Understories 007: Tom Bell, Freehaus


Tom Bell, co-founder of Freehaus, discusses the ethos and approach of the architectural studio. Freehaus aims to architect fairly to shape real lives, working with end user clients and focusing on civic-facing projects. Tom emphasises the importance of shared values in the founder relationship and the need for constant communication and empathy with clients. He also discusses the transition from being a hands-on architect to a business owner and the challenges and opportunities that come with it. Tom shares the future plans for Freehaus, including expanding into residential projects and collaborating with larger practices.


  • Freehaus aims to architect fairly to shape real lives, focusing on civic-facing projects and working with end user clients.
  • Shared values are crucial in the founder relationship, fostering trust, open communication, and a common vision for the future.
  • The transition from being a hands-on architect to a business owner requires constant communication, empathy, and the ability to delegate and trust the team.
  • The brief development process should be ongoing and adaptable, allowing for late changes and prioritizing the client’s goals and outcomes.
  • Collaborating with larger practices can provide opportunities for smaller practices to bring agility and dynamism to projects and expand their reach. Certifications like Passivhaus can provide architects with technical knowledge and give them a competitive edge.
  • Adding unique skills and perspectives within a larger team can create value and disrupt traditional approaches.
  • Collaborative working and networking are essential for generating project opportunities and fostering innovation.
  • Understanding and expressing your value as an architect is crucial for successful collaboration and pitching.
  • Admiring and collaborating with other architects and studios can lead to fruitful partnerships and shared learning.
  • Balancing form and function is essential in architecture, as buildings must both function well and have aesthetic appeal.


00:00 Introduction to Freehaus

03:10 Architecting Fairly and Ethos

04:38 Starting Freehaus with Civic-Focused Projects

08:00 Transitioning from Architect to Founder

09:46 Importance of Shared Values in the Founder Relationship

11:25 Establishing Freehaus as an Established Practice

15:30 Transitioning from Hands-On to Hands-Off

19:12 Expanding into Residential Projects

21:26 Architecting Fairly in Different Project Types

25:26 The Importance of Early Stages and Brief Development

28:12 Managing Late Changes in the Brief

32:44 Collaborating with Larger Practices

36:54 Designing Lifelong Homes

41:08 Forging Relationships with Larger Practices

44:31 Environmental Sensitivity and Certifications

45:04 Adding Value within a Larger Team

45:33 Collaborative Working and Networking

47:22 Understanding and Expressing Your Value

48:46 The Freehaus Mascot

49:45 Admired Architects and Studios

51:08 Collaboration and Competition

51:41 Form vs Function

52:39 Closing Remarks