It’s been just over a year since lockdown started. Although Covid 19 has dominated the news other pressing issues including racism and intolerance have surfaced as major concerns and particularly voiced by younger generations. The plight of our natural world, meanwhile, is increasingly seen in the wider context of biodiversity as well as its role in protecting our wellbeing from future pandemics.
A new generation of architects at John McAslan + Partners is actively championing these issues, demonstrating the thoughtful and beneficial dialogue that can take place between different age groups with different life experiences. In doing so, this generation is building on John McAslan + Partners’ long-standing proximity to grassroots thinking. In fact, from its inception, the studio has championed the role of architecture as an enabler for social change. This a core part of the design ethos, but it is also expressed by hosting a programme of bursaries, mentoring schemes and instigating community initiatives through the practice’s N17 Tottenham High Road Studio. Such initiatives include partnering with local schools and apprenticeships.
Younger members of staff at the studio have engaged proactively through these avenues and are now committed participants in adding to the outreach programme focussing on promoting equality, diversity and sustainable ways of building. Tackling homelessness in collaboration with London’s New Horizon Youth Centre is one example of the studio’s continuing work on this front. During the pandemic, the practice has also begun research into how the design of care homes can be improved to create better and clinically safer environments.
Internally, a concerted effort is going into welcoming a range of views that not only makes the studio a welcoming workplace where everyone feels they can express themselves freely, but also feeds into the inclusivity of the design process. This is a shift from more traditional ways of thinking about architecture and it is something that the studio’s leadership understands as a positive and constructive way forward. It is also a natural development in building on notions of common good and a spirit of internationalism that have been among the founding values of the studio.
For the studio’s younger generation of architects, reducing the carbon footprint of projects during the design process is second nature. The role of embodied carbon or the potential performance gap of buildings in terms of their operational energy use have been drummed into students at university. As this generation builds careers in established practices, it can perform an important reserve mentoring role in terms of improving working practices that will help achieve significant future energy efficiencies while helping to evolve a design language better suited to living in harmony with our climate. Meanwhile, fast-evolving tools, like BIM, are helping to streamline the process of design and construction and, in doing so, minimising waste by enabling offsite design, detailing and building.
John McAslan + Partners is increasingly sharing this knowledge and understanding on projects around the world, for example, through the low-cost Malawi School building programme for zero-energy classrooms. Such collaborations are ultimately about breaking barriers, a desire to interact with different cultures while learning from them and thus promoting the idea of a shared humanity.
Keaton Howes, Jo Brown, Sophie Burgess