The latest in a series of practice profiles looking at those who have recently decided to go it alone
Practice name Cooke Fawcett
Main people Oliver Cooke and Francis Fawcett (directors); Andrew Gibbs
Where have you come from?
We met as undergraduates in different years at the University of Cambridge, then reconnected during Part 2, doing a design studio at ETH Studio Basel – Oliver over from Harvard, and Francis from ETH Zürich.
That led to us working – via Allies and Morrison, Make, Renzo Piano and Jamie Fobert – for Herzog & de Meuron in Basel for a couple of years.
We moved back to London with Herzog & de Meuron to work on the Tate Modern extension, design and deliver the Blavatnik School of Government, and do concept and planning for a new residential tower in Canary Wharf. While doing Part 3 we started talking about one day setting up, and when some exciting projects came up, decided to go for it. Andrew joined soon after we started and we’re now eight in total.
What work do you have and what projects are you looking for?
A good mix of cultural, commercial and residential projects – and a range of project scales. We are working on a multi-unit residential conversion in a former bank in Pimlico, as well as projects for private clients; the redevelopment of an office building in Clerkenwell, and this year we completed The Peckham Observatory, our second project with arts charity Bold Tendencies at its Peckham car park.
We do a lot of early feasibility work that tends to lead to real projects, and really enjoy collaborating with enthusiastic clients, whether they are individuals, arts or education organisations, or private companies. Our recent work with the Cornubian Arts and Science Trust (CAST) in Cornwall was an integral part of its successful application for capital funding from the Arts Council. We’re finding that working with clients to assist with these kinds of processes has been a really good way to demonstrate what we do.
Cornubian Arts and Science Trust, Cornwall by Cooke Fawcett
What are your ambitions?
To keep building excellent projects and to be known for being great to work with. Seeing designs getting built is the most exciting thing and is fundamentally the point of it all. With our background, we are comfortable about working on bigger and more complex projects, and that’s what we’re pushing for.
We have always worked for big practices and our ambition is to grow our practice steadily, and for it to be a really positive place to work. As part of this, training graduates up to be competent in both design and construction is a major part of our roles. We very much hope to continue our involvement in architectural teaching – Francis teaches a studio at Cambridge, and Oliver is finishing up a research project on housing types.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a start-up?
We were lucky that we picked up work quite quickly. As we’ve grown, we’ve become more creative about approaching the kinds of clients who we want to work with, and with whom we think we can deliver successful projects. We like competitions as intense opportunities to develop interesting designs quickly, though without an established design-centred open competition system like in Switzerland, opportunities for new practices to win work this way are very limited.
Often PQQ requirements are a significant barrier to entry for young architects and we’d like to see this change, though we’ve explored the idea of teaming up with a bigger practice to address that issue. As a growing business, finding our next good value office space will be a challenge. An interest in designing our own workspace has spilt over into more projects looking at questions of co-working and office flexibility, and this has been an interesting opportunity to relate our own experiences to our design work.
Generally, now that the business is becoming more established, we’re trying to set aside much more time to network in parallel to working on projects.
Which recent scheme has inspired you most?
Two very different projects: first, the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg – we didn’t work on it, but saw the design progress during our time at Herzog & de Meuron. It’s an extraordinary project and it’s heartening to see that Hamburgers are so pleased with it now it’s open. It’s also inspiring to see that after such a complicated and at times fraught process, the project team could deliver such an uncompromising building.
Le tour Bois le Pretre by Frederic Druot, Anne-Lacaton and Jean Philippe Vassal
Our other favourite is the housing projects by Lacaton & Vassall in France (for example Mulhouse), where they cleverly reuse existing blocks of social housing flats by adding generous winter gardens and balconies. They do really sophisticated projects, and we’re big admirers of their work.
How are you marketing yourselves?
Until this year we did no marketing beyond our website. Most of our work has come through word of mouth and contacts. As we’ve completed more work, we’ve sought more publicity. This summer the completion of our Peckham Observatory project aligned with the return of the BBC Proms to the Peckham car park, which was a good opportunity to generate press. We see these kinds of opportunities as valuable ways to raise our profile.
Peckham Observatory in use for teaching
Source: Mireia Bosch Roca