063 From Carpentry to Chartered Surveying 

Geoff Hunt is a Chartered Building Surveyor, author of bestselling book Residential Building Defects and publisher of Architectural Timelines. He specialises in pre-war enlisted buildings, and he lectures at universities and surveyor training courses across the UK. He is also active in The Surveyor Hub as one of our esteemed volunteer admins and shares his enthusiasm for surveying with our community. 

Geoff starts by sharing his career journey from being a carpenter to jumping into building surveying. 

“While working in the trades, I was very lucky that a lot of my employers wanted me to progress and go into supervision, so I went on to do other courses,” Geoff says. “At one point I went to work as a civil engineering assistant, and there I learned a lot about the land surveying, drainage, highways, and that sort of things, which turned out to be very useful information. At that point, I was going through some major changes in my life and I needed to have something to focus on. And it was just a passing comment, I bumped into somebody and he said, oh, I’m going to be doing a degree in building surveying at Reading. I thought that sounded fabulous. Why don’t I do that? So that’s what I did.”

Writing a Book on Building Defects

Progressing through his career in surveying, Geoff started teaching and eventually, he ended up writing a book on building defects. 

“I’ve always had a creative side, as a hobby I do acting and directing and writing plays. And when you bump into people that are surveyors who also have a creative side, you start thinking you can do that too. I got involved with RICS, I was on a few of the boards and got to chat with people from amazing breaths and sizes of organisations, so the opportunity came up to write a book on building defects. They asked me if I would be interested in writing this book, and I said okay, send me the outline, and I’ll do the building pathology and the roofing and the historical bit because I assume you don’t want me to write it all. And they wrote back saying, actually, we do, we would like you to write it all! At the time, I was working on a project with Malcolm Hollis and he encouraged me to write that book, he said it was a good process and that I can approach it in a different way.” 

“As surveyors,” he continues, “the first thing we do is look at a building and how old it is. Its timeline tells you everything, and if you can read a building and map it out differently, then I thought there was an opportunity of trying to write a book in a way that people who think in a similar way can benefit from it. I didn’t do it as a defect book, but I did look in time, and what the defects were at the time something was built. I deliberately didn’t make it over technical. It is really a roadmap, and that’s what I thought would be my contribution to people who have got similar thinking methods to me. I’ve had lots of students come back and said they read it from cover to cover, and used it to inform their surveying practice, as they recognised I was thinking differently about the topic. And that was brilliant.” 

Architectural Timelines 

Geoff goes on to explain what the Timeline is. 

“The Timeline came out of a need for me to be able to map out the history of defects. I thought, surely somebody somewhere must have done this, because it’s such an important part of stringing together all this information, like the way in which solid walls have moved, the way chimneys have come and gone, the type of foundations we might be expecting, and no one had done it. I couldn’t find it anywhere, so I had to create it myself. I found some academic papers where they had done timelines on the vernacular progress of buildings, so I just extended that. And I’ve been very impressed with the London Underground map, I remember being inspired by an exhibition at the Reading Uni. It was Harry Beck who developed that graphic. The whole idea was to simplify the network, and the London Underground is nothing like a network, but what he realised was that you just needed to know the relationship between the stations to know how to get there, you don’t need to know their actual physical location. That was the spark that had made me think I needed to do a graphic that people could just look at and see the links. So the timeline was born. I tried to do as a as an Excel spreadsheet, but then I realised I had to go to a graphic designer. So I sat down with this wonderful graphic designer and they mapped it all out for me.”

Working with Malcolm Hollis

Geoff Hunt had the privilege to work with Malcolm Hollis, one of the best known and most influential chartered surveyors in the profession, as well as Professor at Henley Business School at the University of Reading, who sadly passed away this year.  

“Malcolm was my building surveying professor at Reading,” Geoff says. “In all universities, you’re sitting in front of people that have got a huge range of knowledge, and it pays for you to try to understand what they’re telling you. He was very encouraging. I wanted to do a different type of survey pattern and a different type of survey model, and so I thought I’d take it to him. He looked at it, and he said, I wish quite a few more people would think like this, but you do understand that’s not the standard model, but I will accept it. I was so nervous to go to him with this, I thought he was literally going to throw it out the window. But he was so supportive. He also did a case study weekend, where a whole load of students went down to his house in Devon, and we were able to survey his house, and it was great. So we stayed in touch, and when I set up on my own, I just dropped him an email saying I started my own practice. A couple of months later I ended up working with him on a big dilapidations project. I went through the whole project with him, did all the background work for him and watched him present it, which was absolutely fascinating. I have never met anyone that picked up information so quickly and runs it back to you so quickly. His brain was a massive sponge, but it was so incredible,” Geoff concludes. 

Connect with Geoff Hunt:

https://geoffrey-hunt.com/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/geoffreyhunt/

Resources:

– Residential Building Defects by Geoffrey Hunt https://www.amazon.co.uk/Resdential-Building-Defects-Geoffrey-Hunt/dp/1842195085

– Architectural Timeline and Timeline Flip Book https://geoffrey-hunt.com/about.php

– Surveyor Business Stories with Malcolm Hollis https://lovesurveying.com/podcasts/041-surveyor-business-stories-with-malcolm-hollis/

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