Organised by FAT Recruitment, the Reimagined Living and Working Space Competition 2021 invites UK architects, designers and students to create a single artwork which demonstrates how an everyday environment could be rethought and improved to support both living and working.
As a jury panellist for the Reimagined Living & Working Space Competition, Roger Ashman of Ashman Architects was interviewed by FAT Recruitment on a range of topics from the role of art in architecture today to design inspiration and hopes for the architecture industry going forward. See full interview below.
Some have argued that architecture has shifted away from art with more of a focus on science and technology. What role do you feel that art plays in architecture today?
Previously, a lot of architects practised without the restraint of regulations and statutory bodies assessing work and there was much more of an artistic tone to work. Architecture is the art of building and so, I think art should obviously form the bedrock of a lot of architectural practice. I think getting too fixated and starting the design process using computer programmes can be quite restrictive. You’re translating a feeling you might want to evoke through a space or capturing that kind of energy that you want the visitor to a building to experience, I think that is much more easily translated through art or some sort of free expression. To bring a client on board to something you are trying to create without going too much into technicalities is really important.
What are your views on how our living and working arrangements might change as a result of this period?
I think the whole situation has played out a number of scenarios that people wouldn’t have entertained before working from home: flexible hours, the ability to work outside the office and not in a central location. In my mind, people, certainly in an architectural studio, still need to work together very much. I find addressing design solutions or problem solving is much more successful when you’re doing it round a table where you are able to share ideas freely without the constraint of technology and trying to communicate an idea through it. However, I think there is going to be a migration away from city working. Much more people are going to be working in rural areas potentially and so, there are going to be spaces in cities that we are going to need to find something to do with, especially some of the larger commercial spaces in central London. There needs to be an approach on what to do with those spaces in the future.
Do you have an overriding ethos that guides your design approach/ narrative for each project?
Our design studio doesn’t have a trademark aesthetic response to projects. Each project is rooted in site-inspired design and each site is assessed on its own merits. I personally love revealing the history of a site, where it’s come from and exposing its story. We try to respond to its history somehow through a design response and tell those obscurities that people might not have experienced on their land or their building before but they are something of interest. They might come out as quirky little things that can’t quite be explained or aren’t understood from the outset but actually, when you look into it, it adds richness to a project.
Inspiration for me comes from how people use a building, whether it’s animals which is at times the case with us or people living their daily lives or a workforce. How people move through or experience a building and what they’re seeing at different moments help shape the rooms and shape the vistas and viewpoints - it’s very much a human response to how the building is going to be used.
Points where people engage with a building or experience a building at different scales is also important. For example, how people first touch the building, whether there is a slightly intriguing doorbell or detail in the door handle that captures someone’s attention when they first open the door. What it is like when you actually step over the threshold and what you experience in that first room, is it enclosure or is it expanse and a vista through the building to the landscape beyond. It’s those moments of engagement that I think create that kind of experience and magic that people expect of a new architectural project.
Where do you look for inspiration in your work and your projects?
I think inspiration comes from very much a physical context, physical both in the context of the site like neighbouring vernacular to help describe and really bed in the external look of the building but also a sense of place, how does the building want to describe where it is and what are the people going to experience of that place through the building that they’re in. It’s also about how people use that space. Do people experience engagement if you put an island in a certain location or put a wall somewhere to disrupt the natural flow of things to create a moment, I think that’s quite inspiring for us.
I also really enjoy working with townscapes, how you travel from one point to another and the experience of opening a space up or closing it down so you really play on people’s perceptions of where they are moving to. If there is a route through a building, is that a straight route or does it wrap around something in some different kind of way, that drives design intent around space planning.
If you could recommend one book, exhibition, piece of art, architectural or otherwise, what would it be and why?
There is one particular artist called Jason Butler who I absolutely love who had an exhibition called Seekers. He is a Jersey artist but he had this cryptic and it plays on that notion of intrigue. His images are of a single place but played out over three different times and it just evokes so much thought into what people are using this space for. I definitely recommend looking him up.
My absolute favourite building to visit is the pantheon in Rome. Built over 1000 years ago but it’s pure physical geometric form and how the sun reacts to the walls of the building is something really special that I think most architecture students should go and experience.
If you were to give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I think exploring and trying slightly different avenues off the trodden path is really important. That leads to being involved and exposing yourself to opportunities. I took the opportunity to go to Australia when I finished university and that was a fantastic experience. It opens you up to a whole different world of site constraints and inspiration, different vernacular, different culture, it was so inspiring for me to then bring that back to [my work in] England. I would encourage people to travel and work while travelling, I loved doing that and just taking on experiences that are not quite the norm. We did studio in the woods a few years back with Feilden Clegg Bradley and Ted Cullinan – where we were exposed to other practices, working with nature and raw materials, over a long weekend. You also get to meet with other students - it’s a bit of a pollination I suppose of different mindsets and ways to do things which I think people should really expose themselves to and adopt.
Architecture is a highly impactful profession on wider society, as such, it has the potential to do great good. What one thing do you think architecture could achieve in the next 10 years for the greater good?
As architects and especially within the built environment, we have a responsibility with the growing global population to be more responsible with resources and materials. There is an opportunity for the architecture profession to educate both clients and people working with buildings, such as the contractors, on improving waste management and working more with a circular economy.
Most of the time, we rely on regulations to guide that and they do need to come from a regulatory side really to pressure clients and others in the building industry to make better changes waste wise, but from my point of view, the angle always needs to be questioning whether we are doing the best that we can. What do we do when the buildings are knocked down in 40 years-time, how are those materials recycled back into the process, how can materials be better and more efficiently used, how we manage the use of energy resources. I’d like to see more engagement in that and more responsibility from the professional side to instigate a change in the built environment.
As architects, we really need to keep pushing forward to create better buildings that take less resource to run, so as humans, we are having less impact on the planet. I think for me, that’s the biggest contribution that I feel I want to be making over the next 10 years of practice.
Winners for the Reimagined Living & Working Space Competition 2021 will be announced on the 17th of March 2021. To find out more about the competition and the entries, please follow the links below: