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New practice [Y/N] Studio: ‘Brexit has caused anxiety but we’re more nimble than most’

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The latest in a series of practice profiles looking at architects who have recently decided to go it alone

Practice name [Y/N] Studio

Based Whitechapel, London

Founded January 2017

Main people Alex Smith (Founding Director), Maegan Icke, Ayse Bailey.

Where have you come from?
We have a varied collective experience and are trying to build an international team. Alex worked for Hawkins\Brown for the last 10 years, designing and delivering a series of prize-winning projects in CLT and before that in Copenhagen for Julien De Smedt. Ayse is Turkish and has worked for at Herzog & De Mueron in Switzerland and at several offices in Istanbul. Maegan is Welsh and has previously worked at Hawkins\Brown and Atmos Studio in London.

What work do you have and what kind of projects are you looking for?
Our design approach is to use site/brief constraint to find unique opportunities and ambitious responses which solve problems, as such we have and will continue to undertake work of any scale/type. We have some contacts from our former experiences but we are always interested to meet new people.

Since forming in January 2017 we’ve been working on a diverse range of commissions from carefully detailed small-scale extensions to large multi-unit housing schemes, a large workspace in Dalston and a mixed-use tower in South London.

This year we are due to start on site with a number of projects most notably the extension and refurbishment of the Bradbury street workspaces which face onto Gillett Square in Hackney. The current design includes a 1,500m² of workspace, and a temporary deck for the duration of construction which can be used by local communities providing active frontage on all sides of the square for the first time in its history.

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[Y/N] Studio - Bradbury Street Workspaces, Gillett Square, Dalston.

[Y/N] Studio - Bradbury Street Workspaces, Gillett Square, Dalston.

More recently we have also been working with L&Q Housing Association on a textured red brick townhouse and four refurbished apartments in a listed former workhouse.

Alongside commissions we enter competitions which allow the practice to express itself. Recent competitions include a visitor’s centre in the Norfolk Broads and a public space in Lanzarote.

We won a competition to design four holiday let homes in Greatstone on Sea, Kent, which we have designed as a spiral of split levels around a central staircase to maximise views and minimise circulation space.

What are your ambitions?
We intend to grow in a sustainable way. Ideas are the core output of our business and more people bring more ideas and innovations. We want to do that from our London base and currently we have a good space in Aldgate. We work a lot using physical models so it is important for us to have the space to be creative. In future this may mean we try and secure better value space further out from the centre of the city.

We will also encourage links to architectural education. Alex has been a design tutor at CSA for a number of years. If staff have ambitions to teach this will be supported and encouraged. The pace of teaching can provide an antidote to the slowness of ‘real’ architecture.

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[Y/N] Studio: Dolls House residential extension, Alvechurch

[Y/N] Studio: Dolls House residential extension, Alvechurch

What are the biggest challenges facing yourself as a start-up and the profession generally?
Cash flow is a consistent worry but so far we have been pretty lucky by working on larger projects relatively early. Alongside some private residential clients we are working with some professional developers in collaboration with Hawkins\Brown. Going forwards we will need to foster our own relationships with new clients.

’Our website has an .eu domain and was registered some time ago rather than as an ironic Brexit protest’

Brexit represents an unknown and has caused but some anxiety among our developer clients but as a young business we are more nimble and adaptable than most. Our website has an .eu domain and was registered some time ago rather than as an ironic protest. Either way we intend to keep it.

Which scheme, completed in the last five years, has inspired you most?
We like architecture that surprises, delights and innovates. I can’t think of a more witty example of this than MVRDV’s Crystal Houses project for Dior in Amsterdam.

How are you marketing yourselves?
We have spent time working on a website and are building our social media presence. We don’t anticipate getting much direct work from these streams but it does attract good CVs. With regard to our professional clients we have been trying to build on our established connections. At the start of the year we published a book available to potential clients who want to come and meet us and say ‘hi’.

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