About John Palmer Architect



Established in private practice since 2003, and with over 20 years experience as a RIBA and RSUA-registered Architect working in N Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, John Palmer has undertaken a varied range of projects in both residential and commercial sectors, from one-off dwellings and extensions for private clients, apartment and urban infill projects for client developers, and commercial projects including new-build office, nursing home, retail warehousing, mixed use development, sports, licensed trade and education-sector projects. Specialising over recent years in the private residential sector, the practice has a keen interest in energy conservation, incorporating the principles of sustainable building design in every project, regardless of size, to minimise environmental impact, reduce heat loss, and and improve energy efficiency for the occupier.


John Palmer is accredited as a Passivehaus Certified Designer, and employs the principles of the Passivehaus system in the design approach to every project, matching the design and specification closely to the client budget from the outset. Maximising energy conservation in building design requires careful consideration of the thermal properties of the external envelope, an awareness of the potential presence of thermal bridging elements, and the ability to achieve an appropriate level of air-tightness in conjunction with an appropriate strategy for maintaining an optimum level of comfort for the building occupants, whether in an office/working or family living environment. Air-tightness is fundamental to the effectiveness of a well-insulated structure, but the importance of its relationship with maintaining optimum air-quality through controlling air temperature, achieving sufficient air-changes appropriate to the building use and the activities of the building occupants is far less well understood, and requires careful analysis to ensure that the building performs effectively in terms of its structure, the design of building services, and in fulfilling the needs of the building occupants.

With increasingly rigorous standards for energy conservation enforced by building regulations, the appointment of a Chartered Architect will ensure the most effective use of the project budget, both in terms of an imaginative design response to the brief, and in the development of an appropriate specification for the thermal performance of the building envelope, whether new-build or the retro-fit of an existing structure. In addition to insulating the building well and ensuring an air-tight envelope, consideration can also be given to the possible integration of of renewable technologies such as ground or air-source heat pumps, solar/photovoltaic collectors, wind energy, or use of water conservation installations, where appropriate for the project. The Passivehaus concept encourages the implementation of thermal performance and energy conservation standards well in excess of current building regulations requirements, and the basic core principles of ensuring excellent standards of insulation, air-tightness, heat recovery/controlled ventilation, and the elimination of thermal bridging form the basis of good practice in modern building design, regardless of whether or not formal Passivehaus Certification is required.


Insulation specification is a constantly evolving aspect of the construction industry, and the appropriate selection of breathable/non-breathable, vapour permeable or impermeable materials is critically important, particularly so in the case of refurbishment of existing buildings. Naturally occurring and ecologically sound products such as sheepswool and hemp insulation offer clear benefits in terms of breathability, thermal performance, and the absence of synthetic chemicals, whereas the use of more affordable synthetically manufactured insulants, such as PIR-based insulation and insulated plasterboard, providing equivalent performance in terms of U-value, must be carefully assessed against the increased interstitial condensation risk associated with non-breathable, vapour-closed insulation solutions. Insulation can be fitted internally as a dry-lining layer, within the depth of the wall as in cavity blockwork construction, or, more recently, mechanically fixed as an external skin onto the external face of a blockwork load-bearing wall. Externally fixed insulation has the distinct benefit , if correctly detailed, of enclosing the whole structure in an enclosing protective insulating layer, like an overcoat, retaining the heat that has built up in the thermal mass of the blockwork walls, and is generally most appropriate to new-build projects. Each method if insulation has benefits and disadvantages to consider, depending on the specific requirements of the project, and building user.

The refurbishment of existing buildings requires careful consideration of the existing structural elements, identifying the presence of thermal bridging elements, non-repeating (such as steel beams supported within external walls), or repeating elements, (such as vertical studs in a timber frame, conduction vertically through blockwork walls), in order to develop an appropriate strategy for the elimination or reduction in energy loss through thermal bridging, which can typically contribute upwards of 25% of total energy loss. Condensation and mould growth in window reveals, beneath and surrounding sills and lintels are all typical symptoms of cold-bridging, and if un-treated during the course of refurbishment works, can increase in severity as air-tightness and insulation values are improved elsewhere in the building structure. The retro-fitting of insulation within existing buildings therefore requires detailed analysis at concept stage, careful detailing by the design team, and awareness of the issues by the construction staff on site, if is to function effectively.


The practice has recently completed the successful thermal upgrade and extension of a B1-listed solid stone rubble wall dwelling house, at Belfast Road, Comber, which had suffered from serious water penetration at roof level, rising damp and mould growth over many years. The works included the restoration and conversion of a series of barn/outbuildings, and the sensitive extension of the kitchen/living accommodation (see attached photos in ‘projects’ section).

The practice is currently appointed to undertake refurbishment and extensions on a further B1-listed commercial premises at 4 Governors Place, Carrickfergus, and work is due to commence on site during 2017, under the Townscape Heritage Initiative scheme recently launched by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council. The practice has a developing interest in Conservation work, and currently works closely with Conservation-accredited consultants where specialist input is required either by the client, by statutory authorities at planning application stage, or to comply with the conditions of public authority-awarded grant funding initiatives.


Air-tightness is now widely recognised as a fundamental requirement in achieving energy efficient buildings, and is often achieved with the use of a correctly specified climate control membrane, combined with an appropriate insulation specification, to control the safe movement of water vapour through the building structure. By restricting and controlling the movement of air into the building from outside, the creation of an air-tight building envelope is effective in minimising heat loss, but will also necessitate an effective strategy for the controlled and continuously maintained ventilation of the interior. Traditionally installed un-controlled systems of heating and ventilation, such as the use of open fires, radiator systems without adequate user controls or room thermostats, window/wall vents and bathroom extract fans etc, are being replaced with intelligent ventilation systems which monitor and digitally control the movement of air entering and leaving the building, filtering out contaminants and delivering a constant, temperate air supply to the interior.

Methods of achieving an appropriate ventilation strategy are highly dependent on both the nature of the existing structure, the extent of refurbishment works being undertaken, and the requirements and level of understanding by the building user. A Mechanical Ventilation and Heat Recovery System (MVHR), which controls the input and extraction of air via a heat exchanger may be the most thermally efficient and effective ventilation solution, but it is also dependent on the suitability of the existing structure to facilitate the ducting required behind ceiling voids and between floor joists, and in practice this system is often most appropriate for a new-build project where it can be incorporated into the design, and projected cost, from the initial concept stage. A MVHR system is also dependent in terms of maintenance on the building user to replace air filters, usually on an annual basis, and to allow the system to operate as designed, ie without the perceived need to open windows for ventilation, or the sealing up of room ventilators because of the perception of draughts, both of which have been problems experienced in use during trial projects commissioned by housing associations in new developments built to the Passivehaus standard. The in-correct use of such a system in the context of an air-tight building environment is potentially dangerous to the respiratory health of the building occupants, and education and training in the operation of the system is fundamental to its successful use.


The Architect has established strong working relationships with other associated disciplines through experience on previously completed projects, such as Quantity Surveyor, Structural and Civil Engineering, Mechanical and Electrical Building Services Consultant, Landscape Architect, Acoustic Services Engineer, Thermal Energy Consultant, Lighting Designer, Interior Designer, etc, and can advise on appropriate consultants depending on the nature and scale of the project under consideration.

The Architect undertakes all projects in compliance with the requirements of the Construction, Design and Management Regulations (NI) 2016, and can provide the role of Principal Designer as a separate appointment, or can recommend another specialist consultant to fulfil the role on behalf of the client, where appropriate.


The Architect is commences every project with the preparation of a client brief, and it is fundamental to the success of the project that the extent of work and client budget is defined as clearly as possible from the outset in order that the design response is appropriate to the project budget, including design team fees, the cost of the construction work, and any vat payable.

The method of cost monitoring and control selected will be appropriate to each project, but in the case of all but the smallest commissions, the Architect will recommend the appointment of a Quantity Surveyor to represent the client’s financial interests in preparing a budget estimate based on the Architect’s initial concept drawings, re-assessing the initial estimate as design development proceeds, undertaking valuations of work on site during construction stage, and in the negotiation of final account with the main contractor.


From initial training in the School of Architecture at the University of Dundee, where the course is still undertaken at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, the emphasis of the practice has consistently been focussed on ensuring that the client has an immediate visual understanding of the design concept from the outset of the Architect’s involvement, and assuming that most prospective clients will not be accustomed to interpreting technical drawings. This understanding is achieved primarily through the use of three-dimensional hand-drawings and sketches to illustrate an initial concept, before progressing on to development of formal AutoCAD digital drawings as the design is developed to scheme design stage.
Where specific projects require it, specialist computer-generated visualisation can also be provided, such as building interior walk-throughs, fly-by pan aerial views, and three-dimensional imaging.
A typical project will commence with an initial no-obligation client meeting, usually at the site under consideration, at which the client requirements are discussed, and the nature of the project brief is identified in broad terms. Following this meeting, the Architect will prepare, by sketch-illustration, a conceptual view of the proposal for client consideration and further discussion, together with a proposed fee quotation and letter of appointment. Following acceptance of terms, further design development is progressed within the agreed terms of the Architects formal appointment.

With personal involvement at every stage of the project from inception to completion, solid technical knowledge based on site experience, strong illustrative drawing ability and communication skills, the practice has completed a varied portfolio of successfully completed projects since its inception in 2003, and continues to develop a uniquely personal service dedicated to the specific needs of each client.

John M Palmer RIBA is a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, is listed under the Architects Registration Board in the United Kingdom , and undertakes each commission in accordance with the RIBA Plan of Work and the RIBA Code of Conduct.