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New practice Studio B.a.d: ‘We want to change the public perception of the architect’s role’

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The latest in a series of practice profiles looking at those who have recently decided to go it alone. Today former PAD Studio associate Darren Bray on his new studio

Practice name Studio B.a.d Architects

Based Southampton

Founded December 2018

Main people Darren Bray; we are currently collaborating with Roger Tyrrell of Chora

Where have you come from? PAD Studio

What work do you have and what kind of projects are you looking for?
We are motivated by social and community engagement, as means to be bring about positive change within the public domain, as we believe that architecture has a unique opportunity now in the 21st century to begin to bring about fundamental change through public engagement.

Our first major commission was a new home for the radical independent book shop, October Books in Southampton. We converted a redundant NatWest bank, and homelessness charity The Society of St James took the first and second floors for housing for vulnerable people. This project was delivered through 100 per cent funding from the community in loan stock and crowd funding.

The engagement with community on the bookshop project has taught us a great deal about the opportunities with urban conditions that need to be addressed.

We’ve just been appointed by Portsmouth Diocese on a project at St Margaret’s Church in Southsea to undertake a detailed appraisal of a wonderful existing 1950s church. Here we’ve been challenged to reimagine the future of this building and the types of uses that might take place.

We are also looking  and reviewing the public realm and redundant retail space throughout Southampton for the The Business Improvement District group. Here we’re acting as brief-writers with a view to engaging other local creative experts to deliver the vision and examine what the future of public realm and future of the high street uses might be. It’s important for us to have a wide view of design engagement across the built environment.

We don’t see our role as been pure architecture in the traditional sense. It’s not about designing everything that might come our way. But if there is to be a bright, positive future for architectural practice, then we have to be open-minded as to how we can be creative change-makers.

We don’t see our role as been pure architecture in the traditional sense

We also have some small domestic projects: a refurbishment of a small house in Bilbao, and a paragaph 55 ’country house clause’ home in a quarry in Derbyshire, plus a couple of  contemporary extensions in Southampton and the New Forest.

Meanwhile, at the Bovington Tank Museum, we are looking at a feasibility study for a new external canopy and landscaping strategy which aims to solve challenges presented by increased visitor numbe

Moving forward, we are keen to continue our engagement in working with the wider community in public projects. There is great potential in this sector. Every local authority is still facing difficult challenges, with ongoing issues around austerity and cuts. But we are beginning to see a shift in community groups moving their own projects forward without the input of local governed input, using their own fundraising initiatives.

What are your ambitions?
Assisting the public in a whole series of engagements, including public realm, housing and community participation, as well as re-imagining how existing buildings and places can be given new meaning and purpose.

We are entering a time when great significance is being placed on architects, to question ’what, why and how’; we must show how existing spaces and places can work harder to deliver the needs of the population.

I did not want to tread the same path I had previously in practice

We don’t have great ambitions in terms of reaching a particular scale or size. For us its about the social impact we can have while collaborating with many creative individuals, Our goal is to alter the public perception of how architects can play a positive role as change-makers.

Location for us does not really play a key part of our thinking. We are based on the south coast in Southampton. That’s a great base to reach London or to travel east, west or north. However, we are very interested in being in urban conditions that provide rich opportunities to bring about positive change, even in a pre-Brexit Britain.

What are your biggest challenges?
Finding the resources to deliver a number of public projects for high-profile clients. We are a nimble, flexible practice – at the moment it is just me and some collaborators. We do, however, have a core group of six creative experts from a wide range of backgrounds, ranging from makers, to photographers, academics and senior partners in other practices who are our critical friends and sounding board. We communicate with them on a weekly basis. These people give expert advice and opinion on every aspect of the business.

My key philosophy and narrative for the practice has been not to tread the same path I had previously.

I did not want to pursue the private domestic market, solely delivering high-end houses. It was a great sector and market to be involved in but it is very one-dimensional It is also a congested market. In Hampshire alone there must be a dozen practices all competing for the same market.

I want to deliver architecture with a greater social purpose.

What are the challenges facing the wider profession?
We are not looking at practice as a pure business to create wealth or growth for clients. If we are to survive and have a positive future we have to be relevant and tackle the issues that are effecting society: homelessness, climate change, failing high streets and public realm, the lack of community experienced by the population.

People like Carl Turner and Piers Taylor are already questioning the future of architectural practice

It’s important for me to be involved in teaching and have done for the past 12 years. I am fortunate to be involved in the new school of architecture at Reading, teaching two days a week in first and third-year studios, this experience has allowed us to formulate three key pillars of the practice.

We are interested in how architecture practice can begin to redefine what and how we practice. For us people like Carl Turner and Piers Taylor are the shinning lights, already questioning what the future of architectural practice is.

Which scheme, completed in the past five years, has inspired you most?
Koffi & Diabaté Architectes’ gymnasium, at Blaise Pascal High School in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

This building is the ultimate example in using simple, utilitarian readily available materials. It has a wonderful sense of community participation and engagement while sitting sensitively in its location. It delivers a remarkable facility for its local population.

We also really enjoy Invisible Studio’s work and any of the pavilions they have delivered with our students at Reading school of architecture.

How are you marketing yourselves?
We write articles for self-build magazines and use social media tools such as Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. We’ve even won commissions this year through Instagram and LinkedIn.

Interestingly, having spent most of January and February networking and getting introductions, we are finding that clients no longer place importance on track record; it’s all about relationships and forging a collaborative approach.

We’ve even won commissions through Instagram and LinkedIn

Networking is very high on our agenda, meeting and making presentation’s face-to-face is proving to be hugely rewarding. Now, working with clients like the Portsmouth Diocese and Southampton BID, we find there are much greater opportunities for public clients to refer us to others within their own network.

Our book shop project has had some amazing PR, appearing in The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post and Huffington Post through its community impact.

Website www.studiobad.co.uk

October books

October Books in Southampton.

October Books in Southampton

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