Carl Turner Architects are a renowned London-based practice with an enviable portfolio spread across housing, culture and workplace. Standout projects include Slip House, Peckham Levels, the Ochre Barn and the Mountview Academy in Peckham. The latter is a 11,000 square metre ‘warehouse for the arts’ with 22 dance and acting studios, a state of the art theatre as well as a new cafe and rooftop bar. It is soon to be completed and will be an exciting new addition to the rich cultural fabric of Peckham.
We met up with Carl at his studio round the corner from Broadway Market.
Carl: Black coffee
Tell me about an ideal day for you.
Carl: Ideal days change and evolve.
At the moment, my ideal day would start with a site visit to Mountview. Seeing the practice grow and collaborate to make this project a reality has been very fulfilling.
Typically, I would get there by cycling to Peckham and meandering through the back streets and Burgess Park. I favour being outside so site visits are something I enjoy thoroughly.
An ideal afternoon would involve clearing time to either discuss a project amongst the office or having a workshop on drawing techniques.
To finish, it would be great to meet friends in a pub along Columbia Road.
Do you have a dream project?
Carl: I love working on small buildings and residential projects but now I’m looking forward to larger scale public projects with strong cultural and social outreach elements similar to Mountview.
I’m particularly interested in how cultural programmes and buildings that entertain people can spread out from the centre of London and into the outer boroughs. These could include a mix of art galleries, cinemas, libraries and theatres.
What’s your favourite place to go to on the weekend?
Carl: I do like staying in London on the weekend. One of my favourite things to do is to wander around the local areas and markets.
On Saturdays, my wife and I always end up wandering towards Broadway Market or Columbia Road Flower Market. These markets bring a real life to the street. There’s a lot of energy and history in these areas.
What tool, digital or analogue, can you not live without?
Carl: It’s going to sound really boring but it has to be the iPhone.
Generally, computing has revolutionised everything and multiplied our output immensely.
Every other tool I can live without.
Do you have any studio rituals or habits?
Carl: My favourite habit recently is to get into the office before 8am. I’m a morning person and that 1 hour in the morning to myself has become very valuable to me.
It’s a time when I can walk around the office and look at work that’s been pinned up on the wall while preparing for the day ahead.
What are you currently reading?
Carl: I have been working with Roger Tyrrell. He teaches at Portsmouth University, runs an organisation called Chora and is helping us with our manifesto as a practice. He wrote a book on Aalto, Utzon and Fehn called ‘Three Paradigms of Phenomenological Architecture”, which is fascinating to read.
Who do you admire creatively?
Carl: I would say Joe Morris from Morris + Company, Alex Ely from Mae and the Swiss practice, Herzog & de Meuron.
In particular, I really admire Herzog & de Meuron for their versatility as a practice and creativity with materials.
They run a very successful large commercial practice while being driven by bold architecture ideas. Although a huge body of work has been produced, they haven't fallen back on repeating a ‘house style’. They are able to work internationally and consistently produce forward-thinking work.
Do you have a creative work that you return to often?
Carl: I have a postcard of Rachel Whiteread’s house project next to my desk.
It’s such a powerful piece of work that blends art and architecture so emphatically. It also makes one think deeply about the way cities evolve.
The project reminds me of how architects want to be artists and artists want to be architects sometimes.
The idea was simple but the realisation was complex. It’s now so emblematic because it doesn’t exist anymore. Her planning drawings for it were especially moving in the way she used Tip-ex over existing photographs to convey her idea.
The way she draws is very architectural.
What are the biggest myths you see in your field?
Carl: The myth of the individual genius.
I think this is closely tied to architectural education as students are normally taught to take on a big piece of the city on their own. It creates this perception in students that the world is the construct of their independent prowess.
It couldn’t be further from the truth and we set students up for disappointment.
In a way, we almost teach architecture as if it were in a parallel universe to the reality of the built environment and how buildings come to be.
I think another myth is when architects persist in focusing too much on being artists and not adapting to become nimble in business. Our role is not as central in the making of places and spaces as before. That role has now tended to migrate towards developers.
You have the homepage of Dezeen for the day. What would you do with it?
Carl: I would have a big headline that says something about redefining architecture. Architecture isn’t necessarily a beauty show of fun shapes built around the world. We are at a critical point in the history of architecture where the role of architects needs to be questioned.
I would take a break from the imagery for a day, even though I greatly enjoy it, and have a discussion about the practising realities of architecture.
Some issues I would put forth for curation would include the issues around education, the social agenda of architects, gentrification versus regeneration and recovering the central role of architects in providing housing.