Everyone who has ever worked with us has made a significant contribution to Our Story and Our Progression to date, increasing our Knowledge and Experience of Architecture.

This Evolution continues to grow and develop every day and as ever, our Team Members remain our greatest attribute – Experienced, Personable and Hands On individuals who are all committed to delivering Excellent Architecture with Care and Efficiency.

GRADONARCHITECTURE is an award-winning practice of architects registered with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London and accredited to ISO9001 quality and ISO14001 environmental standards.

Our team is made up of Architects and Architectural Technologists located in our Studios in the Northeast of England, as well as in strategic project locations throughout the UK and across the world, successfully and flexibly delivering our services through a hybrid of studio based and home working environments.

The way in which our team works, at times remotely but always collectively together, responds to our own lifestyles, improving our mental health, wellbeing and productivity, as well as reducing our carbon footprint in response to the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge.

Collectively, we bring together a strong resource of dedicated and highly experienced professionals, with a wide range of skills and varying sector experience across different cultures, who as well as delivering Architecture for today, mentor and invest their time into our interns and apprentices, shaping and evolving our team for future generations and the Architecture for tomorrow.

Meet Our Directors, Graham and Donna who continue to navigate Our Progression and add to Our Story…

Graham McDarby – Managing Director

Donna McDarby – Finance Director

Married in 1997, Founding Directors Graham & Donna McDarby always envisaged their futures modelled on a strong foundation of love and mutual respect. Little did they know that this foundation of marriage would subsequently morph into a successful working relationship and assign an identity to the practice!


Having gone to school together in the 1980’s, Graham then studied Architecture in London and Sheffield, while Donna pursued a career in Banking at Lloyds, which at the time was very much about People and Customer relationships – a principle which would later become integral to the ethos of the practice.  

Graham returned to the Northeast in 1994 and developed his own career in Architecture at FaulknerBrowns and then at Ryder, where he was a Director for six years.

In 2006, having already designed and built two of their first homes together, Graham and Donna were looking for a name for their own part time venture to deliver affordable housing projects in the Northeast of England. They decided to cement their relationship even further and incorporated GRADON.EHT LTD – further highlighting the existing dialogue between the couple and now their children, Emily, Hannah and Tom. The venture went on to successfully deliver 20% of the affordable homes within Gateshead Council between 2007-2008.

In 2009 at the height of a global recession, they decided to take the further bold step and leave their full time employments and start a new business venture together – an Architecture practice founded on their combined knowledge and experiences of their careers and lives to date, which was also personable and about people. The choice of name was obvious and was already in existence and had the benefit of a successful trading history – GRADON.EHT LTD became GRADONARCHITECTURE.

GRADONARCHITECTURE is now established as a trusted and respected award-winning practice, operating in multiple sectors, and is founded around People and their Life Experiences, who deliver Architecture with Care and Efficiency.

As well as practicing Architecture, Graham and Donna are passionate about giving something back, which has seen year on year investment in our future generations, through the support of local schools, charities, and organisations and the recruitment of Apprentices and T-Level students, for which our Technical Director Tanja Smith has been awarded an OBE in recognition of her services to education.

Working closely with the team, Graham has ultimate responsibility for the design direction and strategic development of GRADONARCHITECTURE, which to date has seen progressive growth since its inception in 2009.

As Finance Director, Donna ensures our finances are in order, pays our suppliers promptly and manages payroll and HR matters. She is the pragmatic decision maker in the directorship and in short, keeps our creative people in check, secures the most cost-effective resources for our studio and keeps our overheads to a minimum so in turn, we can offer competitive fees to our clients. Donna prides herself in being a busy working mum of three, often working behind the scenes balancing work-life, which has created a precedent for our team to follow.

Both Graham and Donna agree:

“There is more to life than work, but it is so rewarding when you enjoy your work to the point that it becomes an integral part of your life and your everyday existence – getting that balance takes time and experience as we all navigate through the challenges and joys that life brings.  We recognise this and would rather see our people invigorated and be in the studio for 50% of their time, delivering at 200% capacity, rather than being in the studio for 200% of their time only delivering at 50% capacity!”

Both at work and at home, Graham and Donna are very grounded, spending valuable time socialising and travelling with their close friends and family. Both believe that you should always be yourself, be open and honest with one another and with those who you meet in all walks of life. This approach continues to inform Our Business and Our People, as the practice continues to progress and seek new and exciting challenges to add to our story…

GRADONARCHITECTURE – Our Architecture is About People.

Competitions and Awards


LABC Building Excellence Awards  Best Large Commercial Project 2018 Gateshead Energy Centre

Derry Chamber North West Business Awards Creative Business of the Year 2018

Constructing Excellence in the North East Winner of The Project of the Year Award 2017 – Durham University Ogden Physics Building

RIBA North East Award 2017 Durham University Ogden Physics Building

Insider Property Awards North East Architectural Practice of the Year 2017

Women in Construction Awards Winner of the Outstanding Woman of the Year, 2017 – Tanja Smith

Women in Construction Awards Winner of the Mentor of the Year Award, 2017 – Katie Shepherd

Northern LABC Building Excellence Winner of the Best Inclusive Building Award, 2016 – Bradbury View

RICS North East Shortlisted for the Community Benefit Award, 2016 – Bradbury View

Constructing Excellence in the North East Winner of the Value Award, 2016 – Bradbury View

Constructing Excellence in the North East Winner of the Client of the Year Award, 2016 – Bradbury View

Northern Ireland Hair and Beauty Awards Winner of the Salon of the Year Award, 2016 – RoCo

RICS North East Highly Commended for the Commercial Award, 2015 – Tracerco

RICS North East Winner of the Design through Innovation Award, 2015 – Tracerco

Constructing Excellence in the North East Winner of the SME of the Year Award, 2014

North East Exporters Runner Up for the New Exporter Award, 2014

Constructing Excellence Awards Winner of the Value Award, 2013 – NEAS