New London Architecture

Five minutes with...Paul Monaghan

Monday 25 April 2022

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Paul Monaghan  
Hi David. How are you?
 
David Taylor  
Really good, thanks.  So I wanted to chat about the Davidson Prize that you’re Chair of the judges of this year, along with lots of other jobs that you do. The prize exists, as I understand it, to celebrate innovative design ideas, and encourage multidisciplinary collaboration and promote compelling visual communication. And this year, it's all about co living. You're down to three shortlisted teams before the winner is announced in June - I just, first of all wanted to ask you about the process, and how that was. And what really surprised or impressed you from some of the submissions that came forward? 
 
Paul Monaghan  
Well, I think in terms of the Davidson Prize to me, it's quite an honour to chair this prize. Alan was a great friend of our practice and was visionary in terms of his company Hayes Davidson. Initially, he was an architect, I think he was at Rogers’, wasn't he? And then, you know, he started to create visuals that people had never seen before; people forget that now. In the early 90s it was a revolution, and he set the pace. But I think later on, apart from the way his company became an EOT (Employee owned trust), like we did, originally, he very much cared about the people who worked for him. So, his company was as important to him as his work. But also, there was the way he moved Hayes Davidson on, more into not just doing visuals, but then also having conversations about compositions in the city.  I remember him doing a fantastic talk where he showed views over the Thames of St. Paul's Cathedral, and he showed us five views - you've probably seen this one. 
 
David Taylor  
Yeah. 
 
Paul Monaghan  
And he says: where do you think St. Paul's Cathedral actually is? The dome. It was making the point that these verified views, they are kinetic views, and it was very, very clever where I think planning has now sort of caught up with that, where we have things like VuCity where people can manipulate things. But he was one of the first and very pioneering, so great to do that. We had a fantastic panel. We had Manijeh [Verghese] who's at Unscene Architecture but has just done the Venice Biennale. 
 
David Taylor  
Yeah, exactly.  I interviewed her last week.
 
Paul Monaghan  
Yeah. I was away on holiday and missed the opening. I might go this weekend; it looks great. We had Mary Duggan, who again is a great architect, Agnieszka Glowacka from Haptic - she won it last year, so she was the winner coming back in. We had Amy Frearson from Dezeen, who again had some really great insights. And the artist, or multidisciplinary artist Yinka Ilori, who we've worked with, and I think is a fantastic artist. His profile in the last two years has gone from sort of almost no one knowing him to almost everyone knowing him - he's a phenomenally talented man. 
So, it was a good panel, good conversations. I can't remember how many entries we had; I think it was about 45 originally. We had two judging days – the first one was together, getting 45 down to about 14. And then we had the second judging panel that got it down to three. I'd say in most competitions you can throw away about 40% of them very quickly because they're below par. But it wasn't like that here. I thought it was really strong - every entry had something that you could buy into, or think that could be developed. And part of the interesting thing about this award is that we're paying people to think a bit more about their first entry, whereas most competitions, that's it, you just hand it in. They were very strong visually. Some people were very challenged to do one sheet that gets across their idea. Some people tried to, you know, completely design a building. And other people were doing Photoshop images, which didn't really say much, so it was somewhere in between the two. Each of them had to put about 250 words together describing their entries and that was much more important here than in other competitions that I have judged. People were very succinct in that writing, almost where you can close your eyes and not worry about the image. There were an awful lot of people who did very well with that. And I think that's good, because I don't think architects are always that good at writing – as you know David…
 
David Taylor  
I do know, yes... 
 
Paul Monaghan  
…I’m certainly no good! So that was the process. And I suppose what struck me was that I thought as it was co-living, it was going to be all about co-living in terms of the way the planners see it in London. So, like The Collective, which is sort of people living in slightly smaller rooms, bigger than hotel rooms, but where you share big kitchens. You know, you share a launderette, share a film room. I thought it was going to be all about that. But in fact, none of it was about that – no one came up with anything to do with that. And in a way, the three finalists are sort of the best of each of those categories. We had an awful lot of them, where it was co-living which was based around childcare. And this whole idea that, you know, you can share it, but also this idea of the community as well, so that people could share tasks within the place. And it might be almost non-architectural. It could just be the way a series of terraces are joined together. And people can share childcare, share chores, share shopping; and recognizing that, actually, childcare is incredibly expensive, and certainly in the middle of London. And I think the best one of those was a lovely, sort of poetic scheme, which is called It takes a village by Child-Hood, Nooma Studio and Gankôgui. They had the Early Years Foundation and Centric Lab too. Don't forget, one of the big things we're interested in here is having multidisciplinary teams, - their whole concept of it takes a whole village to bring up a child and I thought that was a really poetic way of looking at it. But because they're also working with the Early Years Foundation, they were very much looking at the money of it as well; how it could be more cost-effective for people. And certainly I know in our firm, it's such a challenge, childcare, the finance of it, so I thought that was great. Lots of ones that were in the country, and quite a few of them were sort of a little bit Soho Farmhouse…
 
David Taylor  
Yeah
 
Paul Monaghan  
You know, where you have like maybe six homes that share communal things. But I think we were all very taken by Charles Holland's version, which was called Co-living in the Countryside, where they got a real site working with Verity-Jane Keefe, Joseph Zeal-Henry, and the Quality of Life Foundation. We just thought that was an exciting team with an artist and...
 
David Taylor  
…a real site? Where? Where's the site?
 
Paul Monaghan  
Um. I don't know where it is. But they've identified a real location; somewhere in Kent, I think. 
 
David Taylor  
Right. 
 
Paul Monaghan  
…Which is where I think Charles lives. So they had by far the most enticing countryside; they also again, put the focus on it not just being desirable, but it being financially desirable too. A way of it being economical, which I think not many were. And there are a lot in those two categories, it has to be said. 
 
David Taylor  
And then the last one, which we should mention, given we've mentioned the other two, was Communiversity, wasn't it? So: what was special about that one?
 
Paul Monaghan  
Well, that was a bit out there: it was the only one that tried something different, which was trying to build education, social enterprise, and the idea of providing knowledge and resources of a group of people. A lot of it seemed to be that it could be about retrofit, you know, could be about joining existing communities together. There were lots of ones where they were trying to use a digital connection. I don't know, saying there's an app where you can say: is anyone going to the shops can they buy me a loaf, and sort of join together in that way. But this one seemed to be, we felt the idea of tying it around education but not just kids, not nurseries, actually University too, and sharing knowledge, sharing mentoring, we saw that an awful lot. I mean, in some ways, I'm very intrigued; I have no idea what the next stage for that one will be. It'll be interesting to see how they develop it. But again, they had a really interesting team; they had Totem Record and OHMG Video, The Panics, Alex Klein Productions; it was like a really unconventional theme. So we thought: well, that could be really exciting.
 
David Taylor  
What's your own personal experience of Co-living schemes, particularly in London? Have you done many?
 
Paul Monaghan  
We're doing a few. We've been working with The Collective and Reza Merchant since he began – he already had this passion for how can people earning a certain amount of money still live in the middle of London? Or does everyone have to move out to St Albans, or further? And so he had a real passion for that, had a real feel for people, I think people in their 20s you know think just what makes them tick. What sort of place might make them tick? We've also been working for Scape who also do it, and so I suppose there I think it's a real moving target. I think originally when it came out the rooms were way too small. The whole thing, is you know, about a kitchen being about a metre wide and so it's all too jammed in. I think all of them now are more generous. I also passionately believe more people need to be able to live in London, more people need to be able to live centrally, and things like mental wellbeing, health, is so much more important for younger people now. And I think these are opportunities to create hubs - if you don't want to live in them, you don't have to. So, if you want to do what I did, which is get a flat with mates when you first come to London, then do that. But I think it's very much a London thing. It's probably a major city thing. I don't think you will find it in Bristol, Manchester. But there aren't many examples of it being built. There's one that Simon's Silver's son did in Bermondsey that is a sort of Soho House version of it that looks very good. Looks smaller. I think some of it's about the scale. Personally, I think if it gets too big, I think then it becomes a little bit impersonal. It becomes a thing where do you want to go have breakfast with you know, 400 people?  But I think one needs to experiment with new housing typologies, and this is definitely one; it's worth it.
 
David Taylor  
So lastly, because we're right up to time, what would Alan have thought about these three schemes, do you think? 
 
Paul Monaghan  
Yeah, I think Alan would be very proud of this prize that's been set up, and I think he'd have been very proud of the entries. I think when we were judging we were trying to think which ones he might like, and I think he would always like the challenging one. So I think what we did pick was the three most inventive schemes. And don't get me wrong, there was a very, very high standard in that final 14, but these were definitely the three that we felt could potentially, I mean, what we're interested in it is something that come out of this prize that that could influence the future of coliving. Obviously there isn't a building prize at the end of it but it will get lots of publicity and hopefully there are some really good ideas to develop that do have legs
 
David Taylor  
So Alan’s spirit was in the judging room, in a sense, was it?
 
Paul Monaghan  
Definitely! Definitely. 
 
David Taylor  
Well, thanks very much for outlining the Davidson Prize. I look forward to seeing who finally wins - in June, isn't it? That's when you make the announcement?
 
Paul Monaghan  
That's right. Yeah, I think it's during the London Festival of Architecture.
 
David Taylor  
Yeah. And you meet again, to judge it again?
 
Paul Monaghan  
Yeah, definitely - there's a final judging day where they come and present, actually. So that will be good to see some of the faces behind it 
 
David Taylor  
Brilliant!  
 
Paul Monaghan  
Well, listen; see you soon David, good talking to you 
 
David Taylor  
Definitely. Thanks a lot. Cheers Paul. Bye

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