Today's Peek is with Will Burges, Director of London based architecture practice, 31/44.
There’s always something special in the way you notice a 31/44 building.
At first glance, it intentionally resides in the everyday background. It doesn’t shout ‘look at me’ but yet you know instinctively there is something special that invites you to lean in. A 31/44 building is contextually respectful and formally playful at the same time. Red House and Redchurch Corner are 2 projects that make extraordinary observations and interpretations of the ordinary and the everyday. It is for this reason, that their work has become so consistently intriguing and visually rewarding.
31/44’s origins and culture in Will’s words
We worked together at a firm called Proctor Matthews. I’ve known my partners for a very long time before we set up 31/44. We set up in a very organic way.
I was doing some freelance work and began to get my own projects. We never wanted a practice that derived its name and identity from the last names of the directing individuals.
James’ journey led to Amsterdam and this exchange between London and Amsterdam formed the basis for the practice’s name, which merges the Dutch and English country codes together.
We wanted the ability to appear and act as a collective. We had worked for ‘named’ firms before and wanted to instil a different studio culture. It’s a nice descriptor of our office situation, geographical locations and overall attitude. It’s also a more inclusive naming structure when new people come in and join.
As a practice, we have a very strong teaching tradition as well. Teaching and practice can form bring a unique synergy to our work. Teaching enforces a practice’s beliefs and its weekly commitment is a useful reminder of the historical influences and precedents we look to emulate.
If anything, the practices we find the most interesting are the practices that also teach.
Tell me about an ideal day for you.
I like coming to work.
My ideal day would be one without phone calls and where my mail app unexpectedly didn’t work for the day. As a practice, we would sit around the table with pastries and coffee and debate our projects.
I do miss model making so it would be great to have a couple of hours to do some model making. We make lots of big models of all our projects and that increase in scale is a really enjoyable aspect of model making for us. It’s been a conscious decision to invest time in model making as a practice because it can be deeply revealing. You could do a really posh digital model but you might not understand as much about the building than if you committed to working up your ideas by hand. You discover all sorts of interesting moments when you work with a large scale physical model.
In a parallel vein, there’s an issue with digital drawings. You click and you know the end point of the line. There’s something looser, more pleasurable and exploratory in a hand-drawn line or a hand cut model.
You don’t know the end when you move the pencil or the scalpel.
That’s a good thing.
"We would want to re-photograph all the glossy architecture and fill it with people and ordinary objects that often get left out of the final images."
Do you normally work with music? What’s your one track or favourite thing to listen to for deep work?
I really like the ‘Register’ podcast by Kingston University. The podcast is very revealing about the day-to-day culture of different architecture practices. I religiously listen to it.
There’s also a lecture series that runs alongside, which is very carefully curated.
We have an office Sonos and everyone takes turns to drop music in. If the mood is flagging, Rosie in our office starts ‘Power Hour’ and that gets everyone lifted.
Let’s just say, I think my music tastes and horizons have been enhanced by my colleagues.
What tool, digital or analogue, can you not live without.
A pencil. I’m trying to get back into pencil drawing more. You draw loads of things with a pencil in A-Level but when you get to architecture school, you become exposed to all these drawings using a thin black pen line.
I’m a bit over the pen now and I’m always noticing all the livelier drawings done in pencil.
"You don't know the end when you move the pencil... that's a good thing."
If you could invite 1 person to dinner, who would it be?
As a practice, we would have to write a shortlist, come up with an elaborate voting system and hopefully end up with someone really cool like Peter Blake.
Personally, I would like to invite my dad. He was a really great maker and I used to make stuff with him growing up. He was also a very good draftsman. He’s not around anymore but he saw me go off to architecture school. It would be interesting to show him the practice today and have conversations with him about architecture and making.
What are you currently reading?
For my Secret Santa, I got ‘Concrete Island’. So I’m actually reading Ballard, which makes me sound awfully architectural.
Recently, I got into ‘Made to Measure: Concept and Craft in Architecture from Flanders and the Netherlands’. This is a great exploration of the Dutch and Belgian architectural culture. It also goes into the planning and economic systems behind it. All in all, it shows off a really strong scene from Flanders.
In line with the book, we visited Ghent as an office and did a trip to Marie Jose van Hee’s house. What was really lovely about the city as well, was just how accommodating the people were in showing us around.
You have the homepage of Dezeen for the day. You can put up any message you want. What would it be?
Perhaps, we would show buildings 10 years after they were completed. It would be great to show all the signs of inhabitation and use.
We would want to re-photograph all the glossy architecture and fill it with people and ordinary objects that often get left out of the final images.
Things like ‘out of order’ signs or fire extinguishers. It would be very tongue in cheek.
"As a practice, we would have to write a shortlist, come up with an elaborate voting system and hopefully end up with someone really cool like Peter Blake."
Imagine it’s a late night and you have deadline. What’s the takeaway craving? (We are not promoting working late.)
Any advice for a younger self or for someone entering the field?
I always feel that architects are quite negative about their profession. I think that’s quite sad. When we teach, we always teach enthusiastically about being an architect.
We would also impart to students about the serious endeavour of being an architect and its responsibilities. Buildings and cities run on for hundreds and hundreds of years and we believe architects have to be quite careful about not making buildings selfishly. Instead of reflecting the individual designer behind the building, architecture has a chance to reflect the collective activity involved in city-making.
Any friend of yours that you think I should visit next?