that I routinely passed out at the sight of blood, I needed a plan B.

I am a visual person who has always loving drawing, making and working as part of a team. Architecture provided the perfect balance of these creative and collaborative aspects.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?

Being involved from conception through to delivery of St James’s Market off Regent Street for the Crown Estate, while at Make Architects (where I met Justin and Jonathan, who launched Fathom in 2016).

It was an amazing opportunity to take a redundant piece of the city and breathe life into it with new public space and a vibrant mix of uses. Every time I walk through the development and know I was a part of it I am filled with a huge sense of pride.

What has been the biggest challenge of your career to date?

Having three children while continuing to develop and progress in the profession. I have learnt a lot about myself and become a better, more organised, person as a result.

At Fathom, all four directors are working parents, so we understand and support the need to get the balance right for everyone.

The upside is seeing the joy of the built environment through the eyes of children, often in unexpected places!

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Everybody always seems to be in a rush. There is tremendous value in design - but rushing the process can be a false economy.

I would also love to see a wider appreciation for the creative process of design, which ultimately leads to better economic value for the client and experience for the end user.

What is the most helpful advice that you have been given?

Years ago, my fellow director Justin Nicholls told me to seek out the best possible people in their field, and learn from their experience and knowledge. Curating a collaborative team of experts for every project – and therefore getting the best results – remains a core principle of Fathom today.

Play square at Highgate New Town

Source: Tim Crocker

Highgate Newtown in north London: ”a perfect example of how design can create safe spaces with a strong sense of community - from permeability and planting to social interaction and the freedom to play”

What is your favourite building?

My home. I’m a big fan of postwar modernist housing and live in Camden’s Highgate Newtown Estate, built in the late 1970s under borough architect Sydney Cook as a low-rise high-density development. It is a perfect example of how design can create safe spaces with a strong sense of community - from permeability and planting to social interaction and the freedom to play. 

I regularly apply lessons learnt from living at Highgate Newtown to residential schemes I am involved with today.

Which building do you most dislike?

Mine is a typology rather than a particular building: the shiny glass skyscraper which has no relationship between its function and aesthetic (is it an office or a hotel?) or its context (it could be in any city in the world). If I had to single out an example, I would say the W Hotel in Barcelona which I noticed on a recent trip.


Which famous building do you wish you had worked on?

Lloyd’s of London as a ground breaking building in both its design and thinking. Being part of that talented and innovative team would have been a wonderful experience.

Many of those involved have gone on to have highly successful careers including Peter St John, Julia Barfield, Chris Wilkinson and John McAslan.

What single piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in your profession?

The built environment is such a varied profession. Learn your strengths and the aspects of the job that make you happiest, and carve a role around them.

Who do you most admire in the construction industry?

Craftspeople. Using skills, knowledge and dedication to their craft to create something beautiful from a raw material is something I admire hugely.

What is it like being you (and doing your job)?

Pretty crazy! It can be an organisational challenge from day to day, but one that I relish.

Do you have a life philosophy?

Don’t wait for anything. Get on with it.

What do you think your best quality is?

Being northern – straightforward and plain talking!

What trait do you most dislike in yourself? And in other people?

In myself, the ability to get bogged down in detail – I force myself to take a step back once in a while and take stock.

In others, dishonesty. Working together relies on trust, so everyone needs to be open and honest.

Name three things that you like

My family, wild swimming and having a drink with friends!

Tell us about a secret skill that we don’t know you have

Cold water swimming at the Ladies’ Bathing Pond on Hampstead Heath, which on occasion has involved breaking ice! It is exhilarating and carves out quiet time in an otherwise fairly chaotic life.

What is your most prized possession?

People are more important than possessions!

Early bird or night owl?

Early bird for a swim to start the day and wake up. Night owl to get things done.

What is your favourite food?

Margarita/margherita nights – these started in lockdown with our support bubble and have become a Friday night ritual. Pizzas for the kids and drinks for the parents!

What would your superpower be?

Time travel