Clifton in Conversation With...

Kath Archer, Andrew Paulson and James Jago from acclaimed Architect and interior design practice Lees Associates

1. Why is London the greatest city in the world for you?

It is a conglomeration of so many quirky, interesting and diverse buildings, areas and neighbourhoods. Its rich history and cosmopolitan vibrancy attracts the most interesting and creative people from all over the world. Today London truly is the capital of the world.

2. What is your favourite building and why?

It has to be St Pauls Cathedral: sitting serenely and majestically for centuries in the heart of the city, as the bustle and chaos of London continues around it, its presence can be felt all over London and its protected views influence new buildings for miles around.

3. Who is your greatest inspiration both personally and professionally?

Isambard Kingdom Brunel – a one-off genius whose creations led to giant advances in engineering and design and shaped the world we live in today.

4. You have been involved in some incredible projects over the years, not exclusively in London but globally. Where do you feel you have been able to really unleash your creative vision!

The schemes we have designed for our Russian clients have allowed us the most creative freedom. Starting with the complete refurbishment of 1 Cornwall Terrace for a private Russian client, we have gone on to design a variety of unique residential and commercial spaces in Moscow and St Petersburg.

5. Which building (anywhere in the world) is the most inspiring both externally and internally.

Sydney Opera House – (we have a large proportion of antipodeans in our office!) The design of Jorn Utzon’s ground-breaking, winning entry in a global design competition challenged the accepted construction methods of the time, combining a clever use of geometry, mathematics and textures to evolve the shell structures that form the sail shapes enclosing the internal spaces. The use of such innovative solutions in response to traditional theatre design and challenging site conditions delivered a form that results in a dominant presence from all aspects, with a silhouette that is undisputedly one of the most recognised in global architecture.

6. How do you keep your designs fresh and progressive, particularly in London?

We all enjoy travelling regularly: we cherish the experiences we have and people we meet while travelling and always return to the office with new ideas to share. And our clients hail from every corner of the world,  which also helps bring cultural richness to our designs.

7. What or where would be your dream commission?

We are proud and privileged to be appointed to every project but I suppose the dream scenario is a private client looking for their forever home, with a strong idea of what they want without being overly prescriptive. We thrive on the creative freedom this offers us. Add to that a site free from others’ interests and a client receptive to a range of ideas and we’re on to a winner! Our most successful projects have been those where we have been implicitly trusted to assemble the team and manage the process ourselves, where we can give the benefit of our 38 years of experience.

8. You are well known not just for your residential projects but also for your involvement in the retail world. From a design perspective, how could you resurrect the dwindling UK high street?

It concerns us that young people have lost the connection to the high street and the first priority should be to attract them back. It is good to see ‘experience'-based offerings opening up such as Crazy-golf or Escape Rooms but we would like to see more like this. For example, department stores should offer pop-up areas free-of-charge to young designers – the audience this attracts would pay for itself; regular street markets should be revived, with carefully curated offerings, including more specialist street food; larger department stores should be encouraged to get involved with representation down at street level; often-vacant first floor properties could be offered as accommodation for young people involved in high street based start-up businesses. It shouldn’t need to take much to act as a catalyst to reinvigorate our high streets but it needs high level national and local government initiatives and incentives to get the ball rolling. If not it will soon be too late

9. Favourite restaurant?

Roast in Borough Market – great food and a marvellous re-use of the old Covent Garden floral hall portico. Plus it’s on our doorstep! We enjoy having a delicious breakfast with our guests, enjoying views over the hubbub of the market below and over the river towards St Pauls, before heading back to the office refreshed for a day’s work.

10. Who or what is the next big thing in design from your perspective?

For us it has to be the implementation of full collaborative BIM. The speed, accuracy and ease of communicating with the rest of the team this affords is incredible. A process that would have taken months a few years ago can now be done in weeks. The whole design process is more user friendly an accessible for the client too: we can share a live model of our design with anyone anywhere in the world and they can navigate it just like playing a computer game! This is how we have worked for a few years now and we quickly recognised this was the future; for us it is now a reality!
Beyond that we are really excited by the possibilities of 3D ‘printing’ buildings and building components – finally bringing the decades old dream of efficient modular construction to bespoke design.

11. London is a great city, no doubt, but what could you do to improve it?

You would have to start by tackling the climate crisis and reduce its carbon footprint, focusing on air quality and compulsory recycling. London could and should be leading the world in this.
On an urban level we would like to see fewer chains dominating the streetscape.

12. Favourite holiday destination?

Yosemite National Park, California. Such a beautiful, peaceful landscape; somewhere to catch your breath and be at one with nature for a short while, before immersing yourself back into city life.

13. What is next for Lees Associates?

We plan to stick with what we do best: build on our successes of the last 38 years, cementing our position as London’s leading premium architectural design practice and delivering a consistently high-quality, professional and value-added service. We are working towards our goal of completing at least one project in every prime central-London street!
Posted: 10.01.2020
Tags:  in conversation
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