We take a closer look at the design of three organisations’ new headquarters
We take a closer look at the groundbreaking designs of three companies’ new headquarters and chat to the director of Living Architecture, Mark Robinson
GOOGLE, London, by BIG Architects and Studio Heatherwick Earlier this year, tech giant Google announced a brand new Kings Cross headquarters to house its 7,000 staff members. The 11-storey mega-structure (above) will boast an expansive landscaped roof garden, while the contemporary open-plan interior consists of a series of double-height spaces to house an events centre, a swimming pool, a sports court, a gym and cafés. Construction is due to start in 2018. RIBA NORTH, Liverpool, by Broadway Malyan Sitting on the banks of the Mersey river, the recently opened RIBA North explores the rich architectural history of the north of England. Its two angular joined structures that make up the building are clad in reflective black tiles. The cultural destination features a mixture of galleries and a space for talks, as well as a café and shop. AMAZON, London, by Foster + Partners The online retailer has chosen hip Shoreditch in east London as the base for its new headquarters. The design of the black steel-framed tower is a nod to the work of architectural great Mies van der Rohe. Constrastingly, the interiors are laid-back, with warehousestyle features as well as multi-use meeting points, a verdant roof garden, and tennis and basketball courts.
What sparked the idea of Living Architecture? Alain wanted to build contemporary houses for the public to experience and ‘live in’ – at least for a few days. Not many people are in a position to build their own homes, most either rent or buy housing stock that’s been around for generations, or that’s been created by developers based on some quaint notion of the past, rather than looking to the future. It was our aim to encourage people to embrace a more modern way of living, hoping that there would be a trickle-down effect that would, perhaps, influence the way we design homes in the UK. What’s changed since you started out? When we began, there were only a few contemporary properties available to rent for short holiday breaks in the UK. We wanted to create a portfolio of newly constructed houses that would emulate the successful lettings of historic properties by the Landmark Trust. Now, of course, people can also rent out their modern homes for a few days at a time with companies such as Airbnb, which has further increased the reach and influence of contemporary design. How do you pick the architects you work with? At the outset, Alain and I both compiled lists of people we would be keen to collaborate with. They included architects whose work we admired, or who we thought could be challenged by our brief. We then looked to see who we had in common and, from this, we made our approaches. More architects were added to the list as we developed, but to date, we have managed to only work with those that we both favoured. Which comes first, the site or the architect? We had to secure at least one site before we could approach anyone, but there have been some cases where we asked the architect if they would be keen to work with us in advance of finding a site. The first people we approached were from the Dutch ➤
practice MVRDV. By this time, we had two sites, and we asked them which they would prefer to work on. They chose a location in Thorington, Suffolk, where we came to build ‘The Balancing Barn’. The other plot was in Cockthorpe, Norfolk, the location of British architects Sir Michael and Lady Patty Hopkins’ ‘The Long House’. Peter Zumthor’s ‘Secular Retreat’ is your current project. How did that new
collaboration materialise? I visited his home in Switzerland, showed him what we were doing and asked if he would like to design a house for us. He said no, but that he might reconsider if I could find the right site to inspire him. His brief was singular: no immediate neighbours and expansive views in all directions. Prior to my visit, we had purchased a site in Devon and had been developing a design with another architect, but after about six months’ work, we decided to part ways. I hadn’t been in touch with Peter for some time, but sent him some photographs of the Devon site on the offchance that it might hit the spot – and it did. Peter is renowned for working at his own pace. He won’t reveal everything; he leaves space to make changes and develop ideas. This can be very alarming for a client who wants to know what they are getting, how much it will cost, and when it might be finished. If you want all of the answers on day one, you don’t commission Peter Zumthor! What has been your favourite project to date? It has changed over the years, but ‘The Balancing Barn’ will always hold a special place in my affections. Being our firstborn, it had so much riding on it. We put MVRDV under enormous pressure to deliver a project with which to launch Living Architecture. They came up with at least ten different concepts, and even the barn-shaped design went through changes, but to my mind, they succeeded. Even now, it is the one house I return to and feel a great sense of joy and pride. The most interesting project would have to be ‘A House for Essex’. In formulating and nurturing an equal partnership between architect and artist, we created a house in which it is difficult to distinguish where one authorship starts and another ends. Charles Holland and Grayson Perry had not met or worked together previously, but they still managed to achieve a collaboration that’s rarely seen across different creative disciplines. All of your projects start from scratch. Have you considered working with an interior designer to rework an existing house? Our current thinking is that the houses should be a direct link to the time they were conceived, designed and built. We aim to retain the architects’ vision for years to come and do not have any plans to rework the interiors, other than with like-for-like replacements. As we have added houses to the portfolio, though, we have realised that some items or materials used in earlier buildings have not lived up to our, or the architects’, expectations. Designing purely for the holiday letting market, with a different set of people staying each week, can be very punishing to the buildings. We have learned to find more resilient materials and equipment to withstand the inevitable knocks. What does the future hold? We hope our houses continue to provide inspiring holidays. We want those who stay in them to come away feeling that they could find a plot of land and commission an architect to design a house. From £600 for a four-night break in 2018 (livingarchitecture.com).
‘ We think the houses should be a direct link to the time that they were conceived, designed and built – we aim to retain the architects’ vision for years to come’
From top ‘The Life House’, ‘The Dune House’, interior detail from ‘A House for Essex’, the exterior of ‘A House for Essex’