Twenty years of ARCO2

If you cast your net wide enough when sourcing information, you’ll always catch a plethora of contradictory opinions. However, when it comes to the interpretation of data then the results become far less polarised. This is particularly apparent when looking at the life expectancy of small start-up businesses. Here the figures seem to hover around a mean producing a result that coalesces into an unequivocal fact. No matter where you search a similar result emerges. Roughly speaking 20% of small businesses fail within their first year of opening. After five years, half of companies go out of business with only 30% making it to year ten. So, the buoyancy and resilience of an SME to ride the waves until year twenty deserves some recognition. In itself, it could mean that the company has just remained profitable during this period, but this isn’t the only definition that can be taken away from the fact. For those who set out with a driving passion then the definition is somewhat different. In this instance longevity can mean buildinga business around an idea that will flourish long after the founders have vacated their positions and are no longer at the helm. ARCO2 is an example of just such a concern.

Waterhouse by ARCO2


In two months’ time this west country architectural practice will be twenty years old. When we came into existence, back in 2003, the idea behind the cornerstone of our foundation wasn’t a term that you heard very much, if at all. That idea was sustainability with sustainable architecture being a very niche activity indulged in by a very few. But as a universal shift in building practice began to gain momentum ARCO2 quickly became respected leaders within the field throughout the south west. From the outset we began working with breathable construction, timber frames, straw bales, sheep wool insulation, recycled newspaper insulation, natural paints, recycled/reclaimed materials, green roofs and renewable technologies. We are pleased to say that this experience and heritage has ensured we are still considered to be one of the foremost sustainable Architectural practises in the UK. 

Arco2 Architecture

Award winning

However, planting the green standard in the ground and hoping everything else will follow obviously isn’t the sole reason why ARCO2 is still flourishing today. The ethos had to be combined with an appreciation and implementation of good design for it to have reached this milestone and as always, lots of hard work. To this end we have always strived for the very best in terms of energy performance and design, using our own award-winning office and houses to set exemplar standards. All of the properties we design are based upon the passive house principles. Originating in Germany, its primary aim is to reduce energy and improve comfort through intelligent design. To maintain control and to ensure these standards are met, many of our projects are constructed using our specialist in house building company ADD Sustainable Construction, who have recently been Awarded Best Sustainable Construction Company in the south West. 

As a universally acknowledged truth, the longer you stay in business the easier it is to position yourself as an authority within a given field, which in turn leads to an accumulation of plaudits from peers and satisfied clients alike. As a consequence, we have received over 100 sustainability, architecture and business awards over the years, fulfilling the notion that our original decision was the right one. We have been commissioned to design properties for a world-renowned musician, celebrities and perhaps our most unusual endeavour – a strawbale mosque in Turkey! Outside of the county we pioneered the first Community Land Trust Project in the UK in Dorset, which went on to become a case study.

Perhaps even more importantly, our longevity has allowed us to gain valuable learning experiences that we have used to continually improve our business. It has helped us determine what works and what doesn’t so we can continue to improve. We have also been mindful of the ever-changing forces at work within the sustainable architectural realm. New technologies along with the emergence of the inevitable competition as well as supply chain issues – notably caused by the Covid outbreak – have impacted upon the established way of doing business. We have identified these issues, embracing them as new opportunities, so that we can respond quickly, adapting to changing customer expectations as well as our own.

Arco2 Architecture

The future

Nearly all of our work is in Cornwall, which in turn feeds into the local economy, leading to the inspiration for sixty students via our annual work experience programme to study architecture. They will be our torch bearers in years to come.  However, it is our core team at ARCO2, supported by their families who provide the firm base from which everything else follows.

We hope that the future not only brings continued success but helps to advance sustainable architecture as a profession both locally and nationally, via projects and lectures. One that incorporates a holistic approach in this Anthropocene era and reorientates architectural practice as a whole.