Designed in Hackney is a new initiative launched by architecture and design magazine Dezeen to celebrate the creative powerhouse that is London’s East End. In collaboration with Hackney Council and curator Beatrice Galilee, a day-long event took place in a pop-up tent last Wednesday in which architects, technologists and designers shared their ideas, values and opinions alongside presentations of their most ingenious projects.
With a focus on emerging architects, an afternoon discussion entitled ‘The Next Generation: Young Hackney Architects’ was chaired by Dezeen’s Marcus Fairs. Holly Lewis and Oliver Goodhall of the Dalston-based We Made That were the first to talk: a small, six-year-old practice consisting of just four people. They described themselves as having a diverse approach, being not just interested in the architecture itself but in the process, which Oliver pointed out doesn’t necessarily lead to a building. They explore other solutions that address urbanism and the community; a newspaper was the result of one of their projects, and ‘funny installations’ feature amongst their wide-ranging portfolio.
While admittedly ‘cute’, their work reflects a serious concern with finding ways of engaging people with ideas for positive change in their locality. As part of their ‘Fantasticology’ project, We Made That designed the largest piece of public art for the Olympics: a meadow of wildflowers planted in the footprints of former industrial buildings, coined by Holly as a ‘floral memorial’ to the site’s history. ‘It’s architecture but without the capital ‘A”, said Oliver.
Marcus Fairs remarked that, as a general trend, younger architects are ‘not just slapping buildings up’ like the ‘last generation’. ‘Aloofness’, they discussed, is another trait associated with the previous generation of architects that is being eradicated, a reflection of the changing ways in which architects are approaching their work in general. This non-aloof perspective was echoed in the sentiments of Susanne Tutsch from Erect Architecture, who was next up on stage. Based in the Broadway Market area, the German architect described their work as being ‘architecture with a capital A’ – a phrase already being used in a sheepish, apologetic manner – but also encompassing ‘soft’ works, such as a summer school experiment in which they used timber offcuts from building sites to create new installations in the woods, and an Olympic Park project based on the UK’s ecological heritage. They lay their focus on learning, for both the user and themselves, again seeing architecture as a continual process.
Maria Smith and Je Ahn are the duo behind Studio Weave, the third practice to present their work. Based on Mare Street, their focus lies heavily on making, as the name implies. A recent project commemorates historic Aldgate resident Geoffrey Chaucer with a latticed timber hut, a re-imagining of the author’s dreamlike fictional palaces, which also marks the direct route from the City of London to the Olympic Park. Studio Weave encourage autonomy in the skilled workers that are involved in their projects, including their creations as part of the final product rather than confining them to their usual prescribed roles. Their interest in making use of people’s skills in different areas is shared by Gort Scott, fourth and final of the practices, who see their work as a way of connecting communities. Run by Jay Gort and Fiona Scott, the Dalston-based duo share a fascination with the physical structure of London and its historic roads, making use of the unprecedented abundance of empty shops and spaces in the recessional city.
As these up-and-coming practices suggest, architecture is not just about buildings anymore. It has to centre upon engaging people with the built environment as part of an ongoing process that is more than just ‘building a building’. As Marcus Fairs observed, the aspiration towards ‘iconic’, self-congratulatory ‘statement’ buildings of the previous generation is being rejected in favour of hands-on, community-inclusive, lateral-thinking architecture, in which the architects themselves are decentred.