Why teaching matters to me, by Darren Bray

‘I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.’ –Albert Einstein

 

Since becoming a fully qualified architect I have always kept myself involved with academia, through part time teaching, reviewing exam work and acting as a visiting lecturer at various universities. The more academic work I have been involved with the more I have realized that teaching is important to me, it is part of who I am and what I do and has a positive influence on the evolution of Studio BAD.

Part of the reason I love teaching is that it invigorates me. Students often have a seemingly naïve or fresh way of approaching problems that keeps me from getting stuck into an architectural rut. They also challenge me to be better, to teach better, to design better, as they are not easily impressed by my work experience they do not just accept my word but want proof. I find that by having to justify my ideas and views it makes me think harder.

I feel lucky that my teaching work makes my outlook more current, in this academic world of theory I am exposed to people who would normally be outside my natural sphere of the practice and we all bring different ideas together. In this space theories are explored, this is a luxury many small practices do not normally have the ability to do, often the time spent on the practicalities of running a small practice take over from the time we should really dedicate to critical thinking.

As cliché as it sounds I do also really like giving back, teaching allows me to do that. I am hugely aware of the positive impact my teachers had on me, they helped shape me to become what I am today and I do believe that without their belief in me pushing me forward I would not be a successful architect now. If I can pass this positive impact onto just one of my students then I will feel I have succeeded.

St Margaret’s Church – Phase One Completed.

‘Come as you are, no perfect people allowed in this church’

 

The first phase of our St Margaret’s Church redevelopment is coming to a close. This project has been such a journey. We are so proud to see the physical changes implemented into the building but also to have been part of the design journey the whole community has taken.

We were commissioned to undertake a complete architectural overview of the existing church, a Victorian church with a 50’s front extension. The building was in need of an overhaul, to revitalise it, make it more welcoming and more fitting for the array of community needs. More information on the building refurb can be found here.

Last month saw a milestone moment in the project with the polished concrete floor installation throughout the whole ground floor of the church. The interior has been transformed, the floor unifies the interior and the highly polished surface brings a contemporary edge to the traditional heart of the church.

The floor was installed with trenched underfloor heating, placed in zones and the concrete gives the thermal mass needed to heat this system. One of the key requirements for this phase was to introduce internal heating to the church, after listening to the community and their requirements we opted for underfloor heating as it gave full flexibility for the internal space, with the zones allow the heating to be adjustable across the interior.

Other new facilities which have been completed in this phase include toilets, baby changing facilities, a new kitchen and café and new internal lighting which have been recycled from a Russian factory. Very simple robust and movable furniture has been created as ‘meanwhile’ solutions, the multi-functional furniture can be used across the church offering flexibility of use across the community spaces such as the café, children’s soft play or the food bank. The bespoke units are crafted from birch plywood, on wheels which have created a fully adjustable interior space for the church.

We are so thrilled that Phase One of St Margaret’s Church is nearing completion, this was one of the first large scale community projects that Studio : BAD Architects were commissioned to work on and has become quite a personal project for us. The project has inspired us in so many ways, how the community has embraced the change and future plans for their church; how the client has engaged with the design journey and now driving design forward across the whole church and seeing the building reborn, reusing a sustainable preexisting building.

The next phase includes a revised front entrance, the designs have been submitted for planning and we hope to start on these in the new year.

Image credit: Andrew Malbon

https://www.stmagscc.uk/

Ecology of Communities lecture for PASS Portsmouth

I was delighted to take part in the PASS (Portsmouth Architecture School Society) series of lectures around the ‘Ecology of Communities’ last month. As a part time academic I feel it is important to continue to engage the next generation and to inspire those coming through. Others who have been part of this lecture series have included Piers Taylor, James Dale, Jo Hagan and Spark Architects. The whole series can be found on YouTube

 

‘In this time of uncertainty, we need more tolerance, compassion, and trust for each other since we all are one. Otherwise, humanity will face an even bigger crisis’

Ai Weiwei, Humanity

 

As a practice we have been fortunate to work on several community based projects, such as October Books, Bedford Place and St Margaret’s church, each quite different, with their distinct set of design aims, but all with driver to engage with their local community.

Recently we have been working on a feasibility for a mini masterplan of the Bedford Place district of Southampton. The area is set at the opposite end of town to the large shopping malls and has a reputation for being an independent district, with handsome Grade II listed buildings and with boutique retail offering and local restaurants. Due to the Covid outbreak many of the streets were closed to cars earlier this summer to allow for extra social distancing and additional outdoor seating. Initially this was a temporary measure by the council, done in haste and without much thought to the aesthetics, we were brought onboard to look at on-going street activation and animation.

Our recommendations included painting the concrete bollards, originally quite bleak but now bright and colourful, even acting as a draw to bring people to the area to see and engage with it. Our street activation plans have gone further to address the signage, put up street bunting, paint the road, increase planting and set up a series of events throughout the year to use this space. We see this as a huge opportunity for Southampton to create a distinctive district, with a unique sense of place which will draw people in, helping to improve the local economy.

This type of project is highly emotive, whenever there are discussions regarding reducing car access it makes people very passionate as we are a nation addicted to our cars. This is not a new thing, it is easy to find videos from Amsterdam in the 1970’s of locals getting violent at the new pedestrian streets, an area we now look at so positively.

It is however important to listen to the community and their concerns, to really hear what they are saying and reflect on their fears. As an architect it is important to not bring your ego or believe you know the solution from the start, I believe you can learn a great deal through listening and responding to issues, not only will you gain better community engagement in the project but it often makes for a far richer project.

Take a listen to the whole webinar here, it covers a lot more including an interesting Q&A session at the end which covers politics, dyslexia, collaboration, sustainability and even imposter syndrome.

The lecture can be seen here on YouTube. 

PASS lecture

The benefits of reusing and repurposing existing buildings

Recently I was invited to take part in the MESH energy webinar series where I talked about the benefits of upgrading and repurposing existing buildings. At a time where the conversation around the environment and climate change is happening across society as a whole, I am always surprised that the design sector is not discussing this issue in more detail and facing it head on with positive solutions.

We have been working on several varied projects that are reusing a current building. Just by looking at the statistics from Historic England, it is astonishing how damaging it is to build a new building when there is an alternative and environmentally better solution.

‘Compared to a refurbishing a traditional Victorian terrace, a new building of the same size produces up to 13 times more embodied carbon. This equates to around 16.4 tonnes of CO2 which is the equivalent of the emissions released by driving 60,000km’

The design approach to repurposing a building is quite different, each project will bring its own challenges and a successful refurbishment is able to turn these into opportunities. Within our ‘October Books’ project, which has repurposed an old high street bank into a community book store, it was not possible to remove the old walk in vault from the building so this was integrated into the interior design and is now used as the storage room with the old door kept in place as a feature behind the service counter.

Our St Margaret’s church project in Southsea, Portsmouth, is nearing completion of Phase 1 of their refurbishment, thermal upgrade, extension and repurpose to deliver a church that could meet the needs of its congregation. The building had no central heating installed, to retrofit this we decided the best solution was an air sourced heat pump and trench underfloor heating, laid in zones across the building. This solution gave us full flexibility across the floor space which was essential for this building. In keeping with the need for internal flexibility we have designed ‘mean-while’ solutions such as seating, screens and even a café on wheels, this allows the interior of the church to be configured and used as the community needs, with future proofing the design and also reducing the costs.

As we had to remove the old parquet flooring, to allow for the underfloor heating and a polished concrete floor, we were delighted that we were able to repurpose it and sell it on. Not only is this environmentally positive but it also raised much needed funds for the church building project.

In each project we believe the key to success has been achieved through two way communications, through deep listening we are able to really understand what people are saying which often unlocks the potential to a space.

The full webinar can be viewed here

‘If you help one person, you help humanity’ Ai Weiwei