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New practice: Civic Architecture Office

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Founded this year, this not-for-profit practice wants to bring something unique to civic design

Civic Architecture Office, University of East London

Main people Roland Karthaus (director), Sandra Gavelyte, Alan Chandler

Based The University of East London

Founded January 2015

Where have you come from?
Squire and Partners and McDowell+Benedetti (Karthaus) and UEL (all of us), where we continue to teach. 

What work do you have?
We are a not-for-profit, RIBA chartered practice, owned by the university. UEL’s facilities department has appointed us to do work on our campus, which is a great show of confidence. In the main we are finding work with civic organisations that are active in East London, such as Newham Council, but also with organisations with a civic purpose further afield. 

What are your ambitions?
We want to remain linked to the architecture school and continue to offer jobs to UEL graduates. But we want to be appreciated for the qualities of our buildings first and foremost. We think that a practice based firmly in a school of architecture can bring something unique to the idea of civic design. 

What are the biggest challenges you face as a start-up and the profession faces generally?
Many new practices, including us, are struggling to get their first projects after the recession. But architecture is not a zero-sum game – the more interesting practices there are, the more good architecture! One challenge has been communicating that we’re a professional practice, employing graduates and fully qualified architects, not students working in their evenings. Clients are excited about working with an architecture school but they are also sometimes unclear about the status of our work. RIBA chartered status helps with that. 

Which scheme, completed in the past five years, has inspired you most? 
Lacaton + Vassal’s FRAC in Dunkirk is a smart, subversive project – the new building is ok, but the existing space they saved is a genuine – and very French – civic space. The project is more about providing a community space than an art gallery, which is a poke in the eye for some of the better-known museums. 

How are you marketing yourselves?
We are seeking out civic-minded organisations and meeting them to discuss ideas. 



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