Our London architecture studio, on Charlotte Road in Shoreditch, is relocating to a glass-fronted retail unit on the opposite side of the street. We have decided we want a shopfront (pictured), to be ‘in the mix’ and fit for the future on the high street, and no longer want a conventional office space.
It is a widely reported problem that the high street has been declining for years and the impact of the pandemic has only made things worse, with most people switching to online shopping. Our town centres have been dominated by monotonous retail for too long and, in fact, it is just this lack of diversity that has led to its downfall in the first place, as the experience of shopping is increasingly focused on maximising sales.
It is the range of experiences that come with a diverse range of uses that make our town centres places where we want to be. Retail in the form of independent shops offers this, as do cafés and restaurants, drop-in centres, and temporary art galleries. The range of services on offer attracts a wider group of potential customers and encourages them to spend more time together in the town centre, to look after it and to celebrate it.
The question we asked ourselves was: ‘How can an architecture studio fit into this?’ This then developed into: ‘Can we re-present architecture as something directly engaging and relevant to the public?’
We felt that we could, by actively displaying the process we go through to develop our designs and by creating a better feedback loop that improves the quality of our work through direct dialogue with the public.
We have a duty to educate the public about what we do and learn from them, and our new space provides an opportunity to open up this dialogue. It is also an opportunity to be part of the wider community in a more meaningful way – we are not shut away on an upper floor; people know us, see us, and engage with us. This is good for business, good for our design work and makes the community stronger.
Our new studio is organised to place the model-making workshop and informal meeting space in the glass window on the street. These are the hard-working spaces where ideas develop and proposals are refined with the aid of models, prints and virtual reality.
At its heart, it has been designed around collaboration: bringing people together to solve problems creatively, supported by the right equipment and spaces. It is big enough for us all to work in but is arranged on the basis that teams come together to work at key points in a project lifecycle, while other work can be carried out at home, offering greater flexibility.
Expansion in the future is likely to be in the form of another shopfront, in a different part of town or in another city. We want to start a network for compact, collaborative spaces where different teams can work in different places on different days, engage more actively with the public and create a resurgence in high-street excitement and activity.
Joe Haire is director at White Red Architects