New London Architecture

Five minutes with... Hazel Rounding

Tuesday 04 May 2021

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor catches up with shedkm director Hazel Rounding to talk about the importance of geographies in a lockdown world, Liverpool, London and ‘one practice’, hybrid working and lessons from its latest project in Brighton, Circus Street...

Hazel Rounding 
Hi, David. How are you?
 
David Taylor
I'm very well, how are you?
 
Hazel Rounding
I'm good, thank you. Not bad. It's a nice sunny day. So it’s a good start to the week, isn’t it?
 
David Taylor
Exactly! So, well, thanks for doing this. I wanted to start first, if possible, by asking you about shedkm as a practice, and how you view yourself? Because you have the two sites - in Liverpool and London. Are you a national practice? Or are you, as I saw you described on one architectural website the other day, a London studio? How would you define it? Or is geography not that important anymore?
 
Hazel Rounding
I would definitely describe it as one practice, a national practice. We've done quite a lot of work in the last 18 months that's tied into the pandemic quite nicely, to really think about, what our perception is. We were born in Liverpool 24 years ago – it's 25 years next year – and we moved down to the capital nine years ago. That was about refreshing ourselves; about finding different clients, different challenges. But also showing, I suppose, the valuable lessons we'd learned in terms of good design with value from the northwest that we could apply to sites in the south. The London studio has grown in the last nine years to now be equally balanced with the Liverpool studio; we're a 50:50 split. So, I would define ourselves as one national practice, with two equal studios.
 
David Taylor 
Right. And in the national picture, within this ‘levelling up agenda’ do you see a levelling up in terms of quality across the country?
 
Hazel Rounding
Yes, I think so. I studied in London and moved back north after a bit of work in London, because it was so London-centric at the time and Liverpool was receiving Objective One funding, and there was a real divide between capital and regions. And then I suppose, nine years ago, I thought, well, you can't fight the fact that London is the capital. So, the better thing to do is to embrace it, and be a part of it. And I do think in those nine years, the amount of time I've spent on the train travelling between the two, you start to realize that it's not as different as it used to be. There's a lot of business that is done on the likes of Virgin/Avanti Trains. I think that there is a more national operation from a lot of companies these days, but there's still a divide in the speed of projects in the south compared to the north, because there’s obviously the investment there on an empty site. I think that there is a there is a sort of greater synergy in design at some levels, but not at every level.

Image: Ruskin Square by shedkm © Jack Hobhouse
David Taylor
Which brings us to your Brighton scheme on Circus Street in the city, the redevelopment of an old market site. It's resi plus student accommodation, I think, isn't it?
 
Hazel Rounding
Yes, its resi, student accommodation, office, and dance space…
 
David Taylor
Dance space! Okay. So, can you describe if there are any lessons that you've learned down on that site that you could export to other sites, perhaps in London?
 
Hazel Rounding
Yeah, I mean, part of our thinking on Circus Street was that it wasn't London, actually. It wasn't a megalomaniac approach to trying to put four or five stakeholders all into one building, and one tall building, although the accommodation schedule was really tight. So we actually grew the Circus Street straight from the grain of Brighton and made some really tight density work with really tight streets and open spaces, but very much learning from the character of Brighton. And I think we would apply that on any site, be that in London, or the regions. Our history has very much been borne out of dealing with the character of different cities. So that might have started with Liverpool and Manchester. We've done that now in Brighton, we're doing that in areas of London, as well as the likes of Digbeth and the Midlands. So, I think, our lessons learned in the north have been really how do you get development to happen? How do you make development appraisals work where you've got different stakeholders involved? 
Our early work with Urban Splash exposed us to how development works. And that was the lesson of Circus Street really – that it would have almost be easier to put everyone in one building, but we realized there was so many different stakeholders, it would be more sensible to give everybody their own building and between those buildings create some space that was very indigenous to Brighton.
 


Image: Ruskin Square by shedkm ©  JackHobhouse
David Taylor
How do you see the next year panning out in terms of your practice and in terms of your work pipeline?
 
Hazel Rounding
Things look really buoyant at the moment…
 
David Taylor
Great!

Hazel Rounding
Over the years we've tried not to specialize. There's no doubt that commercial and residential are our biggest sectors, but we haven't specialized; we have built everything from placemaking. And I do think that the placemaking element has taken a front seat,, really in most developments and most expectations of councils and developers. So, both studios look really buoyant at the moment, and I would see that some of those lessons will go even deeper into areas. I suppose every scheme is growing from the grain of the place. And coupled with innovation in our modular work as well, it's how those two areas of our portfolio come together, both in the north and the south. Going back to the ‘one practice’, we've recently made a couple of appointments to make sure that the practice is tied together, and we can resource projects from either office. And the last year has taught was that we were right to do that. The pandemic has taught us that technology allows us to work wherever across the country.

David Taylor
How are you working as a practice? Are you all back in your offices now? Or are you still hybrid-ing it? (laughs)
 
Hazel Rounding
We’re hybrid now. We are probably 40% back in Liverpool and 40% working from home. And exactly the same in the London studio. But it means that I suppose those in the studios are working specific to geography. Those that are working from home, tend to be the ones that are more flexible in terms of where the projects are.
 
David Taylor
How have you personally found it, just lastly?
 
Hazel Rounding
(Laughs) I have found it's been befitting to the work that we've been doing about one practice. So it's been nicely timed in the one practice, and bringing everyone together at one point 50-60 workstations together as one practice, because the geography suddenly became irrelevant. I think that hybrid working may bring its challenges in terms of it being almost easier to group people together when they're all in the same situation. But now suddenly, we have 40 workstations and two studios. So, I think that will be the challenge.

Circus St © Jim Stephenson
 
David Taylor
Is there anything else you're going to bring back to working practices in terms of the way you offer holiday, for example? I mean, how is it affecting your colleagues, this period?
 
Hazel Rounding
Yeah, I think it's been hard on the younger ones. You know, who are in bedsits. The older members of staff with families; the flexibility helps them. But the young ones, it's harder. I think that there are certain things that you can do in terms of reporting on Teams, but it's the creative element that we need the studios back for, and the mentoring element for the younger members of staff.
 
David Taylor
Yeah. Well, good luck going forward. I'm looking forward to seeing your Circus Street scheme in the flesh. It's only a mile and a half away, but I haven't been round yet. So perhaps we could meet up and look around at some time.
 
Hazel Rounding
That would be great. Yeah.
 
David Taylor
That'd be wonderful. Brilliant. Thanks, Hazel!


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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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