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new kids on the block

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Block Architecture's Zoë Smith and Graeme Williamson, who will speak at the AJ/100% Design seminar on 27 September, share an inquisitiveness and idealism which permeates all aspects of the practice's work

Central, the coloured stripes in the perspex emulate light trails left by speeding traffic, a reference to the fact that the bar occupies a traffic-heavy corner site.

The work is colourful, fun but also intensely serious. Both cite Rem Koolhaas as a major influence. 'I really love his work, ' says Smith. 'All aspects of it: his buildings, but his theoretical work as well.'At Block, theory and practice coexist side by side. Alongside their client-based (fee-earning) work, for example, they are engaged with an on-going body of work entitled 'All Enquiries', a loose heading for a range of self-initiated projects which are collectively described by Williamson as 'an invitation for discussion about residual urban space'. The 'big idea' is to breathe new life into empty buildings and gap sites. They are currently planning to mount an exhibition entitled 'obsolescence' in a disused hospital, exploiting the 'dead time' before it is sold and converted to a new use. Block will invite a range of designers to take a space and 'just see how people react to it'. It also has designs on a disused London viaduct, owned by Railtrack, which links Hackney to the City.

Currently derelict, Block is keen to see it brought into use as a linear urban park and a much-needed fume-free cycling or walking route. At the moment, it looks as though Railtrack may reopen the viaduct, but Block is still interested in instigating a temporary project to exploit its current 'void' state.

Both Williamson and Smith seem determined that Block's self-initiated projects should not be supplanted by the demands of client-based work, and agree that 'developing, continually pushing, trying not to repeat ourselves and keeping ourselves interested are the most important things.'

Based in east London, a few doors down from the Geffrye Museum, Block is physically removed from the critical mass of potential clients. 'It's got an edge to it, ' says Williamson.

'I can't imagine being in an office in Soho and getting your double-decaff latte.'

The studio has the creative intensity of architecture students at work on a final-year project. Williamson and Smith met at Strathclyde University, and did their Part 2 together at the Bartlett, and the practice has maintained the inquisitiveness and idealism associated with the best student work. The partnership thrives on the stress of shared practice. 'We divided up the projects so there is always one person in charge of each job. But we pretty much share everything, ' says Smith.

Do they fight? 'Oh, we fight, ' says Smith blithely. 'There's been things thrown, ' Williamson agrees. 'It's volatile. But productively volatile.Volcanoes are very creative.'

Block Architecture will be in conversation with Julyan Wickham at the AJ/100% Design seminar on architect-designed bars and restaurants in the Whitehall seminar room at Earls Court 2 at 6pm on 27 September

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