ASK AN AR­CHI­TECT ALI­SON BROOKS

This month, we talk to Ali­son Brooks, cre­ative di­rec­tor and founder of award-win­ning prac­tice Ali­son Brooks Ar­chi­tects, which has worked on projects rang­ing from the in­no­va­tive Co­hen Quad­ran­gle for Ex­eter Col­lege in Ox­ford ( 1) to the joy­ful ‘The Smile’ s

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What in­spired you to be­come an ar­chi­tect?

Expo ’67 in Mon­treal, Canada, even though I was only five years old. From the house I grew up in, to the grand Toronto City Hall ( 2), to just driv­ing around south­ern On­tario with my mother, look­ing at the Geor­gian farm­houses and Ro­manesque univer­sity build­ings. What has been your favourite project to date? It’s like choos­ing be­tween chil­dren, but I’d have to say our new build­ing in Ox­ford – the Co­hen Quad­ran­gle ( 1) for Ex­eter Col­lege, part of Ox­ford Univer­sity, which holds Ox­ford’s first so­cial learn­ing space. It tells a story as you move through it. Its curved, stain­less steel shin­gled roof was con­ceived as a cloak that drapes it­self over the build­ing in a se­ries of waves, and its checker­board pat­tern was in­spired by the col­lege’s fa­mous Neo- Gothic chapel and the work of tex­tile de­signer Wil­liam Mor­ris, an Ex­eter Col­lege alum­nus.

Can you de­scribe your per­sonal work­ing process?

I love to draw. Some­times, the small­est sketch leads to the clear­est and most so­phis­ti­cated so­lu­tion. I think and sketch in per­spec­tive, like a pho­tog­ra­pher mov­ing through spaces to find the best shot. Sketch­ing al­lows me to test my first in­stincts, then quickly move on to try the ex­act op­po­site. If you can de­scribe your ma­jor con­cept and ar­chi­tec­tural ideas in words, they act as a con­duit to a clear de­sign.

What is your favourite room in your house?

Our bed­room – a very re­cent loft con­ver­sion de­signed with my part­ner, ar­chi­tect Charles Walker. It’s like go­ing into an­other di­men­sion at the top of our 1899 house. You dis­ap­pear into a solid cherry wood sus­pended stair­case ( 5) that spi­rals up to her­ring­bone floors, trape­zoidal spaces, flared dorm­ers and win­dows that let you watch the moon travel across the sky at night.

What does the word ‘ home’ mean to you?

Home is a repos­i­tory of mean­ing­ful things – a re­treat, a place for light, be­ing part of a neigh­bour­hood. Trees rustling in the wind that you can hear from your bed­room win­dow. Cherry wood fur­ni­ture, a front hall that can hold lots of peo­ple, or a gar­den for bar­be­cues – all those lit­tle de­tails that make you smile.

If you weren’t an ar­chi­tect, what do you think you would be?

A writer, a pho­tog­ra­pher, a de­signer or a gi­ant slalom ski racer.

This year, you cel­e­brate the 21st an­niver­sary of your prac­tice. What have been your proud­est achieve­ments?

I’m very hon­oured to have de­liv­ered a ma­jor ed­u­ca­tion build­ing in Ox­ford. I’m also proud of my great team – some of whom have been with me for over ten years – as well as be­ing part of the 2008 Stir­ling Prize-win­ning prac­tice and be­ing short­listed for the 2017 Euro­pean Union Prize for Con­tem­po­rary Ar­chi­tec­ture for Ely Court ( 3), a hous­ing and re­gen­er­a­tion project. And of course, my two sons, Dy­lan and De­clan. I had Dy­lan the same year that I founded ABA, so for years I had to think of him first to re­mem­ber the age of my prac­tice. al­ison­brook­sar­chi­tects.com

‘Some­times the small­est sketch leads to the most so­phis­ti­cated so­lu­tion’

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