FROM the moment the decision was taken to extend his childhood home, architect Neil Turner’s career was mapped out.

He already had a passion for drawing but seeing his parents’ idea move from blueprint to reality helped everything click into place.

“My parents did the extension when I was about 11”, he remembers, “and I went around all summer in a wagon collecting the building materials.

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“I was always going to go into something that was design-orientated; I never really contemplated anything else.”

The transformation of the family home left an indelible mark on Mr Turner.

Today, he is a director at architecture practice Howarth Litchfield, the Durham City-based business known for working on a raft of projects, such as the new library at Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School.

While it would be easy to leave on-site responsibilities to more junior members of the team, Mr Turner, who joined Howarth Litchfield at the start of the 1990s and became a director in the mid-2000s, is different.

He would much rather be stood in a hole in the ground, his wellingtons covered in mud, than in the office.

What it also does, he says, is create a stronger and more personal bond with clients in an ever-changing architectural sector.

“The industry is constantly evolving, and we are doing the same”, he said.

“Everything seems to go faster, with clients becoming more demanding.

“I remember the days when there were no mobile phones and emails, and all we had was a fax machine and letters.

“With email, the normal 9am to 5.30pm routine has gone.

“People are wanting updates on their projects and can email at all times of the day and night asking for a response.

“That’s why I like to be on-site.

“They are spending their money, so I like to be able to tell them exactly what stage we are at.”

However, Mr Turner’s expertise has extended further than the briefs set out by clients.

He and his wife re-designed their own home in Riding Mill, near Hexham, and have won awards for their endeavours.

“It was a 1960s detached on a fantastic plot with a big garden”, said Mr Turner.

“We took it back to the frame and put in a three-storey extension, hiding the garage space underneath.

“It has led to a few commissions, though that wasn’t the reason we did it.

“We did it to create a home.

“However, it has helped me with clients because they can see that I’ve gone through the same process as them.

“I know what the stress and pain feels like, and clients like the fact I’ve undertaken the same experience.”

So, what of the progress of Howarth Litchfield, which is known for supporting the development of Cockerton Primary School, in Darlington, and designing the Centre for Process Innovation’s Sedgefield-based National Formulation Centre?

Well, says Mr Turner, things are moving along nicely.

“We are a success story”, he added.

“We are busy, have a good workload going forward, and are positive about our prospects.”

Five minutes with… Neil Turner

Favourite North-East building and why? My own house design is the family choice, and I’m very proud to say it has won awards. Elsewhere, I’d have to say the Sage Gateshead. I really like the way it looks confidently out over the River Tyne. To me, it perfectly represents the regeneration of the Gateshead Quays.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid? A paper boy. I earned the princely sum of £2.10 a week.

What is the worst job you've had? There is no such thing as a bad job, I see them all as experiences for life from which we learn something about business or about ourselves.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? Poached egg and salmon.

What would your superpower be? I’d like to have the power to split myself in two. I think that would come in very handy on occasion.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party: Sir Winston Churchill, Grayson Perry, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the Dalai Lama.

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much? A Japanese cabinet and I’m not saying how much. Suffice to say, it still gives much joy to look at.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why? I don’t have one.

Favourite book? Can I choose two? For fiction, I’d say The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. Non-fiction would be The Case Study Houses, a fantastic book that looks at the plans for 36 prototype houses constructed in Los Angeles, which could be easily and cheaply constructed during the post-war building boom from 1945 to 1966.

When did you last cry? I honestly can’t remember. My equivalent is being speechless. That occurred on hearing my son’s exam results. I’ve never been so quiet. They were amazing.

What is your greatest achievement? That’s such a vain question and I think it would be better to ask others what they thought were my achievements. For me, life isn’t about a single high point, it should be about consistency and quality. Far better targets to aim for in my opinion.

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given? As a young architect, Sir Peter Vardy taught me you’re never too important to pour the tea. A great piece of advice on humility.

Favourite animal and why? Border Collie – lovely, loyal and intelligent animals.

Most famous person on your mobile phone? Nobody. The people on my phone are there because I value them as friends and colleagues, not because of celebrity.

What was the last band you saw live? The Commitments, at the City Hall.

Describe your perfect night in: Sharing a bottle of white wine with my lovely wife, while watching a film.

In another life I would be... A squirrel.

Who would play you in a film of your life? Steve McQueen – I wish!

What irritates you? People who moan or don’t try. Always stay positive, its much healthier.

What's your secret talent? No secret talents at all. Why would you want to hide your talents?