Having developed a business model based around individually identifiable specialisms (our Centres of Gravity) we work hard to make sure that these do not become isolated groups or silos, focussing instead on the benefits of cross-pollination to maintain a constant dialogue across the office. It is the absence of walls between us that keeps us open to the possibilities inherent within the sketches and reflections that feed our incubating projects.
Some building typologies have a million nuanced categories. The place of work, for example, could be justifiably divided across schools, universities, offices, laboratories, hospitals, surgeries and more besides. Housing, by comparison, has only a few: detached houses, semi-detached houses and apartments would cover most places to live. Of course, within that there can be further nuanced variation; student housing and care homes perhaps, but even they can broadly align to these three basic types.
The challenge is to make sure that this distinction does not dictate the design. We all know what a typical school looks like, but if we try to design with that in mind then our creativity has been pruned before given half a chance to flower. A school does not need to look like a typical school – many of the best ones don’t.
Perhaps this is the benefit of individual specialisation in a broader context: understanding the intricacies of one particular building type, so that the specific sensibility necessary to design a school can inform the design of an office, blurring the boundaries between type and category.
The architectural conundrum is universal and not limited to one area: detail, articulation and the balance of the person scale against the city scale or a nation scale – these things are crucial to the successful realisation of any building. A successful office building does more than support the needs of a working community; it is part of a city and must have a life outside of office hours; a conversation between people and place, between building and context. Connection, not separation.