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the power of imagination

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Julian de Metz and Amit Green have just completed the £1.75 million Power Road Studios in west London (see page 30). It was a large job for de Metz Green, the practice that they started straight after college, and it embodies their own brand of urban idealism combined with a joyful pragmatism.

One of de Metz's first memories of Green was at Manchester University when Green destroyed de Metz's 'most beautiful ever'model - just before a crit. Since then they have spent many hours talking about design. As they studied for their diploma in London and then their Part 3 course together at the Bartlett, their talking and gathering of ideas continued. Their relationship still appears to have the synergy of people who have grown up together.They are both positive and eager to talk, but neither dominates the conversation.

The two seem to work so well together that one wonders whether they agree on everything.

Confronted about this they suggest that Green is more of a conceptual thinker, a purist, while de Metz is more practical. They always approach clients and work on the conceptual designs together 'because that's great fun', they say, almost as one.With Green and de Metz being the only two permanent members of the practice, enjoying each other's company is important.

Both de Metz, 30, and Green, 31, have tried bigger practices. 'Other design environments are on different wavelengths, ' says de Metz. 'We're not major practice bods.'He worked in Moshe Safdie's office in Boston in his year out and with ORMS for his Part 3, while Green spent a year with Simon Conder Associates.

De Metz also has some idea of life outside a large practice. His grandfather, Morris de Metz, was active between the 1930s and 1950s and designed the office building in London's Leicester Square that was recently revamped for Capital Radio. His father trained as an architect and is involved in the development and building business. He has proved a valuable ally, offering practical help and advice.

De Metz's secure London upbringing is in contrast to Green's peripatetic childhood. He flitted between parents and countries and still holds British, US and Israeli passports. He jokes, but semi-seriously, that the past three years in practice have been the most stable in his life so far.

Green and de Metz's first job together was a loft for a friend. This was a good grounding for dealing with financial restraints as 'we knew he didn't have any more money. We've got an aesthetic that celebrates the budget, ' they say. It was their style and ability to work to budgets - plus their refit of three flats in one of his developments - that brought them to the attention of developer Stuart Sapcote, with whom they have just completed Power Road Studios, their largest project to date. 'We try and think like developers, ' says Green.

The partnership's work has fallen into two parts so far; lofts and workplaces. The clients are similar from one project to another - Green and de Metz describe the Power Road Studios as offices for loft dwellers - and the projects involve designing spaces they want to be in, representing a modern urban philosophy. They have intended to move to three of the properties they have developed - but each time have had very good offers for the space.

When de Metz and Green tried a conversion of an old antiques shop in Totteridge, north London, they discovered a different world beyond the inner urban fringe. Suburban families saw the practical problems of the clean clear spaces and the suburban property market appeared to militate against the success of the venture. 'None of the estate agents in the area knew how to value it, they'd never seen anything like it.'

But they are convinced that there is a suburban market for good, quality design. Green delights in the idea of subverting people's expectations and making ordinary housing - 'a pitched roof and two bedrooms' - really work as a social space.

They are very keen on making the most of communal spaces to add life to an office or home.

They are convinced that a major reason for the success of the offices at Power Road (originally on offer at £14/sqft, now being rented at £25/sqft) is the cafe and bar space. One project currently under discussion is key worker housing in central London. The plans are for design-led studios with plenty of support and communal space.

This is a key gap in the market that Green and de Metz have identified for their practice. They have a very keen sense of opportunities. They see the offices as a building type lacking design input.

'They're all suspended ceilings and raised floors, ' says de Metz.The two of them have researched how business centres and offices work and why they are designed the way they are. They look forward to wire-free offices where workers are no longer tied to their desks and architects are no longer required to build raised floors. In a recent project for an estate agent's office, de Metz Green used inverted concrete roofing tiles and fed cables through the tiles' channels, creating a very different aesthetic.

Both are interested in how designs relate to society but argue over whether they are idealists.

Green defends idealism, saying that you 'don't have to be an idealist and work against commerce'. If they had to choose between idealism and getting things done they would choose the latter. But they care about being challenged and being given the scope to use their imaginations.

One reason why they got 'loft weary' was that the questions they were being asked were getting more limited. New jobs were much smaller than the generous-sized lofts of their first commissions and lacking in imaginative potential - one of their last was a flat in the WC block of an old school.

De Metz Green's next project could be a joint venture with a developer. The practice has completed a number of development projects and to go further requires the investment that only bigger companies have access to. 'But we're still young, ' says de Metz.'Architects can be young for a long time, ' adds Green. They see their future dependent to a certain extent on the trends towards smaller organisations. New ways of working, especially technology that enables people to work from home, creates new needs from office spaces. And so their ideal of creating convivial good working spaces is finding a realisation.

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