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New practice Baillie Baillie: ‘Instagram is more powerful than we’d ever envisaged’

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The latest in the AJ’s ongoing series of practice profiles looking at architects who have recently decided to go it alone 

Practice name: Baillie Baillie Architects

Based: Glasgow

Founded: Spring 2019

Main people: The studio is led by Colin Baillie but we operate a workshop culture and our process is based around making, learning and collaborating. Martin (Colin’s brother) and Megan (Colin’s spouse) are integral to this studio ethos. We’re basically a family business and that personal connection comes through in the way we approach our work and our relationships with clients.

Where have you come from?
We all studied at the University of Dundee, where Colin is now a unit leader in the honours-year course. We have a range of experience through some of Scotland’s leading design studios, from Hoskins Architects in Glasgow, to Dualchas Architects on the Isle of Skye.

What work do you have and what kind of projects are you looking for?
Our first built project was a small pavilion in France, which was won through an international competition, but since then we’ve focused on building our portfolio around bespoke residential commissions in Scotland – both for private and developer clients. Although we’re interested in cities and urbanism, our recent projects have taken a rural trajectory, which we’re really enjoying.

We’re working with lots of interesting creative clients at the moment, including an illustrator, a musician, a film-maker and designers in various disciplines. Whatever the background, our projects all start by developing an understanding of the client’s brief and their lifestyle. It’s nice to feel there’s a fruitful collaborative element in working together with clients, who bring their own interests and ideas.

Our recent projects have taken a rural trajectory, which we’re really enjoying

We’re relaxed about what kinds of projects we get involved with. We enjoy housing. In the current situation it has been interesting to see people re-assess their relationship with their home as the space which is literally central to their lives. Our homes are ‘our corner of the world’, as Bachelard said, and the house can be a calming, inspiring and even a poetic place. We should ask more from the places we live – volume, atmosphere, generosity of space and light. The house can have all of these qualities.

So for us, we feel there’s plenty of space there to be creative, explore ideas and generally appreciate the process of the work.

What are your ambitions?
There’s an attraction in resisting the burden of large overheads, meaning the focus can remain on carefully exploring each commission.

We’re lucky in Glasgow to have an amazing Victorian building stock. We currently work from a painstakingly restored garden flat – an unusual infill between two tenement gables – that Megan and Colin essentially rescued from demolition. It’s spacious enough to be functionally flexible, with robust, natural materials that have taken on a beautiful patina, and it has amazing natural light – all qualities that we look for in our own projects. So it makes perfect sense to us that our work is embedded in our way of living. Responsible design is part of our lifestyle, from the functional objects we choose at home, to the products and materials we specify in our projects.

Process is fundamentally important to us. We work iteratively through drawing and modelmaking, and we want to retain the space to explore each commission rigorously, creatively and I suppose, to an extent, personally. Our principle ambition as we see it just now, is to retain a sustainable business model that allows us to focus on design-led practice. If this ultimately leads to opportunities for larger-scale work, we’ll consider that path carefully.

The studio is engaged in an ongoing research project into collective rural housing, looking at vernacular patterns of habitation in the Scottish Highlands, and exploring how they might inform environmentally responsive contemporary models. This has been fascinating and has begun to have a strong influence on how we’re approaching our rural projects in particular.

There’s a lot to be learned from looking closely at how the landscape was inhabited in direct response to climate, topography and social interdependence. There’s a housing shortage in many areas of Scotland and we think there’s a real need for that knowledge of how to build sustainably in a highly valued natural setting. We’d love to explore this further, possibly though equitable development models like collective custom build.

11 a scottish farmhouse

A proposed Scottish Farmhouse – Baillie Baillie Architects

A proposed Scottish Farmhouse – Baillie Baillie Architects

What are the biggest challenges facing yourself as a start-up and the profession generally?
We often encounter a preconception that good design is expensive. In fact, even more importantly in the context of an environmental emergency, a core philosophy in both life and practice for us is, less but better. You can invest in quality and longevity by stripping away what is not needed. We also feel resolutely that good architecture is not about the most expensive glazing detail, and that dignified and refined qualities can come through in ordinary, even quiet buildings. In design, a sense of timelessness is more responsible than ‘of its time’.

We often encounter a preconception that good design is expensive

The Covid-19 outbreak has been a huge and unexpected obstacle for us to have to deal with after less than a year since formally starting the practice. We’re lucky in many ways to be at such an early stage. We’ve made a deliberate choice to work in a certain way – to be agile and keep our overheads low. So far, this has meant we’ve been relatively unaffected, with plenty of work to keep us busy in the short to medium term. Like many practices, though, we’re looking further ahead and thinking about the wider social and economic implications. We’re not quite sure what shape the ‘new normal’ will take.

Which scheme, completed in the last five years, has inspired you most?
6a’s studio for Jürgen Teller. The relationship between inside and outside is a persistent interest in our projects – house and garden considered together. We enjoy in-between space, thresholds, frames, sheltered nooks and courtyards.

Although not a house, the studio has ambiguous, in places intimate and very domestic qualities and proportions. Top-lit interior spaces have an equivalence with generously planted courtyard gardens – external rooms. It’s a fascinating diagram for occupying a long, narrow plot, and creates a rich layering of spaces. Materials are restrained, utilitarian, and feel permanent. The courtyards are a bit wild, like the hollowed-out rooms of old abandoned Scottish tower houses we visited in childhood. Very inspiring.

18 6a architects johan dehlin

18 6a architects johan dehlin

Source: Johan Dehlin

6a architect’s studio for Jurgen Teller

How are you marketing yourselves?
We started using Instagram as a means of sharing work in progress, site photographs and general practice interests. It’s become a more powerful way of connecting with clients than we had ever envisaged. A practice website has this static wall around it. It’s one-directional, whereas with platforms like Instagram, you can engage directly with people. Whether that’s other architects, designers and makers or potential clients, we’ve found it a very useful way to communicate.

With platforms like Instagram you can engage directly with people

We do also believe in the old mantra that taking care of your existing clients is one of the best ways of marketing yourself. People still trust personal recommendations.

Website address

www.baillie-baillie.co.uk

mail@baillie-baillie.co.uk

06 house on marchbank road

House on Marchbank Road - Baillie Baillie Architects in collaboration with Ross Aitchison & Charles Rattray

Source: Chris Berridge

House on Marchbank Road - Baillie Baillie Architects in collaboration with Ross Aitchison & Charles Rattray

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