Where did your passion come from?
The Royal Danish Embassy
Location: 55 Sloane Street, London, SW1X 9SR
Architect: Arne Jacobsen
This was the last building designed by Arne Jacobsen, a pioneer of functionalist architecture in Denmark, before his death in 1971. Though it wasn’t completed until 6 years after his death, his successors stayed largely true to his plans except for the choice of external cladding.
Though a bold modernist design it sits sympathetically with the rest of Sloane Street with its five modules relating to the dimensions of the surrounding Georgian town houses.
It started with my grandad who was a belt and braces builder, building houses in the North East. My grandfather is quite an inspiration, he is still alive and is the most straightforward working class bloke. He has always been interested in buildings and what was around him and it rubbed off on me. Even as a kid I was interested in buildings and cities. I remember going to see Durham Cathedral when I was very young and it blew me away. That building stood there for a thousand years and it still looks incredible. It is even more amazing that there wasn’t any architecture involved then, it was just builders who got on and did it; the community did it.
I used to draw and sketch a lot as a kid and because I spent a lot of time on building sites with my granddad, I found myself sketching buildings more than anything else. When I got to the age of 11 or 12 I decided I wanted to be an architect and that was it.
I left school at 16 and got a job straightaway at a local architects in the North East. I worked there for just over 2 years then went to college part time to do a B-Tech in building and construction. After that I went to university in Newcastle before coming to London to work at Sir Terry Farrell and partners. After a year I was sent by the firm to Hong Kong. I was there for the handover in 1997 where we were designing railway stations to link Hong Kong to China. I then came back to London and went to the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL to do my postgraduate studies. Once I qualified I set up my own practice.
To be honest, I’ve probably gone backwards not forwards. I just sketch and draw with a pen and that’s it. I’ve come full circle. When I was at Newcastle Uni I learnt AutoCAD. For my first job we used MicroStation on Apple Mac. Then I used software called 3D Studio Max and that was where you could do animation and 3D modelling. When I started my practice we bought macs and used a very simple drawing software called Vectorworks but god’s honest truth, I wouldn’t know how to draw a line on a computer anymore. My job is to sketch the ideas out and I just sit there with a big pen and a massive roll of tracing paper and just sketch all the time. I then hand it over to my good staff who can use all the computer software. Honestly I wouldn’t even know how to draw a line in Vectorworks now.
The one that I take a lot of pride in is my own house. It’s an Edwardian house in West London which we stripped back and it is quite contemporary inside. We maximised the space as much as possible. It was a very simple, smallish, semi- detached house that was 1,500 sq foot. We’ve reconfigured all the internal spaces, we’ve extended on the back, we’ve gone into the loft and then built a massive basement underneath the house. Now it is 3,300 sq ft, so it has more than doubled in size but from the outside it looks exactly the same.
It is not just about the design process and the finished product but about how I live in it and see my kids grow up in it. Architecture succeeds if it stands the test of time and my home is like an extended member of the family really. It forms how we live and how we come together. I wouldn’t call it impressive but it remains the most important piece of architecture to me.
The building that I love that nobody really knows about is the Danish embassy and it’s very cool. The Danes are pretty good at architecture and design and that building is amazing. So many people pass it everyday and they don’t realize it’s there.
Architecture succeeds if it stands the test of time
I will reserve judgement until it is finished. I will never judge a building from published photographs or a 3D computer model. You’ve got to go there, experience it and then you can cast judgement. In general London is building tall and I don’t have a problem with that at all. I think in certain areas of the city we can take very good high-rise buildings and I certainly prefer that we build up rather than build out. I don’t have problem with it as long as it doesn’t start to ruin London’s skyline, particularly around St. Pauls.
Why do you like London?
It is the best city in the world. Don’t get me wrong I love other cities, I love New York, it’s a fantastic place but it is not as humane as London. You come to London and it has everything. The scale of building is not too oppressive; the history of the place is mind-boggling; we’ve got the most incredible royal parks. I remember when I lived close to the top edge of Hyde Park and I could walk from my flat all the way to Westminster Abbey, just going through parks. I would go diagonally through Kensington Park, Hyde Park, cross over to Green Park, St James’ park and you were there. You couldn’t say that about any other city in the world.