Jamie Fobert has an issue with typecasting. If recognition comes at a price, then Fobert may well have designed himself a concrete albatross.
The multi-award-winning Anderson House is celebrated for, among other things, its stark but quirky concrete-castagainst-cellophane interior, and you get the distinct impression that this aspect comes up in conversation rather a lot. Somewhat hastily, Fobert points out that his work is not about empty gestures and repeated techniques, but 'what's appropriate. Context and exploration.' This may explain why Fobert has chosen Tadao Ando's Chapel on Mount Rokko in Japan (right) as his favourite concrete building.
When Fobert arrived in Japan for the first time in 1988, he wondered if he had walked into some fantastical Andoengineered super city. He had seen the pictures of the chapel, and was intrigued by the use of horizontal concrete panelling, patterned with regular six-hole indentations.
Unknown to Fobert at the time, this particular manipulation of concrete was a relatively standard construction method, used for example in Kahn's Salk Institute in California.
Fobert recounts that the chapel, with its almost corporate Minimalism, was 'mesmerising'.
But even more fascinating was the very soft, cushion-effect of the interior concrete walls.
'In concrete formworks, architects often strive for rigidity, for a perfect parallel. So this was a whole new concept. I had never seen anything so sculpturally extraordinary.'
Fobert is perplexed as to how the effect was achieved - his theories include shuttering made from either thin or soaked plywood sheet, which in both instances would 'give', allowing the concrete to warp and produce the strange contours. 'Or maybe it was just a mistake, ' he offers. 'I've certainly never seen it anywhere since.'
Fobert appreciates the way the undulating concrete is enhanced by the clever use of natural and artificial light. 'It really brings the concrete to life.
Ando was unafraid of not just accepting, but embracing, the natural imperfections in the material.'
But what Fobert loves best is taking something standard and elevating it to perfection. 'That simple six-hole method was suddenly made incredible, ' he muses. 'That's the genius; in recognising the potential of what you're working with.'
Fobert admits that while he finds much of Ando's work 'a little cold', the influence of Mount Rokko on his own interpretation of concrete was huge.
'The plank-work mode of casting is very English, ' he states, 'It has produced some great buildings, but it hasn't influenced our work.'
You only need to look briefly at a cross-section of Fobert projects for evidence of an unyielding devotion to creating something a little different, which pushes the material (and the willing client) that bit further.
The owners of London's Shoreditch Cargo club had loved Fobert's rough, raw use of concrete in the Aveda stores and approached him to design something similar 'but with more texture'.
The resulting interior combined rough concrete walls, cast in situ against chipboard and the smooth, polished hues of concrete cast against cellophanewrapped shuttering (Fobert's own Ando-esque mistake), set off by white plasterboard.
The Anderson House was a natural progression, in which the concrete is rendered fabriclike, exploiting the fluidity of the material - a quality that Fobert singles out time and again as concrete's greatest selling point.
But Fobert is no one-trick pony, and while he would not rule out doing an entirely concrete house, his buildings work most effectively through contrast, with one material set intelligently and harmoniously against another. He lists black steel, used heavily in the Aveda project and more subtly in his London office, as another favourite, and the practice's latest project, a private house in Primrose Hill, combines timber cladding with an impressive free-standing concrete staircase.
'People are still frightened of concrete, ' Fobert notes. 'It has a stigma, an intrinsic fistuck with itfl feel. But if clients are brave, the effects on an interior can be amazing.'