For David Saxby, both Architecture 00 and the buildings it designs operate as platforms: places, he says, where ‘people can flourish.’ Many of those on his team bring knowledge of subjects other than architecture to the practice, such as psychology, sociology and furniture design. Collectively, they share a belief that architecture should be ‘in support of something,’ whether that be individuals or society. It’s a philosophy Saxby underscores with a quote from influential urbanist Jane Jacobs:
‘Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.’
Despite many aesthetic similarities, Saxby sees Architecture 00’s two Design District buildings as differing significantly in character. While building D1 is the introverted sibling — more discreetly tucked way among its neighbouring buildings — extroverted C1 welcomes those arriving at Design District from the north with the bold statement of its rooftop basketball court.
One of the many remarkable things that made the Design District brief unique was the requirement that each of the eight architects involved deliver not one, but a pair of buildings. ‘I think the whole Design District is quite extraordinary, actually, I have a lot of faith in it,’ he says. ‘There’s a real critical narrative there.’
To ensure efficiency of the internal space, everything that doesn’t have to be on the inside of the two buildings has been made external. This includes the corridors, which open to the outside world on one side, becoming decks. Architecture 00 considered designing workspace for creatives a perfect opportunity for creating adaptable, permissive spaces in which occupants might explore the possibilities of thresholds and activate social areas — trusting that future tenants will ‘pick up the gauntlet’ and enliven the structure with their presence. (Saxby suggests that were the buildings instead populated by accountants, ‘relying on them to be your façade might be a risky strategy…’)
Saxby is particularly interested in the social economy: ‘there’s an architecture that’s about trying to find the maximum potential for the many.’ His studio has created open source furniture designs. In one instance, this enabled a community to produce furniture for a local authority project — ‘keeping currency moving through local hands and pockets.’ This approach has grown to include WikiHouse, an open source construction system for buildings. It was incorporated into Hawkins Brown Architects’ masterplan for Here East, on the former 2012 Olympics site, where the multistorey steel frame of a former media centre was repurposed to become a vertical village of sheds made using CNC technology.
Saxby is fascinated with how his buildings are modified over time by their users. In the case of Manor Works, a local enterprise centre in Sheffield, the perforated aluminium façade transitioned from defensive — protecting the building from hostile behaviour like stone throwing and air rifle shots — to a trellis for plant life, as local citizens began creating gardens.
Thinking about sustainability, Saxby says that one of the questions he often asks is ‘can we create an architecture that preferences doing the right thing?’ — not by being didactic, but rather by making the sustainable choice that little bit easier to arrive at. By way of example, Saxby points out that the lifts are often the first thing you see upon entering a building, while the stairwell is hidden from sight. Design can flip this: ‘if you walk into a building and see something at the top of the stairs that you want to get to, you’re more likely to use them.’
Architecture 00 co-founder Lynton Pepper discusses the practice’s first use of exposed decks, for their RIBA award-winning The Foundry: Social Justice Centre in Vauxhall. The building marked an initial experiment in creating a space that people would feel encouraged to make their own. ‘It’s got a lot of ideas in it, this building,’ Pepper says. ‘It’s never closed, so you get this ownership throughout and an interaction with the public.’
Back on Greenwich Peninsula, building C1 is fast nearing completion. The rooftop basketball court and exposed platforms will soon be covered in their diaphanous veil of steel mesh. This will not only keep basketballs (and players) contained, but alleviate the need for guardrails around the exposed decks. This promises to bring an uncommon thrill to the experience of the building, which Saxby says doesn’t exist in architecture very often: ‘there will be something very extraordinary about standing on that precipitous edge.’
The final Meet the Design District Architects will be with Hannah Corlett, Founding Director of HNNA on Friday, 6 November. Book now.