Michelle Wardle


Ba(Hons) Architecture DipArch MArch SMSTS CSCS PASMA CWA 

Tell me a little bit about how you founded Tectonica Design Lab.

The honest answer is that I wanted to have more control over the whole design process, from concept to completion. As a trained architectural designer I have brought design principles from architecture into the business. This allows me to design bespoke climbing walls for the client, then find the right builders for the project, rather than the other way round. Working in this way also enables me to give clients an original design with a much more considered approach. 

What do you think makes Tectonica Design Lab unique to other climbing gym designers?

I am an independent climbing wall designer. We don't take commission from builders or suppliers, giving us the decision to choose the right people to work with on each project. 

I also have years of climbing experience, and have taught climbing giving a good insight into the best functionality and aesthetics. Seeing the projects holistically rather than just the walls also sets us apart from other climbing gym designers. Involving specialist consultants allows us to work collaboratively with engineers and other consultants, to get the best result for clients. A great example of this is the project we did for Avid Climbing. Working with an innovative engineer allowed the design of a clear polycarbonate bridge, creating a new vantage point within the climbing gym that is unique to Avid. 

How does your design process work?

Firstly I quiz clients extensively. Working out what they want from their climbing gym, who their customers are and their brand values enables me to design bespoke climbing walls that work for clients and their space. 

The next step is to develop the concept and style that will underpin everything in the project. Looking at the location is often the main source of inspiration for the design. Portside Boulder's created a great opportunity to show this as the location is by the sea. This inspired the Whale Tail and Pearl areas of climbing as well as the calming blue hues.

Having developed a concept I work closely with route setters to ensure the maximum setting flexibility within the climbing centre. This pushes my creativity as well as ensuring the practical elements are there such as hold storage. 

Once the design has been completed and the client is happy we choose the right builders and suppliers for the project. This work can go out to local builders or large specialist manufacturers depending on the needs of the project. 

Lastly we can go and climb on our designs!

What has been your biggest achievement since starting Tectonica Design Lab?

Every project has been so different I couldn't pick a favourite. However from a business perspective, I have been able to hire an interior designer to assist in projects and learn a parametric software. Getting to a point of growth and being closer to the goal of entirely holistic design is a big achievement for me. 

What design values do you bring to each project?

Every design has to be exceptional. This is my most important value.

I also try to constantly learn by travelling. Researching not only climbing gyms and crags but also other disciplines within design. I am constantly investigating sustainability and technical innovations in order to push boundaries in every project. This can be something physical like the bridge in Avid Climbing or a more social innovation such as including unisex toilets in a design. 

What are your future aspirations for the business? 

Being able to involve sustainability in the design process is a big aspiration. This will include developing a recycled panel to replace plywood. Using recycled or reused materials in interiors will be more sustainable. 

Providing all the construction information to clients is also an aspiration. This would allow a more localised manufacturing process for clients internationally, reducing shipping and impacts on the environment.

Lastly, I would like to have interior design work in every project to create truly holistic designs that align with our brand philosophies. 

Final Comments

I continue to work on providing unique designs and am driven by exacting the vision, ideas, motivators and inspirations, transitioning them into a real image and tangible reality. Its highly rewarding and I'm truly motivated by creating fantastic climbing experiences.