Thomas Bryans is one-third of the architecture and design practice, IF_DO.
Together with Sarah Castle and Al Scott, whom he met on the first day of studying architecture at the University of Edinburgh, they lead a youthful, exciting and collaborative practice.
The practice's attitude is one of possibility, as highlighted by the guiding principles that inspire the practice’s name - to begin with ‘What if?’ and following that up with inventive design action. Their manifesto underpins the projects they take on and the vision they have for the practice.
We visited Thomas at IF_DO's offices in Bermondsey's Biscuit Factory.
Beverage: Still water
Pastries: Lemon drizzle cake
Tell me about an ideal day for you.
It varies all the time. Every Wednesday is quite a big day for us because we do full project reviews.
We’re now 10 people. Until about February last year, it was just the 3 of us. It was very different then to how it is now. We are learning to operate on a slightly bigger scale.
The 3 of us would sit at this round table and go through all the projects in the office and be working on the design collaboratively. There are lots of different stages but Wednesday is a great moment in the week when we have blocked out time to dedicate to this.
We protect that time fiercely, if not it can easily disappear.
Going back to the question on a personal level, there would be a lot of deep focus time to work on the craft of projects. Alongside, seeing the progress of projects when they are done well is always a very satisfying thing. Some combination of these activities would be ideal.
And lastly, a really good dinner with some really nice food. That should be the way to end the day. We used to have Number 67, the cafe of the South London Gallery, as our local meeting place. It was fantastic.
It had such good cake, the food was excellent and it was just good sustenance all round.
In the future, we would love to have an office with a big kitchen where we can cook and eat together as well. That is such an important activity.
In summary, design and food make the ideal day. ✏️ + 🍕
Do you normally work with music? If so, what’s your one track or favourite thing to listen to?
Music is important to us as a studio. It’s communal and we take turns on the Spotify account. Chilled out electronica would be really good.
It depends who in the office takes control of Spotify but you can often tell who it is.
The music varies from Cafe del Mar to London Grammar.
What tool, digital or analogue, can you not live without?
Like many architects, we have our Moleskines and Rotring pens. That’s how we work.
We make a lot of models and are fairly traditional in how we develop design. There is a lot of sketching and model making involved. There is a level of intuition that comes with that and that goes back to how we met. The architecture course in Edinburgh was one that really valued hand drawing and physical modelling skills. I find it extraordinary now, but our last project in university had 50% of its final mark dedicated to the final model.
It instilled in us that modelmaking became a very important skill for us and it still is. The 3 of us are still drawing and modelling on the computer as well but if we are looking at something on the screen, we will print it out and sketch over it.
That’s how you get a fluid discussion and how ideas get generated. If you are just pushing and pulling on something on a screen, you lose the quality and you lose the opportunity for mistakes and chance occurrences.
Digital modelmaking can be too stiff and leave too little room for interpretation.
"Pizza. It will always be pizza."
If you could invite 1 person to dinner, who would it be?
Without a doubt, it would be Buckminster Fuller.
He was such an amazing person. His writing is extraordinary, intelligent and slightly nuts at times. He would be a great person to have a conversation with.
"Digital modelmaking can be too stiff and leave too little room for interpretation."
You have the homepage of Dezeen for the day. You can put up any message you want. What would it be?
I probably want to say something like “Designers, use your responsibility wisely.”
I don’t think enough people recognise that we have that responsibility.
Particularly when you are designing a building that is going to be there for such a long time. You think about not only the energy that goes into them but the energy that they use and the impact they will have on people’s lives. It is too easy to get stuck in the moment of just creating something that is beautiful. So, if there is a way to make people think about the bigger impact of their work, then that’s a useful message.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading a book called The Ecological Thought by Timothy Morton.
He is an ecological theorist and a Professor of English Literature and Philosophy. He is fascinating just in terms of tying together various strands of ecological thinking and what our individual and collective responsibilities are whilst challenging the way we think about ecology, climate change and various crises.
Imagine it’s a late night and you have a deadline. What’s the takeaway craving?
Pizza. It will always be pizza. There’s a really good pizza takeaway here in Bermondsey that has become a staple for us.
"In terms of someone entering the field now, it’s a tricky one. I would tell them to enjoy yourself and do it because you love it.
Those should be the only reasons why anyone should come into this anyway. "
What new habit have you picked up that has most improved your life?
There are many that I feel I should. Going running in the morning would help and so would reading every evening.
Actually, it is currently meditation. It helps to create space in the mind and allow for the ‘bigger picture’ rather than just focusing on the ‘here’ and ‘now’.
Any advice for a younger self or for someone entering the field?
To my younger self - ‘don’t put so much pressure on yourself’.
In terms of someone entering the field now, it’s a tricky one. I would tell them to enjoy yourself and do it because you love it. Those should be the only reasons why anyone should come into this anyway.
Any friend(s) of yours I should visit next?
are very lucky, with a kitchen you can cook and use. We had lunch there a couple of weeks ago.
have a similar setup and are about 5 minutes from us here.
There is also a design company called Patternity
. They are a really cool design outfit and do pattern research.