Acme is a wonderfully diverse architectural and design practice in London. Founded by Friedrich Ludewig in 2007, it is a decidedly international office, both in terms of its project locations and team members. Germany, France, Qatar and Korea are some of the locations in which the practice has worked in and it currently has offices in, London, Berlin and Sydney.
It also has one of the most unique office interiors. A bespoke kitchen and dining space, visible from the street, is the main highlight. Decked in gold and draped in elegant curtains around its perimeter, it is an inviting communal space.
Venturing further in, the office is set on 2 floors with further visual delights along the way. A Yayoi Kusama inspired bathroom with mirrored walls and dancing lights as well as an adjacent winding timber staircase leading upwards to where most of the architects are working.
Most impressive of all is the collection of books that the practice has in its library. Geographically sorted, it is a rich resource of ideas, drawings and references, which underpins the inventive work produced by Acme.
We visited Friedrich between Old Street and Clerkenwell on a clear afternoon.
Pastries: Lemon polenta cake
Tell me about an ideal day for you.
The ideal day would probably get a bit boring after a few days of having the ‘ideal day’.
You would probably need a new ideal day after a while.
Generally, my day is a mix of the predetermined and the unexpected. My calendar is typically quite full. In architecture, there are certain things you can schedule and there are other activities you have to take as they come. Architecture seems to constantly give rise to the unexpected, for any number of reasons. The more you try to experiment, the more you have to expect things to not always go to plan, and you need to be flexible enough to adapt.
Projects do get better through these constant challenges of the unexpected. Architects get questioned a lot and if the outside world didn’t do it to us, we would need to find ways to do that for ourselves because the questioning often leads to better projects in the process.
A number of my days are spent travelling and I really appreciate travel as a way to challenge my ideas of what is normal or right for each projects. For example, we just completed a masterplan competition in Dubai and I was pondering the width of streets for the last 2 - 3 weeks. I was wandering through Venice and Milan during the competition, noticing streets much narrower than I remembered, with tall buildings either side. It greatly influenced our masterplan proposal for Dubai, and pushed us out of our comfort zone for proportions and urban relationships. That’s the most interesting thing about travel, you see the world unexpectedly different every time, depending on what’s at the back of your mind that day.
Do you normally work with music? What’s your one track or favourite thing to listen to for deep work?
Personally, I’m into late 90s and early 00s techno and electronic music, Black Dog, Autechre, Plaid. I will always work with music if I am sitting on a long text or a proper drawing. Usually with headphones.
I stopped playing music over the speakers in the office some years ago. These days, I only play loud at the end of the day when most people have left. Or when I am in on the weekend.
It was easy to find a music taste consensus when we were a small office. Now that we are 60 people, I have to accept that my music taste is not universally acclaimed and appreciated. It’s an inevitable consequence when the practice gets bigger.
What tool, digital or analogue, can you not live without.
I’m finding I can live quite well without pen and paper.
There’s probably nothing I can’t live without. That said, some things are quite practical such as having an iPad with a stylus. I find the quality of my responses to my colleagues improves with being able to make digital sketches to accompany emails. There’s less room for mistranslation.
I do keep thinking at some point, it might be nice to design new drawing software that can do what Revit is doing, but more intuitively. It’s a shame that we are stuck training people for Revit. We’ve never had to train people for software in days gone by, and it seems as if the more advanced we get in life, the less intuitive the software gets.
"The ideal day would probably get a bit boring after a few days of having the ‘ideal day’."
If you could invite 1 person to dinner, whether dead or alive, who would it be?
There is no 1 person. It’s similar to when I mentioned walking through Milan and thinking about the width of streets.
It really depends on what is on my mind at the moment.
In the moment, I would quite like to have dinner with Carlo Scarpa. I went to the Brion graveyard recently and it was a really amazing piece of architecture. I would be interested to ask about the obsessions he had in that project. There are a lot of decisions he seems to have made in his own creative universe and I would be intrigued to ask him how he got to those choices.
It’s an architectural invention that seems to come directly from him, not necessarily from the context or the place itself. The only way to understand it would be to have dinner with him.
"I highly recommend working for a really good architect for 3 or 4 years and try to do 1 building with them before deciding what to do next."
What are you currently reading?
I haven’t read a ‘proper book’, unrelated to architecture, for some time.
Architecture books around me in the moment include ‘Friday Sermon’ produced by the Bahrain pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
I just bought ‘The Boat is Sinking. The Captain Lied’, the catalogue for the great exhibition at the Fondazione Prada; a book on the star configurations in the sky in medieval times; two books on the work of Harry Bertiola and a lot of books on the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, which I would like to read.
I am working my way through the new Shigeru Ban book that came out recently. I haven’t looked at his buildings in a long time but realising I am deeply intrigued by his work, especially some of the houses he’s designed which I had not seen published before.
At home, on my dining table, is currently ‘The Public Space as Idea and Project’ by Mark Pimlott, which I’m enjoying. However, it only gets read at the table, so there is still some way to go.
You have the homepage of Dezeen for the day. You can put up any message you want. What would it be?
I haven’t look at Dezeen consciously for some time. I tend to frequent Designboom and Archdaily a bit more.
It depends what you are looking for. I’m looking for surprise. As an office, we work with place and material exploration and Designboom shows that a bit more often.
I also enjoy how Designboom shows work that is submitted freely. Someone may not have a large PR agency and their work could be put next to someone more famous with more resources. It creates a more inspiring contrast for me.
Perhaps, in that respect, I would try to show more adventurous, messier and more unknown works in Dezeen if I had the opportunity to curate it for the day.
"I would quite like to have dinner with Carlo Scarpa. I finally managed to go to the Brion graveyard recently and it is a really amazing piece of architecture."
Imagine it’s a late night and you have a deadline. What’s the takeaway craving? (We are not promoting working late.)
It would often be Vietnamese because there are so many good ones on Kingsland Road.
It’s interesting how takeaways and office delivery have become more popular. Personally, I quite liked going away for 45 minutes and sitting in a restaurant away from the office rather than having food brought to us.
Any advice for a younger self or for someone entering the field?
What I normally say to younger architects is that I highly recommend working for a really good architect for 3 or 4 years and try to do one building with them before deciding what to do next.
It’s really important to not work somewhere for years only doing competitions.
If you don’t go through the process of trying to build something, then you don’t fully understand the power of drawings and models in communicating your idea.
Young architects often assume that decisions and solutions are quite obvious, but once you talk to a builder, you realise how much you need to define, describe and design to be clear in what you want.
When you are young, you assume that there is not much point drawing beyond 1:100 but then you work your way down through 1:50, 1:10, 1:5 and 1:2 and you realise how much more you have to design the closer you get, and how many more decisions there are to make.
Once one has gone through the process once, one can decide what one wants to do as a career, open one’s own office, work in a large corporation or do something less commercial.
Any friend of yours that you think I should visit next?
Tonkin Liu have built a great townhouse in Clerkenwell combining their studio space, their own living space and a guest flat, all of which are lovely. After many years of design and construction, they have just finished their garden room with a beautiful pool in the garden that turns every raindrop into a feature. I highly recommend a visit.