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New Practice #83: Synthesis Design + Architecture

The latest in a series of practice profiles looking at architects who have recently decided to go it alone either through choice or redundancy

Synthesis Design + Architecture, Shoreditch, London 

Founded: January 2011

Main people: Alvin Huang, founding director; David O Wolthers, architect; Thomas T Jensen, architect; Jurgen Strohmayer. intern architect

Where have you come from?
Before the big leap in January this year I was a founding director with Amanda Levete Architects (AL_a) and had worked with Future Systems and Zaha Hadid Architects in London as well as with AECOM in Los Angeles. I’m originally from Los Angeles but came to the UK to do my Masters at the AA DRL in 2002 and have been in London since.

What work do you have and what kind of projects are you looking for?
We have a couple of commissions in Thailand: one is for the facade and interior design of a 60,000m shopping center in Lampang, a very remote and rural region of Northern Thailand with a very strong local culture; the other is much smaller but in a much more visible location - we are doing a 12,000 sqm lifestyle and entertainment centre as an extension to CentralWorld in Bangkok (the worlds third largest mall).  We think its going to be a really fun project.  Bangkok is just an amazingly intense urban condition.  We also have a very small project in Chelsea, an interior fit-out for a bespoke home office for a private client.  We really enjoy working at smaller scales and getting a chance to explore architectural ideas at a more intimate scale.  It also lets us get our hands dirty and work with fabricators in a far more direct collaboration.  In parallel to the commissions, we have also been entering numerous design competitions and have really just been putting all of our efforts into building up a body of work that we can call our own.  

What are your ambitions? We’re a small practice and like to work in a laterally organized studio environment. It is something we wouldn’t want to lose. In addition to practice we are all involved in academia. Yet we are very aware of the severe disconnect between academia and practice. I’d like to see us as an office that bridges that gap, an office that delivers exploratory and research related architectural projects. More than anything we are an office that brings together the digitally driven design processes and the materiality, skill and finesse of traditional craftsmanship. It is important to me to prove this type of work can be delivered within reasonable budgets.  I’ve had the luxury of working on some projects with exorbitant budgets at previous practices. Our design ethos does not require excessive budgets in order to succeed. Technology when applied cleverly enables opportunities that don’t exist without them.

How optimistic are you as a start-up practice?
I’ve have been pleasantly surprised by the growth of the office in the last eight months. It was quite lonely as first, as a one man operation in a desk share in Shoreditch. But it has been a great experience and we have expanded up to four. Not only have we managed to win a few commissions, we have also managed to get some minor publicity through speaking engagements, exhibitions, and publications. The benefit of being a small operation in these times is that we are able to grow with the economy.  Obviously, we have much lower overheads than our bigger competitors and that helps as well. But in any case, times of recession give birth to real creativity and lateral thinking.  

How are you marketing yourselves?
Networking, networking, networking.  I have had the luxury of working with some fantastic clients, consultants, and collaborators in the past and have made some great contacts through the years.  The engagement with academia has also helped as speaking opportunities, publications, and exhibitions are beginning to appear.  The biggest thing for us now, is to develop the body of work to market.

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