Al-Jawad Pike is an inspiring architectural practice run by Jessam Al-Jawad and Dean Pike. Having both worked for 10 years at David Chipperfield Architects, they came together to establish Al-Jawad Pike in 2014.
The practice is known for its sensitive and rigorous approach to design. Model making is an integral part of their process - the maquettes displayed in their studio are a testament to their ability to consistently shape sublime spaces.
We met up with Jessam at Al-Jawad Pike’s studio in Bethnal Green.
Jessam: Black coffee
Pastries: Lemon drizzle cake
Tell me about an ideal day for you.
Jessam: An ideal day for me would have to start with having had a good night’s sleep the night before – and then a good breakfast!
I’m not really a morning person but breakfast is a big part of my day. After that it’s a quick 5-minute cycle into work – one of the best things about setting up the studio was that it meant I was closer to home with no long commutes into town.
We’ve been quite busy lately, so a good day will start with a coffee and a catch-up with Dean. We don’t have a meeting room in our studio so conduct a lot of our conversations about projects in the coffee shop downstairs.
I think the day always goes better if we’ve started it by agreeing a clear strategy for what needs to be done and who’s doing it. We’re 7 people now so a lot of time is now spent discussing and directing/instructing rather than doing things directly ourselves.
I quite like detailing so on the rare occasion I get some time to just get on with drawing undisturbed for an hour or two. Sometimes the number of things that need to be done in a day can be overwhelming – if I could improve anything it would be that we had more time to work stuff out and were under less time pressure.
If it’s a Friday (which is the most ideal of days) we’ll all usually go downstairs at the end of the day for a drink or two in Ombra which has a great terrace that is perfect in the summertime.
What do you like to listen to while working?
Jessam: We always have music on in the studio, sometimes there are differing opinions about what it should be but usually it works ok. From hip-hop to jazz to electronica and reggae.
Obscure artists from the 70s are always appreciated – as you get older it gets harder to find new stuff to listen to, but we are always looking.
"I would love to be able to live in this world without a smartphone."
What tool, digital or analogue, can you not live without?
Jessam: I would love to be able to live in this world without a smartphone. I have toyed with the idea of giving it up for a long time but haven’t managed yet. Apart from that, I would have to say my push-bike. I have had the same one for about 10 years and it’s like an old friend now.
Cycling around London is, in my opinion, by far the best way to get to know it and to get from A to B. It is a big help for me as it means I can get to and from meetings and site visits without losing too much time travelling.
I liked hearing this anecdote in an interview with Steve Jobs where he recounts reading an old magazine that compared the efficiency of locomotion of various animals on the planet.
At the top I think is the condor, and human beings walking on foot were way, way down the list. However, a human on a push-bike absolutely blows all the competition out of the water – which exemplifies the fact that as a species we are our most effective as tool builders.
If you could invite 1 person to dinner, whether dead or alive, who would it be?
Jessam: I would have liked to have met Jonathan Woolf, I think his output although not massive was interesting and genuinely original. I’m also quite an admirer of Hugh Strange. Although I think there is something true about it not being a good idea to meet your heroes.
With that in mind, I’d probably say my friends from undergrad at the University in Edinburgh (none of whom are architects) as we are all now dispersed around the world and rarely get to all hang out together.
"I think there also used to be more variety – the speed of information now means people converge on similar approaches to representation much more."
What are you currently reading?
Jessam: I recently went back to my parents on a Sunday and raided their bookshelves for a load of Graham Greene who I’ve never read – but am starting on it now. The best book I finished recently was Stoner by John Williams which is great. Not much happens but it is somehow still very moving.
In terms of non-fiction I quite like reading the Real Review – especially when travelling as it is a great little format and the essays are all very interesting. We used to share this studio with OK-RM who did the design and Jack Self was also in here a lot with them. We’re all friends so it’s also nice to read it from that perspective.
You have the homepage of Dezeen for the day. You can put up any message you want, what would it be?
Jessam: I suppose it would be nice to see projects communicated through means other than photographs for a day. The photography of projects nowadays is such an important part of how they are perceived but there is so much more to architecture and design.
In terms of what we put out, we’re probably just as guilty as many, but buildings often seem to be presented in this perfect form which is rarely how they are experienced. I don’t think it was always this way – I remember when I started studying it was all about drawings and models which were highly energetic, complex and personal.
I think there also used to be more variety – the speed of information now means people converge on similar approaches to representation much more.
"I think the best stuff is always done by those who just follow their instinct in quite a single-minded way, so I would say stay true to yourself and don’t give up!"
Imagine it’s a late night and you have a deadline. What’s the takeaway craving? (We are not promoting working late.)
Jessam: There used to be a good Turkish place downstairs, but it was closed and turned into a house-plant shop. The owner has the plant warehouse across the street but decided there was more money in plants than kebabs, so opened an up-market version of the same shop and now there aren't as many great options close by.
We probably most often get pizzas from Broadway Market now. Not the most exciting but they do the job.
What’s a new habit, belief or behaviour that has most improved your life?
Jessam: It’s not that new but I very much enjoy playing football on Tuesday nights with a bunch of guys in the park around the corner. It’s a fairly sacrosanct activity for me and a good excuse to leave work on time once a week.
I’m not a particularly good player but there is something about running around in a team sport that is so much more enjoyable than going to a gym. There are a few other architects there that play and sometimes we go for beers after so it’s nice to catch up with them and see what they’re all up to.
Any advice for a younger self or for someone entering the field?
Jessam: Don’t do it! Only kidding – I think as a profession it is a very rewarding and interesting thing to spend your time doing, especially if you get the opportunity to do your own thing at some point.
However, I do think it’s a good idea to spend a good 4-5 years at least learning the trade in a good practice beforehand. It’s also easy to spend a lot of time looking around at what other people are doing and get distracted by it. I think the best stuff is always done by those who just follow their instinct in quite a single-minded way, so I would say stay true to yourself and don’t give up!
Any friends of yours that you think I should visit next?
Jessam: Dyvik Khalen is a practice around the corner who do a lot of nice stuff. I play football with Chris and he’s a good guy. Also, Murray Kerr is a very nice chap who’s practice Denizen Works used to be in this building but he’s now in a studio above Hackney City Farm – I haven’t visited yet but I’m sure it’s an interesting space.
Quickfire round! Pick 1 of the 2 choices that comes to your mind.
Hip hop or Jazz? Hip hop
Red or Blue? Red
Kahn or Aalto? Kahn
Kitchen or Living Room? Kitchen
Brick or concrete? Brick
Spicy or Non-spicy? Spicy
Summer or Winter? Summer
Serif or Sans-serif? Sans-serif
Museum or Library? Museum