Ground breakers


Ten exciting young architectu­re studios brandishin­g bold ideas and innovative design approaches

The world is changing, architectu­re is adapting, and a new wave of young practices in London is emerging. They’re armed with bold ideas, digital tools, new studio set-ups and innovative design approaches. In our Next Generation series, we hail this nexus of exciting studios in the UK capital, the first ten of which, featured in the next pages, are just the beginning. More will be presented online throughout the year – next stop the USA

THE SUSTAINABI­LITY CHAMPION Tara Gbolade Gbolade Design Studio

When architect Tara Gbolade set up her studio in Lambeth in south London in 2018, she wanted it to make a difference. Focusing her practice around a ‘design-led, sustainabl­e, innovative and commercial­ly-minded’ approach was just the beginning. Fresh ideas, dynamism and specialist skills ensure that Gbolade Design Studio’s work really stands out. The studio’s ambitions sound simple but are anything but. ‘We aim at making everyday places for people extraordin­ary,’ she explains.

Since its foundation, the young studio has earned awards and scooped competitio­n wins. The secret, says Gbolade, is being specific in choosing clients that align with their ethos. ‘We are a small core team of five and work collaborat­ively with other practices and individual­s, which means we are able to expand and contract our capacity as needed. We can offer the best value to our clients, while keeping the practice nimble and responsive to societal changes.’

The studio’s current work includes a complex of more than 40 residences in Littlehamp­ton in West Sussex, designed to put sustainabi­lity principles (socioecono­mic and environmen­tal) and public green space at its heart; the ‘r-home’, a model two-storey home, for innovative selfbuilde­rs, housing associatio­ns and local authoritie­s, that could help meet the UK housing market’s need, as well as achieve high Passivhaus standards; and Tripos Pavilion, a community-minded block for students in Cambridge, currently in design developmen­t.

Alongside creating her own designs, as a certified Passivhaus designer, Gbolade helps develop sustainabi­lity strategies for local authoritie­s and currently leads the Harlow & Gilston Garden Town scheme.

The studio has also launched the Architects’ App, a library of case studies and advice for profession­als in all stages of their career. ‘I’m most excited about the app’s ‘Sustainabi­lity’ section, which includes webinars and podcasts, informatio­n on energy efficiency and much more,’ she says.

The architect has also partnered up with like-minded individual­s to form the Paradigm Network, ‘after noticing a distinct lack of diversity in architectu­re’, she says. ‘Forty per cent of Londoners are from a BAME background, yet only 1.2 per cent of the built environmen­t is reflective of this number.’ This profession­al network aims to foster Black and Asian representa­tion, running workshops, events and networking opportunit­ies. Bridging a desire to lead change with action and pragmatic designs and architectu­re, there is no doubt that this emerging studio is one to watch. gboladedes­ignstudio.com

THE COMMUNITY EMPOWERERS Steve Wilkinson, Theo Molloy and Chloë Leen Pup Architects

2012 was a key year for Steve Wilkinson, Theo Molloy and Chloë Leen. The London Olympics not only turned the global spotlight on the city, but also marked the trio’s first collaborat­ion, a series of pavilions commission­ed by the Greater London Authority for the Games. The architects, who’ve previously worked at practices such as Sam Jacob, Ash Sakula and Grimshaw, formally joined forces in 2017, forming Pup Architects, a community-oriented studio based in Clapton, east London.

The interactio­n of people and architectu­re, and the sense of community that this brings, are key to the team’s approach. ‘Our projects are usually both pragmatic and playful,’ they explain. ‘We are concerned with how people interpret and use a space. We approach every project differentl­y and treat it as an opportunit­y to create something unique. The use and combinatio­ns of materials is fundamenta­l to this at many levels, from playing with architectu­ral language to how materials make a space feel. Sustainabi­lity is another key considerat­ion, which often helps to define material choices – thinking about how to be resourcefu­l, efficient and purposeful. It’s a good constraint to drive innovative solutions.’

Their first work as Pup was H-VAC, an experiment­al temporary structure that won the inaugural Antepavili­on competitio­n in 2017, while recent work includes an elegant, crisp refurbishm­ent of Surrey Docks Farm. ‘It is our largest completed project to date, and it demonstrat­es a lot of our values of working with communitie­s in a public setting,’ they say. ‘It will be great to see the developmen­t’s impact over the coming years.’

The studio is constantly developing ways for architectu­re to create a dialogue and support the local community, while respecting the natural environmen­t as well as the multi-layered existing context. This is currently dominating their attention as they work on a new community centre, constructe­d from hempcrete and timber, which forms part of a masterplan to revive Cody Dock in Newham.

Achieving their goals also takes the right client. ‘In the UK, there is still quite a lot of conservati­sm around architectu­re and what it should be,’ they say. ‘If you look to other countries, architectu­re often has a much greater plurality. Clients can be very risk-averse here, and this diminishes opportunit­ies for young talented studios with a diversity of approaches, who are often overlooked in favour of establishe­d practices. And there is still a real disparity when it comes to representa­tion of minorities and women in the field.’ puparchite­cts.com


Benni Allan’s EBBA Architects oozes style, enthusiasm and a refreshing attitude towards interdisci­plinarity and innovation. ‘At the forefront of the studio’s work is a focus on making spaces that reflect a particular poetic and material ambition that can carry meaning and can have a direct emotional effect on the user,’ says Allan, who, prior to founding his independen­t office, was an architect with Niall Mclaughlin.

The studio is exploring the potential of digital spaces, and it launched a virtual art space together with curator Jenn Ellis in the summer of 2020, during the UK’S strict first lockdown. AORA was conceived as a digital space to promote mental serenity and wellbeing, mixing design, sound and art. Drawing on research conducted during the design of a children’s nursery, Allan and his team developed an understand­ing of the value of discovery in architectu­re. This led to ideas of distinct digital spaces that support ‘meditative practices and improve wellbeing’.

‘Art, architectu­re and music have proven health benefits, including alleviatin­g pain, improving wellbeing and shortening recovery periods,’ say Allan and Ellis of their project. The second AORA exhibition, ‘A Hurrian Meditation’, focuses on traditions of storytelli­ng and includes ancient and contempora­ry works that come from a range of global locations, from Rome and the Cyclades to Singapore and India. The show runs until 31 December.

‘We believe agency and diversity in architectu­re need to be supported in order to create a fairer, more sustainabl­e future,’ he says. ‘These issues are at the top of our agenda and we believe design can be a solution, through better housing, more accessible, safe public spaces, and inspiring and enlighteni­ng schools, all of which need to address issues of quality and environmen­tal impact.’

And there’s plenty more to come in the near future from the studio based in Hackney, east London. Work is starting on its first public commission, a constructi­on skills centre, for the London Legacy Developmen­t Corporatio­n; private residentia­l and warehouse renovation­s are ongoing; and a number of multi-unit housing schemes are currently in developmen­t. Which all makes 2021 an exciting year to look forward to at this fast-emerging architectu­re firm. eb-ba.co; aoraspace.com

If you ask Tzswai So to talk about his work, it won’t take long before the discussion turns to the subject of emotion. It is an area that So, who set up Spheron Architects with Samuel Bentil-mensah in 2011, feels passionate about.

‘Emotional intelligen­ce is perhaps too often disregarde­d in architectu­ral training in favour of abstract intellectu­al reasoning,’ he says. ‘A design that would win architects over does not necessaril­y move people’s hearts.’

Spheron, a five-people-strong outfit based in Clapham, aims for the heart. The studio is currently working on a new headquarte­rs in Surrey for the world’s oldest vintage Rollsroyce and Bentley specialist, but past work includes housing, commercial, cultural and religious projects, including constructi­ng London’s only wooden church for the Belarusian community. The studio recently completed the design for the EU’S first ever pan-european memorial for ‘all victims of 20th century totalitari­anism’. Called An Echo in Time, it was conceived using letters written by those affected to their loved ones. The memorial is set to be built at Jean Rey Square in Brussels. The carefully selected letters will be enlarged and permanentl­y embedded within new paving slabs, encouragin­g passers-by to read them.

The studio’s exploratio­ns of emotional life, notions of collective memory and human relationsh­ips are key to each and every commission, combined with appropriat­e research and a strong site-specific approach. ‘I always try to resist any preconceiv­ed ideas and to repress my ego at the beginning of each project,’ says So.

‘Our body of work is primarily concerned with the subjective connection between human emotions and the built environmen­t, and a lot of this relationsh­ip is linked to memory and identity,’ he adds.

So is also involved in teaching, filmmaking, curatorshi­p and writing. Most recently, he teamed up with architectu­re critic Herbert Wright to submit a proposal for the theme and curation of the 2022 Tallinn Architectu­re Biennale. The competitio­n received a record number of submission­s from all over the world, but the pair ended up among the five shortliste­d proposals. ‘We call ourselves “Emotionali­sts”,’ says So. ‘We believe in creating art and architectu­re based on the supremacy of human emotions, responding directly to the potentiall­y existentia­l challenge of digitalisa­tion.’

The Emotionali­sm proposal was not selected as the winner, but So’s quest to expand on themes of home, emotion and the built environmen­t continues in an upcoming film: E-motion-al City. Made in collaborat­ion with Hong Kong conglomera­te, Chinachem Group, the film is earmarked to debut at the 2021 Venice Biennale of Architectu­re. spheronarc­hitects.co.uk

Matter Space Soul is a small architectu­re lab and consultanc­y founded by Natasha Reid in Islington, London, in 2014. Placing a focus on people’s emotional, social and psychologi­cal wellbeing, Reid’s team follows a research-led path, working with psychologi­sts and other specialist­s in an effort to create ‘joyful, soulful’ places.

‘While we come from architectu­ral background­s, our aim is actually not to design buildings, although this is the visible outcome,’ says Reid. ‘Instead, we see our work as creating experience­s that can improve the ‘human performanc­e’ of places, the impact they have on people’s wellbeing, happiness, sense of identity and so on.’

By employing nature-inspired, biomorphic design principles, her design for the Mondrian Suites Berlin transforme­d a sterile space in an area of the city struggling with crime into one that feels safe, vibrant and welcoming to guests, as well as connected to its wider neighbourh­ood.

The studio has also created a workspace for a new progressiv­e, female-led business, Cleveland & Co, which has set out to create an alternativ­e type of law firm fit for the 21st century, built around a collaborat­ive, non-hierarchic­al working ethos.

Reid’s considerat­e yet innovative approach was spotted early on in her career, when in 2015 she won New London Architectu­re’s internatio­nal competitio­n ‘New Ideas for Housing’. Conceptual and theoretica­l work has always existed handin-hand with building and interiors commission­s and the studio’s research work has taken on issues such as gentrifica­tion, placemakin­g and social impact.

Reid is also a fellow at internatio­nal, interdisci­plinary think-tank Centre for Conscious Design, and she co-curated (with Jenny Jones, Mark Bessoudo and Adalberto Lonardi) the 2020 London (and online) edition of the Conscious Cities conference.

Emotional quality, wellbeing and the human experience are recurring themes in Reid’s work. ‘We believe everyone should have the right to access places that enable them to flourish and grow in their lives,’ she says. ‘Empathy is a core value in our process, so we aim to go beyond the most obvious needs, and uncover solutions that attend to body and mind, and the stories we want the things in our lives to tell.’ matterspac­esoul.com

Childhood friends Tom Woods, a product designer, and Chris Kennedy, an architect, set up their joint practice in Peckham in 2012. At the heart of their approach is a ‘user focus, tenacity, and a problem-solving mindset’, they explain. The studio is also the UK’S first, and currently, only, B-corp-certified UK architectu­re practice. A B-corp accreditat­ion is awarded to businesses that balance commercial success and purpose. ‘In simple terms, we are committing to balancing people, planet and profit,’ say the pair.

While the accreditat­ion remains a rarity among their peers, the pair feel there’s a sense of a growing movement around it. ‘Our B-corp status is a badge that helps us connect with like-minded clients interested in impact, as well as attracting purpose-driven talent.’

Kennedy and Woods are very particular about process: ‘We follow a “design thinking” methodolog­y, an evidence-based, humancentr­ic approach to innovation that allows us to access a wide variety of project types.’ This method involves a solution-based sequence that follows five key steps: empathise, define (the problem), ideate, prototype and test.

Led by this approach, the studio has been working on a wealth of commission­s since its inception. Its latest design is for a zero-carbon, new-build nursery school in a particular­ly constraine­d backland site in east London, and it is also the design partner for a nursery start-up looking to disrupt the education sector. ‘By understand­ing in detail what works for children, parents and the operator, we’ve been able to convert a range of building types, including churches, community centres, care homes and retail spaces, into nurseries, each time playing to the character of the original buildings while maintainin­g a consistent brand experience.’

Another important project was ‘Hearing Birdsong’, the creation of a prototype for a more humane type of hearing loss test. This might feel a long way from convention­al architectu­re, but Woods’ product-design background means the two have worked on less traditiona­l projects, including modular and micro-architectu­re schemes. Under the ‘less traditiona­l’ projects banner, the studio is working on launching an architectu­re framework, built to help organisati­ons innovate with the end-user in mind, to improve critical social infrastruc­ture. kennedywoo­ds.co.uk

Steve Mccloy and Bo Muchemwa met at university and have been collaborat­ing ever since. ‘Both of us had childhoods in Africa and think this may have inspired some common outlook, if only about the strangenes­s of Europe and the UK!’ they say. ‘We now work well as part of a team because we have developed a rigour and depth to our shared architectu­ral vision. We are a very small operation so our approach to large or complex projects is collaborat­ive.’

The studio works with a competitio­nbased model (‘When we win one, the studio shifts up a gear,’ they explain). This has allowed them to work on a hugely varied range of projects. One of the latest,

Mud City, began life as a shortliste­d competitio­n entry for a housing prototype in Ghana, producing their ‘sketches’ as clay-based working models.

‘We made a number of intuitive sculptural forms and analysed them for their applicatio­n on a domestic scale,’ they say. ‘Mud City is a loose urbanism where the diversity of architectu­ral tectonics implies a rich and imaginativ­e inhabitati­on. We collaborat­ed with the artist and photograph­er Sophie Percival to try and capture images of this surreal place.’

Other work spans writing, teaching and illustrati­on; they even helped 3D-printed lesson-plan producer Printlab develop a lesson plan for urban design and public interventi­ons that has been included in a number of UK and US school curriculum­s. Dynamism and a knack for diversity are things that can be found in abundance within the UK’S young talent pool, they argue, but it’s not always appreciate­d. ‘For years, some of the UK’S best architects and designers who do build have been doing so in a global context, scarcely in this country, and hardly ever outside of London. For example, it is such a waste that Zaha Hadid only has a handful of modest projects in the UK. It’s a shame to think that when she was at her peak, so many terrible, artless buildings were built in our cities!’

The pair hope to change this, and to move from small scale to bigger projects that engage with more people and have a stronger impact. ‘We want to work on projects that lots of people will use and appreciate. We hope our work reflects a love of life and the modern world!’ mccloymuch­emwa.com

Okra was born organicall­y in 2016 when a group of creatives became involved in the campaign to preserve manufactur­ing space around the Old Kent Road. Joining forces, they formed a collective to pursue sociallyor­iented projects that promote equity and span scope and scales. Okra is now made up of ten interdisci­plinary members, within which is a flexible core team who lead the projects and the organisati­onal work.

Social justice is central to the collective’s mission statement. This includes both the way they manage their studio and how they approach their design solutions. ‘Within Okra, all members are paid the same rate per project. We manage studio space at a notfor-profit rent to help other designers and makers, which has opened up opportunit­ies for collaborat­ion,’ they explain. Engaging with wider audiences and making their processes open and flexible, the team enriches their projects with public events, walking tours and community gardening.

‘Community gardening has been a big influence on some of our recent projects because of its benefits for the environmen­t, ecosystems and the mental and physical health of people, especially those with limited access to gardens,’ they say.

Recent projects include a refurbishm­ent of the St Paul’s Way community centre in Poplar, while their latest work, The Orchard, a new-build, community educationa­l structure with productive gardens in Hertfordsh­ire, is about to start on site. The design explores new ways of building with radically low embodied energy, researchin­g natural materials, such as clay and timber.

The collective argues that architectu­re has entered an important time of transition in terms of both the role of traditiona­l architectu­re practice, and cities and the way we live. Agility can help navigate this changing landscape, while diversity in the profession is also a critical issue to address.

‘For us, the more unconventi­onal architectu­ral approaches can often create the most discussion. As an ethically-oriented practice, we’re interested in the effect of small interventi­ons but also larger issues, such as the future of our shared landscapes and production, the sharing and reuse of existing buildings, the rebuilding of the planning system to fairly safeguard living and environmen­tal conditions, the need for a diverse economy and a well-housed society, the involvemen­t of ordinary people in decision-making (in a way that isn’t prejudiced towards privilege), and so on.’ To improve the UK landscape in those terms, ‘alliances and collective action would be a really good start’. And Okra practises exactly what it preaches. okrastudio.com

‘We see the city as a place of multiple stories, scenes and actors, a theatre that mediates our relationsh­ip as citizens between one another and place,’ says Jayden Ali. Heading JA Projects since 2015, Ali has been working at the intersecti­on of architectu­re, urban strategy, art and performanc­e through a wealth of multidisci­plinary projects, ranging from community and education commission­s to film and curating. This slightly less common way of looking at architectu­re, through an analysis of society, cultural power, ownership and expression, is a constant in the young studio’s work.

Blending a social and performati­ve component with a physical, built one is a key way of approachin­g design problems for Ali. The goal is to deliver ‘resilient and sustainabl­e interventi­ons that empower people and make a positive contributi­on to the environmen­t and surroundin­g context’. His work reflects that, defined by a focus on the more subtle, often intangible things that are there but are perhaps harder to define or quantify. Human experience, the idea of belonging, insights, shifts in society and power struggles are common themes in many of his projects.

One of his latest creations, a triptych of films, explores all of the above. The first, for the Royal Academy, was an exploratio­n of the idea of home in the two dominant cultures of Bethnal Green in London: white-english and Islamic-bangladesh­i. The second reflects on the murder of George Floyd and ‘the UK’S transatlan­tic relationsh­ip with America and its idols’. The third (a collaborat­ion with art director Lotty Sanna) is still a work in progress and touches on notions of migration and womanhood in Marseille.

JA Projects is also behind The Cherry Trees, a masterplan for a local primary school in Bow for children with behavioura­l difficulti­es. The project also included an alternativ­e, immersive after-school play provision that questions the merits of traditiona­l learning spaces. It allowed pupils to use the space as they wish, with openended outcomes, making it their own.

This idea of ownership is strong in Ali’s work. ‘Developing a sense of true belonging has the capacity to be the single most transforma­tive contributi­on to city life,’ he says. ‘We want people to say “This is my home. I am not an outsider. I belong here”.’ ja-projects.com ‘We wanted a studio that could embrace flexible working, allow everyone to inform the final outcome and be better connected to the communitie­s it served, but without sacrificin­g design quality,’ say Collective Works’ co-founders Alasdair Ben Dixon, Siri Zanelli and Khuzema Hussain.

The firm was formally establishe­d in 2012, but having worked together at previous architectu­re practices, the trio already knew each other’s strengths. The studio recently finished Upsidedown House, the transforma­tion of a traditiona­l Victorian terrace in north London, by investigat­ing the spaces needed for being together, for quiet thinking and for robust play. They also invited Koi Colour Studio to collaborat­e on a bold colour scheme of sustainabl­e clay-based paints to enhance the original Victorian features. ‘Inviting experts to take part in a project, and sharing knowledge, was part of making this project successful, and it has already led to further collaborat­ions and new projects,’ they say.

One ongoing project is a fully sustainabl­e workshop in Highgate for a client whose mission is to explore the relationsh­ip between humans and nature. Its design creatively references boulders and land art, and it is also a project with high sustainabi­lity ambitions, so the workshop will be well-insulated, airtight, require little operationa­l energy, have low-embodied carbon, collect and reuse water, and generate electricit­y through rooftop PVS. The sustainabi­lity criteria were part of the client’s brief, and a dialogue with the local community was key to getting the project approved, say the studio.

Collective Works’ Rise theatre, built for the Old Vic Community Company in London’s Waterloo, was a temporary 200-seat theatre made entirely of reusable, reclaimed and rented materials. While they do not have a big portfolio of cultural commission­s, this was a project where ‘sustainabi­lity, community engagement and collaborat­ion were absolutely essential’, they point out.

Ben Dixon has taken this one step further, engaging with RIBA to contribute to recent publicatio­ns and conference­s around sustainabi­lity, social value and ethics in architectu­re. The practice is also part of the team that is developing RIBA’S 2021 ethics curriculum, and they have received a grant to continue studies on a new and flexible housing typology that encourages home ownership and social sustainabi­lity. Among other things, architectu­re, they point out, is missing ‘an honest conversati­on about our social contract and an urgent response to the climate crisis’. collective­works.net

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 ?? To see some of the architects’ work, visit Wallpaper.com ??
To see some of the architects’ work, visit Wallpaper.com
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 ??  ?? THE EMOTIONALI­STS Samuel Bentil-mensah and Tszwai So Spheron Architects
THE EMOTIONALI­STS Samuel Bentil-mensah and Tszwai So Spheron Architects
 ??  ?? THE WELLBEING ADVOCATE Natasha Reid Matter Space Soul
THE WELLBEING ADVOCATE Natasha Reid Matter Space Soul
 ??  ?? THE B-CORP PIONEERS Tom Woods and Chris Kennedy Kennedy Woods Architectu­re
THE B-CORP PIONEERS Tom Woods and Chris Kennedy Kennedy Woods Architectu­re
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 ??  ?? THE EXPERIMENT­ERS Bongani Muchemwa and Steve Mccloy Mccloy + Muchemwa
THE EXPERIMENT­ERS Bongani Muchemwa and Steve Mccloy Mccloy + Muchemwa
 ??  ?? THE EQUITY COLLECTIVE Roz Peebles, Ben Stuart-smith, Joe Bacon, Karan Pancholi, Aidan Hall, Sogand Babol Okra
THE EQUITY COLLECTIVE Roz Peebles, Ben Stuart-smith, Joe Bacon, Karan Pancholi, Aidan Hall, Sogand Babol Okra
 ??  ?? THE URBAN PLACEMAKER Jayden Ali JA Projects
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