We take a closer look at the de­sign of three or­gan­i­sa­tions’ new head­quar­ters

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Contents -

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 (livin­gar­chi­tec­


‘ 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’

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