Lakesmere is your one-stop shop for wall cladding, roofs and glazed building envelopes. Here, director Chris Horsfall tells Sonia Soltani how it designs, installs and maintains its systems, and explains the trouble with architects …

Lakesmere designs, installs and maintains wall cladding, standalone roofs and partial or complete building envelopes that incorporate glazing.

The company, which was founded 13 years ago and employs about 180 people spread across four offices in the UK, is currently working on 30 public and private sector projects.

Its most recent completed projects include the National Assembly of Wales, the Liverpool South Parkway Interchange and the Xscape indoor ski dome in Glasgow.

Chris Horsfall, a director at Lakesmere, says the company likes to get involved as early as possible in the specification process. If it doesn’t, architects will already have made up their minds about their vision for the project and want it to work at any costs. It is sometimes easier to deal with contractors than architects, he says, because they’re more open to design changes. “With contractors we have more free rein.”

He prefers to work with a blank piece of paper. “This way, we can optimize the design of the primary structure. It saves costs on the main frame and also eliminates unnecessary future secondary support elements that would otherwise be needed to make cladding fit the architect’s vision.”

Horsfall says the designs that the company has to work on are not generally very detailed. But this suits Lakesmere just fine. “In fact,” he says, “we prefer this to too much detail, which invariably sets the design and doesn’t allow us to use our flair and experience.”

The fit-out specialist has noticed an increasing trend towards sparse designs, a consequence of ever-changing Building Regulations. It has responded to this by acquiring the latest 3D CAD technology tools to help it influence the design.

Horsfall is convinced that this approach can only have a huge benefit for clients and contractors. Employing a loyal supply chain, including the likes of Technal, Schüco and Kingspan, at the earliest stage, is another way to deliver projects for best value, he says.

This is essential on projects that are technically challenging. One was the 2004 refurbishment of the envelope of John Dalton tower at Manchester Metropolitan University, undertaken with Laing O’Rourke. Horsfall explains how the external facade had to be stripped back to a primary concrete frame and all internal walls had to be removed and refitted after cladding.

“We had to design a lattice support frame solution that could span column to column and accept various glazing and cladding systems without loading the floors prior to internal walls being installed,” he says.

“The construction had to be flexible so it could be adapted when final wall positions and acoustic conditions would be advised.”

The company might be ambitious in its approach to work and the scale of projects it’s taking on, but Horsfall warns against unrealistic expectations among work partners. He says: “When setting your goals, whether daily or weekly, always reappraise them and reduce them by half. Most other colleagues will struggle to match your own momentum.”

The world according to …

Chris Horsfall, director at Lakesmere

My dream specification is …
A combination of at least four of our key supply-chain partners’ products. It would be aluminium standing-seam roof, composite wall cladding, built-up aluminium rainscreen cladding and simple glazing systems, all supported from a Lakesmere-designed secondary support frame.

I swear by …
Kalzip aluminium standing-seam roofing, because it is so flexible and innovative. It continues to evolve and no other product offers so many options that complement our design-based regional operations throughout the UK.

I think the best recent innovation is …
Wireless working, because many of our workers are very mobile and this benefits site operations.

I think …
Foam composite products are past their sell-by date. They’re going to have a hard time with legislation and sustainability issues.

My worst specification nightmare is …
The contractor who insists we consider doing elements of the building wall, or roof construction. We do not undertake jobs such as traditional wet trades, primary steelwork and wiring works in conjunction with automatic vents and doors, just because it makes contract packaging simpler.

The worst piece of red tape is …
Clients being forced to pay extra for project-specific off-site and on-site testing when products have already been thoroughly tested and, in any event, will only be as good as the workmanship on site.

Lakesmere has been shortlisted for the Specialist Contractor Awards in three categories. For the shortlist click here. To attend the event at the London Hilton on 21 November 2006 please contact Lucy Bond on 020-7560 4099,