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Phil Coffey: ‘I remain optimistic that architects can and will find a new way to be relevant’

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London-based architect and photographer Phil Coffey has used lockdown to review decades of picture-taking and launch a new photography business

Covid-19 has put a freeze on the regular rhythm of commissioning photographers for the pages of the AJ, but we are still keen to feature and promote the work of photographers navigating this unusual time. From regular contributors to old hands to newcomers documenting the different facets of the built envornment.

Phil Coffey is the director of London-based Coffey / Architects and the newly launched Coffey / Homes. Phil is a regular speaker and teacher on architecture and is currently undertaking a PhD specific to light. During lockdown he was afforded the time to review decades of photographs and has lanched a new photography website showcasing his work. Today we feature his recent series London Through Lockdown – London landmarks and skylines from refreshing perspectives, often dramatically lit. The pictures were taken from the balcony of his apartment with Sony 100-400 GM OSS FE 4.5 – 5.6 and Sony 12-24 G FE 4 lenses.

Londonfromhigh (4)

Londonfromhigh (4)

When was the last time you took a picture?
Since lockdown began I have been working hard from my dining table looking out over west London and the BT Tower. I have been very lucky; a long view and lots of daylight is good for my mind. My camera and tripod have been sat out on the balcony, in all weathers, ready to shoot when the light is good. Last night the skies were clear and crisp so I took a few shots.

How has coronavirus lockdown affected your work?
Lockdown has given me more time to think about the relationship of photography and architecture and how light is fundamental to the success of both. All compositions are made in light and I love capturing that light, whether it be in two dimensions or three.

Long nights in have given me time to build my new website. It has been a chance to collate images from the past 20 years of travelling around the world. I am part of the Lonely Planet generation when climate change wasn’t top of the agenda and the internet hadn’t dampened discovery. I have been fortunate enough to explore our world and be constantly humbled by it.

Re-editing the images over this period whilst looking out over vapour trail-free skies from a 9m2 balcony, focuses the mind on the costs of travel, the responsibility to care for the environment and what we can all do to facilitate change. On a more personal level it is clear that you don’t need to travel too far to fulfil one’s curiosity and passion for the joy and health-giving effects of light.

Over the past few decades there has been a revolution in the field of chronobiology, the study of cyclical changes in our bodies. The vital importance of our biological relationship with our nearest star is becoming ever clearer. Light is fundamental to wellbeing, being conscious of the seasons, our circadian rhythms, the production of endorphins and vitamin D etc. Architecture has always been associated closely with solar movement, now more than ever after we have spent three months mostly indoors, staring at bright artificial screens that could have far-reaching consequences for our physical and mental health.

Londonfromhigh (12)

Londonfromhigh (12)

Through my travels one thing I am certain of is that those who are more connected to their environment, care more for it. Understanding light, focussing on it as a driver for form, using it to make people observe and connect to their lives in the city, continues, for me, to be the most important aspect of design. Observing the city from above, the cleave of the blocks, how light passes between buildings and is percolated within, a buildings presence due to reflection or absorption, has reinforced my aim to find an urban form and architecture that is clearly expressive of a response to the sun.

We are not yet back in the office, like many we are still working from home. We have taken the opportunity to redesign and reconstruct our office as a place for collaboration, meeting and model making. We are transferring to a fully mobile laptop IT solution in order to facilitate different ways of working. It will help us evolve over the coming months in response to how my colleagues and our clients expectations change to the ‘new normal’. Office design is changing fast.

Londonfromhigh (2)

Londonfromhigh (2)

We are excited about the future with 12 projects reaching completion over the next 12 months including our 40,000 sq ft commercial building for Argent at Kings Cross, incorporating a bright aluminium skin that creates delicate leaf-like shadows and reflections both internally and externally . There may be difficult times ahead but we are working at our patterns of work and looking at different markets. As an example we have had an increased number of enquiries from clients looking to change their homes or relocate outside of London, to make homes more suitable to a work/life balance and significantly, to make them lighter and brighter and more conscious of their environment. To this end we have also launched Coffey / Homes to respond to this demand in a different market to our much larger housing, cultural and commercial work.

Lockdown and the coronavirus has been devastating for many and my thoughts go to all those who have lost loved ones. Coffey Architects have used this difficult time to reflect on practice and the kind of world that we wish to help shape. For me, I have used the time to reconnect with my passions for architecture and photography and converse in a different way with my friends and colleagues. I remain optimistic that architects can and will find a new way to be relevant, to lead debate in a post COVID world in an ever-heating planet where we are now all the more conscious of our surroundings.

You can follow Phil on instagram and twitter and discover the work of Coffey Architects here.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Architects ARE relevant - they are just marginalised and suppressed by a broken system of procurement. I worked for a contractor for 3 years in house and it was abundantly clear that the entire procurement system cannot begin to happen until a designer - usually the architect - designs something that can be procured.

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