An Edinburgh-based architect tells Jane Garwood about the pleasures and pains of running his own practice, and London favouritism.
What's the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?

Make a cup of coffee, open my mail and look at my list of things to do – which usually gets longer as the day goes on.

What's the best thing about the job?

The team of 16 people I work with, definitely.

I also really enjoy finishing a project that everyone's happy with and showing people around it.

What's the worst thing?

Financial insecurity, which is probably true of any small company. The architect's conundrum is how to reconcile three things: doing high-quality work, not going bust and running a happy ship. The stop-go nature of the work is our worst enemy, so it helps to have large projects.

How did you come to be in Scotland?

I had come back from my year out in the West lndies and been offered places in London and Edinburgh to do my diploma, but couldn't decide where to go. I was driving back home and happened to pick up some hitchhikers at the start of the M1.

They were raving about Edinburgh and told me I should study there because I could go to London any time. That helped me make up my mind.

What are the challenges of working outside London?

I have a bit of a problem with London, because there is this A-movie/B-movie attitude, with architects outside London being treated as the B-movie. It's frustrating when London-based practices are invited to do big jobs in Edinburgh and firms here are not.

What made you decide to set up your own practice?

I was at Alsop and Lyall and had entered designs in a competition for a restaurant at Inverewe Gardens, a National Trust property in the north of Scotland. Three months later, we won the competition, but the practice was moving down to London and I had to decide whether to go with them or stay in Edinburgh and do the job myself. I chose to stay – only for the job to be cancelled a week before we were due to start on site!

Who was your mentor and inspiration?

I have several – three alive and one dead. The architect Isi Metzstein, whom I taught with at Edinburgh; my good friend Ted Cullinan, who was a visiting professor while I was teaching; and my old boss Richard MacCormac. The dead one is Carlo Scarpa.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

We're very busy as we tend to have about 25 jobs on the go at any one time. We enjoy the contrast of big and small projects.

For example, we've just finished the £6m Dundee City Arts Centre and a kitchen extension on a house for a couple who have just had triplets. We're also working on a £20 000 bathroom and an arts complex in Leicester.

What has been the highlight of your career?

Winning the competition for the Dundee City Arts Centre. We were desperate for a breakthrough as we'd been unlucky in a number of competitions. Ours was the smallest practice to enter, so there was a David versus Goliath feel about it. When we got the job, we doubled the size of the office in two weeks.

If you weren't an architect, what would you be doing?

Something musical. I had a very musical education, and actually feel more comfortable with music than the visual arts. I still sing and play the violin. Or I might have gone into politics, which I've always been interested in.

Age 43 Born Cheshire Current job Sole partner, Richard Murphy Architects, Edinburgh Salary Varies. Currently £35 000 Employment history Simpson & Brown Architects, Edinburgh, 1980-84; MacCormac Jamieson Prichard, London, 1984-85; lecturer in design, Edinburgh University, 1985-89; director, Alsop and Lyall, Edinburgh, 1989-91; left to set up own practice, 1991 Qualifications BA in Architecture at Newcastle University; Dip Arch at Edinburgh University; FRSA, ARIAS, ARSA, ARIBA Lives Edinburgh Drives Renault Clio 1.8