Architecture and the Kindness Economy – learning from Mary Portas

“Architecture is not just about what we build – but how we live.”

We have been captured by Mary Portas’ work on the Kindness Economy. This new value system requires businesses to understand the fundamental role they play for the wellbeing of people and the wider fabric of our society. At the heart of this approach is the need to balance commerce with social progress. We also see the need to balance our architectural and design business with the environment. In this post, we reflect on what we have learned about the Kindness Economy that resonates with our work at RISE Design Studio.

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Our shifting relationship with buildings

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, we are realising just how much buildings influence every part of our lives. After spending more time in our homes and immediate neighbourhoods than ever before, we have become more aware of how we interact with the buildings we inhabit and how nature is reflected both internally and externally within and close to our homes.

In her recent podcast with Amanda Levete CBE, Mary Portas suggests we are going through a radical shift in our relationships with buildings. Architects are therefore at the forefront of designing our world post-pandemic. Buildings are the greatest expression of the idea of community and we need to understand who we are building for, particularly as different communities have different values, which need to be reflected in the architecture that surrounds them.

Lead by example

There is growing concern that volume housing is often built cheaply, with a focus on maximum profit for the developer, rather than on achieving maximum impact for the people who live there. As architects, we need to understand who we are building for and tailor designs accordingly. Different communities need different buildings, and housing should be designed around shared values not the value of a project or the resulting profit.

In an era of spending more time living and working in the home, it seems conceptually inappropriate that the design is in many cases driven by profit for someone who is not rooted in, or connected with, that community. This raises questions about how to encourage a shift in approach – Mary Portas would argue that this can be done by leading by example and showcasing successful projects for others to take inspiration from.

Between office and home

What will change as many of us start to return to the office? It is perhaps hard to predict but within the Kindness Economy there lies potential to re-imagine the office as a family home. Small companies may move from warehouses into townhouses, creating a homely office or a neighbourhood co-working space. It will be important for companies to have conversations with their staff about the future, to achieve a more positive work/life balance.

Attracting people back to the office will also require more thought about what kind of spaces people want and whether they want to work in those spaces. There is an opportunity to design buildings from which everyone has access to some outdoor space, nurturing the connection between inside and outside, and the local environment that we have all got to know so well when our movement was restricted.

Nurture community and connection

Although we live in an increasingly digital world, we are arguably more disconnected than ever before. Enforced remoteness and distance has negatively affected the culture and connectedness of our lives. As we re-emerge, we need places to meet, to learn new skills, and to feel a sense of culture around us. As we look to new ways of living and working, social interaction will be very important. How can people be put at the heart of buildings?

As many town centre properties lie empty, there is now an opportunity to begin a transformation but this will need risk-taking, innovation and creativity. Mary Portas points out the immediate opportunity to re-purpose these buildings without extensive demolition, in a way that exploits the characteristics that make a building so difficult to convert – a large central atrium, perhaps, or large indoor spaces with no natural light.

While challenging, these are exciting opportunities for architects – perhaps we can convert old department stores into spaces that are home to community functions and activities that will help to bring us all together again? Perhaps they could become places where people can grow food, making use of the latest technology in hydroponic farming? People’s concepts of a shop have changed and there is growing agreement that we need to re-purpose and re-vision these properties to create spaces and activities to bring people together.

You can visit one of Mary’s Living and Giving Shops across the UK.

 

Refurbishing homes for net zero – upskilling our design team

 

Refurbishing and retrofitting existing homes is a large part of the challenge of transitioning the built environment to net zero. We are faced with a significant task, especially as every home is different – efficiency measures that work in one home may not be appropriate for another. Retrofitting is also a daunting task for homeowners, particularly in terms of engaging a contractor with the right skills and experience for the job. At RISE Design Studio, we have worked on several projects that have included energy efficiency measures and, as the push to net zero becomes ever more critical, we are working hard to upskill our design team so all our projects are as energy efficient as possible.

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Embracing refurbishment

The 2008 Climate Change Act committed the UK to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. The buildings sector accounts for 37% of total UK GHG emissions and, of these emissions, 65% are from the residential sector. As a result, there has been growth in the residential retrofit industry, with buildings being adapted to be more sustainable and energy-efficient. The majority of our existing residential stock requires some level of retrofit to enable the government’s ambitious emissions targets to be reached.

Common measures include improving insulation. A new heating system might also be installed, or double glazing might be fitted. Yet, conserving energy is not the only reason to retrofit a building. Improving indoor environmental quality, reducing dampness and mould will all lead to increased health and productivity levels of residents.

Upskilling our design team

Recognising the increased momentum in London around reaching net zero, we have really enjoyed working with clients on refurbishment projects that incorporate environmental considerations. Modern architects are well-placed to add creativity and innovation into the drive to retrofit existing housing stock, particularly those that may prove very expensive to retrofit. For example, historic buildings such as Edwardian terraces are protected, and increasing energy efficiency can pose a real challenge. However, there are exciting options to retain the façade and rebuild the living spaces within the building.

More and more clients are seeking energy efficient homes and we are fully aware of the important role architects play in helping to reach the government target for 2050. As a result, we have been working hard to upskill our design team to work on these types of projects.

Maximising design benefit

There are several industry standards designed to increase the efficiency of residential property, including the Passivhaus and EnerPhit certifications. A Passivhaus project tends to use energy sources from within the building, such as body heat, heat from the sun or light bulbs, or heat from indoor appliances to create a comfortable, healthy living environment. However, it can be difficult to reach the exact requirements of the Passivhaus standard in a retrofit project.

Recognising this, the Passivhaus Institut has developed the EnerPHit standard for projects that use the Passivhaus method to reduce fuel bills and heating demand. We are working hard to implement this standard in our projects and our design team has developed the skills to align retrofit projects with this approach. EnerPHit takes into account the limitations associated with retrofit projects and relaxes some of the Passivhaus criteria to reflect this. Nevertheless, it is still a very demanding standard and generally results in a building that outperforms a new-build property both in terms of energy and comfort.

Kitsungi – the art of repair

 

Celebrating the beauty of a naturally imperfect world is a tenet of our work here at RISE Design Studio. By embracing impermanence and accepting that we are always in a state of flux, it becomes easier to appreciate what we have, rather than compare ourselves to others. It is this mindfulness and ‘living in the now’ – with all its imperfections – that we try to capture in our work. An important influence on our approach is the Japanese art of kitsungi – ‘golden repair’ – which respects the unique history of an object.

Reclaimed bricks RISE Design Studio

An accidental art form

It is thought that kitsungi was developed in the 15th century when a Japanese shogun broke his favourite tea bowl. He was disappointed that the repair involved stapling the pieces together, which left the bowl looking unattractive. Instead, local craftsmen filled the crack with a golden laquer. This made the bowl more unique and valuable, and prompted a new style of repair. As the style developed, the lacquer was likened to natural features like waterfalls, rivers, or landscapes.

The need to accept change

We often feel regret when something breaks or is wasted. For the Japanese, this is ‘mottainai’, a feeling that dates back to the original era of kitsungi and remains present in contemporary Japanese environmentalism.

In London, we are tackling the challenge of developing a circular economy to support net zero targets – mottainai and kitsungi can provide us with the inspiration we need. In our ‘throwaway culture’, we often miss opportunities to transform broken or used objects into something new, perhaps even making those objects more rare and beautiful than the originals.

This is the essence of resourcefulness – making the most of what we already have (or what already is) and highlighting beauty alongside any flaws. The perfections and imperfections are what gives our surroundings a story and meaning.

Embracing the past in the home

What does this mean at home? It can include choosing authentic furnishings that create a lived, harmonious space. It might also mean sourcing used furniture and allowing each scratch to add to the narrative of an item’s history. It might mean repairing walls, floors and external materials to reflect the history of the building and the changes it has seen through the years. Sourcing local or reclaimed materials might also help to root the home in its local environment and landscape.

Imperfections are gifts

The art of kitsungi is not only about objects – it is also about how we live our lives. It helps us to realise that we, like the tea bowl, are all fallible. We heal and grow, and we often survive emotional blows and live to tell the story. However, it can be hard to admit our failures and accept that bad things can happen. If we are to learn something personal from the local craftsmen who repaired broken items with gold, it is that imperfections are gifts to be worked with.

We take pride in working with imperfections in our projects, whether those be in buildings with a story to tell, with materials that reflect the local landscape, or with furniture and other fittings that have existed for several generations.

Our top tips to thrive working from home

 

Who knew that working from home could be quite pleasant? Here are our top tips to make it so.

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1. If you don’t have space… make space!

Re-arranging a room to fit a desk in the corner, or using that awkward recess in the corridor for setting up a little working space can make wonders to our wellbeing. Did you know that our minds stay calmer and more focused when we assign a specific task to each space?

In other words: eating in bed? Bad idea… Using the kitchen counter as your office? Turns out, not ideal either! Instead, we can get creative by separating the counter in two with a makeshift partition, or temporarily set up the dining table as an office desk while moving family meals to the kitchen.

2. Clean space, clear mind

We know… easier said than done, right? But tidying up is an effort worth making, as it has a huge influence on our mental health as explained by this article by UCLA professionals.

3. Stay connected

It is very important to stay in touch with others even if we are physically apart.
Pay attention to small interactions too. It is easy to make contact about big issues but, with the distance, we lose the little exchanges that are so crucial to our social brains. In order to avoid “losing touch” in this way, embrace communication regardless of the weight of the matter… even if it is to reach out to a colleague or loved one and ask “how’s it going?”.

4. Indulge a little

Cooking a new recipe or working while listening to Bossa Nova can transport us to places that are off-limits for the time being. Finding the energy to change things up a bit brings a lot of rewards, including a more positive attitude and a more productive state of mind!

5. Take advantage of the situation

Remember those days when you woke up wishing you could just stay at home all day and do nothing?

Oh well… now is the time to do all those things we wanted to do but never had the time to. Our best advice is to start a personal project to take your mind off things and have something exciting to look forward too. In our case, it is all about renovating homes! Spending so much time inside has led a lot of clients to finally tackle all those things they wanted to change about their homes.

Until the next time! And remember, stay safe, stay active, and stay positive.

Five residential architecture tricks to introduce light in your home

 

We have heard it time and again: a house with good light is a good house. But what is just as true is that not all properties come with the amounts of natural light we would like to have. That is why architects, engineers and designers have come up with clever ways of allowing those precious rays of sunlight into the very depths of your home. We would like to present to you five different ways to make your home brighter with natural light: from extensions to small renovations, rearrangements, or additions, read below and find out how you can turn that dark living room into a room full of light.

Rooflights

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This is probably the most straight-forward way of bringing in light, and one of the most effective too! Allowing the light to come in from the top will get you more than sunlight: the ambient light from the sky will get inside the room even when the sun isn’t shining, and during all daylight hours. A skylight is your best bet on the rooms just under the roof – we are talking about that dark attic or loft space that has so much uncovered potential… And there’s more! An additional benefit from installing a skylight is that it will significantly increase the head height in the area since the thickness of the glazing is so much less than that of the roof – you could win up to 300mm in height. Not bad, right? All in all, skylights are a universal win-win.

Glazed extensions

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If you are familiar with our projects, you will know that this is one of our favourite strategies. Glazed extensions serve a double purpose: you get more internal floor area in the ground floor, making your living room or kitchen much, much ampler, and you let in an incredible amount of light both in the new extension and in the existing portion of the house that will be connected to it. The positive change that a glazed extension makes to a home never fails to amaze… if you’re thinking of making a single change to your home, this may be the one that gives you the most value.

Room reconfigurations

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Room reconfigurations are a small way of making a potentially big difference. If your room is dimly lit, make sure that your furniture faces the light and that there is nothing blocking its path. If there is a room that receives no light at all, think about getting rid of the wall that separates it from the next, better lit, room. This will require some tweaking in terms of use and furniture, but sometimes replacing a wall with a shelf or a soft partition allows you to retain the differentiation between the rooms without having to give up all the natural light in one of them.

Internal windows

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It may be counterintuitive to have a room with a window into another room, but this strategy can be really helpful for getting some light into the heart of the house. It is particularly helpful for rooms like bathrooms, or utility rooms: a frosted window into a naturally-lit corridor or into an adjacent room will take care of letting some soft natural light in without compromising privacy. What’s more, it will make the room feel bigger too, and you can take advantage of the new opening and use it as a shelf. Simple but effective!

Sun tunnels

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This technology is slowly finding its way into the residential world, and it is a very clever solution for those rooms in which you thought it was just not possible to have sunlight. Here’s how: a flue-like tube pops up over the roof, all clad in highly reflected panels that are angled in such a way that the light that reflects on them from the top bounces downwards to hit the next panel, and so on. What you have, in the end, is a game of mirrors that can bring the same sunlight you have at roof level down to seven stories below. This can work for ground floor kitchens, isolated rooms at the centre of the house, and even basements.

Restaurant design: Oklava, London

 

We recently designed the critically acclaimed Oklava restaurant in Shoreditch, East London. Chef Selin Kiazim serves contemporary Turkish cuisine and was widely praised for her ‘pop-ups’ at Carousel London in November 2014 and before that a residency at Trip Kitchen in Haggerston. We worked with Selin and Oklava Director Laura Christie in 2015 to remodel the ground floor of the existing former four-storey mill building on Luke Street to house a new restaurant, bar and private dining facilities.

Oklava restaurant design

Frontage

Oklava (the word in Turkish for a traditional rolling pin used to make bread, pastries and pides) is situated in the South Shoreditch Conservation Area. The materials, colour and configuration of the outside of the restaurant were designed to match the colour and shape of the existing windows on the upper floors and remain in keeping with the character of the building. Awnings over the external windows make the street a part of the restaurant and create a space for outdoor eating on warmer days.

Style

The restaurant is focussed around communal eating and encouraging conversations about food by sharing dishes between diners. With this in mind, the unique, trapezoidal space has a central focus of an under-lit bar table, one of which allows diners to feel part of the drama of watching their meals being prepared as they socialise and sample the delicacies on offer. Movable tables are placed in the space between the bars, allowing for flexibility for different table configurations.

Materials

The concept was to create a contemporary, timeless aesthetic. A stone oven and a real charcoal grill, known in Turkish as a ‘mangal’, are the two key cooking elements of the open kitchen. The drama of the open kitchen is framed by a under-lit heavyweight concrete clad bar with walnut worktop and lightweight suspended Black Mild Steel shelving. On entering you are greeted with a Black Mild Steel screen designed to restrict views through reclaimed copper-framed windows housed within, creating a sense of intrigue of the activity beyond. The reflectivity of the polished concrete floor animates the restaurant, reflecting the light from the bespoke designed copper pendant and black mild steel wall lights.

Bespoke features

Aiming to “pull Turkish cuisine out of the kebab shop and onto the London restaurant scene“, the restaurant has subtle lighting and an “aura of smart taste” (Tim Hayward, Financial Times). Bespoke lighting was designed, including Christie pendant lights made from brazed copper pipe to light up the movable tables.

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Read more about the remodelling of Oklava and see more images on the Oklava project page. We are currently working on other restaurant projects and welcome new enquiries.