SETTING up an architectural practice at a time when the building industry is in the middle of a slump is a brave move.

But a year ago, friends and colleagues Ryan Martin and Sean Daly were convinced the time was right to set up on their own – and it’s a decision that has proved a good one.

As they approach their anniversary, DMWA can look back on a successful first year that has seen them take on some high-profile projects.

They spearheaded the transformation of Poole Park’s Swan Lake cafe and soft play area into the Ark and won praise from Bournemouth’s planning committee for their designs for a zipwire attraction at Bournemouth Pier.

The pair, who work with associate director Derek Williams and architectural assistant Tristan Banahan, have also earned glowing testimonials from residents and businesses for numerous other extensions, conversions and new builds.

Ryan, 37, said: “I met Sean at Western Design, where we were both working. We had this dream of working together but we had a few years in development before we got to a point where we felt we would get enough private commissions to risk it.

“We felt the economy was starting to move upwards and we really felt we were at a point where we could do it. We had very little to put into the company so it was a bit of a risk but the Ark was one of our first jobs and that’s been great for us.

“It brought us a bit of publicity and allowed us to relax a bit. And it’s great to have created something that you can sit back and be proud of.”

The pair were brought in to work on the zipwire plans for Bournemouth Pier after an original design had been rejected by planners. “We were pleased to get very good feedback from the clients and also the local authority,” said Sean, 42. “Being local to the area, it’s about trying to create environments that are really positive.”

One of their priorities is to offer an accessible and affordable architectural service and to demonstrate the benefits of hiring an architect. They offer a free consultation and are hoping to host an informal drop-in event at their Wimborne practice.

“What an architect should offer is good design and a clear understanding of how the scheme is going to look, feel and cost,” said Sean. “We’re able to demonstrate even at the first meeting that we can respond to each of those stages. It’s really important that people aren’t scared by the term architect.”

And Ryan added: “If you use an architect, the process should be easier. You’re going to get more value from the space.”

The pair are hoping for continued growth at DMWA and are also keen to offer an apprenticeship. One year on, they’re sold on the benefits of being self-employed.

“Through all the sweat, struggle and the toil, there’s nothing quite like walking into a building that you’ve conceived,” said Sean.

“There are few professions that afford you that privilege. Walking into somewhere and thinking ‘We did that’ is an amazing feeling.”