Dezeen Practice Statement
Dezeen Practice Statement
DEZEEN ARCHITECT OF THE YEAR 2020
Alison Brooks Architects, London
Alison Brooks Architects is a London-based studio of passionate architects, thinkers and 3-D designers from around the world, led by founder Alison Brooks. Every project is the result of invested research so that our design solutions emerge as unique and relevant to the constituencies they serve. We see our work as enabling a dialogue between the past and a better future; by reinforcing local identity, creating generous civic places and dissolving boundaries that limit human experience. Our current portfolio ranges from urban design and residential towers to private houses, higher education projects and buildings for the arts.
Alison Brooks Architects has recently completed a major academic and residential campus building, the Cohen Quadrangle for Exeter College, Oxford. Challenged to re-invent the collegiate model of a closed, four-sided quadrangle, we responded with an ‘S’ shaped scheme that opens the College to the city around it. At the new quad’s heart, we introduced Oxford’s first dedicated social learning space to for the building’s academics and students. Two cloisters connect the Learning Commons to formal teaching spaces, offices, music rooms, auditorium, and archives. Every place in the building is conceived as a place for gathering so that students can feel free, yet very much at home. This concept is expressed by the Cohen Quad’s curved roof that, like a soft cloak, envelopes its student community.
Last year Alison Brooks Architects completed two landmark private houses. Windward House restores and extends an historic farmhouse. The new West Wing is conceived as an atrium house unfolded to embrace light, to act as an ‘everyday life art gallery’, and as a place for the owners to feel immersed in the landscape. In contrast, Mesh House in Belsize Park, London, is an urban building in a neighbourhood renowned for its mix of historic and experimental houses. Here, we pulled apart the deep plan Victorian archetype to create an elongated light-filled courtyard house. Mesh House’ copper shingles echo its Arts and Crafts context while inside, interconnecting voids bring garden views to every space.
We have won major competitions and commissions in the past three years. Cadence in King’s Cross is a 15-storey tower and courtyard block at the top of Lewis Cubitt Park. We are currently producing full construction documents. Alison Brooks Architects’ second flagship project for Argent Related is a seventeen-storey colonnaded courtyard block in Tottenham Hale, 1 Ashley Road. This project renews the urban tradition of stacking retail, office and residential uses in one building to catalyse a new neighbourhood.
The practice has also seen the completion of the first phase of Athena, our contribution to Eddington, the benchmark new town extension in North West Cambridge for the university, and work continues on S3, the gateway site to the south of Eddington.
Further afield we are designing The Passages, a one million square foot, six-building urban quarter in Surrey, Vancouver for client Rize. Our scheme radically reconfigures the North American model of residential towers on gated podiums. Our scheme offers a public ground plane, permeating the site with community and commercial spaces around a new civic square.
In 2019 Alison Brooks Architects won the commission for the York Castle Museum masterplan with a scheme that clarifies the existing heritage complex introducing a new Castle Museum. We also won competitions for two new buildings in Cambridge, both in progress. These include an art gallery and study centre for a major collection of late 20th Century British and American art and a new Graduate Residence for Clare Hall. Our proposal for a new Maggie’s Cancer Care centre in Taunton, Somerset received planning consent last year. We continue to support Maggie’s fund-raising efforts.`
STUDIO CULTURE & POSITIVE IMPACT
Alison Brooks Architects is a closely-knit studio led by Alison Brooks and her Management team alongside Associates Michael Mueller, Nelson Carvalho, Ceri Edmunds, Antonio Callejon and Felix Cruz. Our size means that every project has the creative oversight of our founder.
The studio is passionately committed to architectural invention grounded in social history and ethical practice. Our self-published book, Ideals Then Ideas, describes how our evolving work responds to culture and context while embracing diversity, sustainability, and community. We choose to engage in projects that we believe will contribute to improving the built environment for all, not only through our work in housing, but also through challenging the profession’s, and modernism’s norms. Alison Brooks is a Trustee of Open City and long-time champion of inclusivity, for example through the AJ Women in Architecture campaign. Alison writes and lectures extensively and currently teaches a Housing Masters programme at ETSAM, Spain.
Alison Brooks Architects employs a proactive diversity policy; half our architectural staff are women, and 15% BAME. Our cultural diversity is the pride of our foreigner- and female-led practice. We offer personal and professional development, from weekly in-house CPD sessions and Friday evening culture forums to individual training. We offer paid study leave to our Part III students and actively engage in international exchange programmes. All our student internships are paid. We have a culture of experience sharing, our annual studio excursions range from Porto to Wakefield to the Venice Biennale.
We are striving to achieve our goal of designing net zero carbon projects. Last year we were founding signatories of #ArchitectsDeclare, the profession’s de facto call to action to address our Climate Emergency. We continue to press our clients and colleagues to invest in sustainable design and construction processes, our DfMA work with Laing O’Rourke represents a pioneering initiative in this area.
Alison Brooks Architects’ work is underpinned by the ethos set out by Alison in her 2017 publication, Ideals then Ideas. Our ideas are developed through forensic research into the physical nature of a site, and its cultural connections, so that architecturally we can express something new, break new ground. We feel that beauty that has context also has meaning, but of course, this manifests in different ways. At Cadence, the Bezier arches that characterise the building refer to the distinctive Victorian railway architecture of King’s Cross and St Pancras, but are lyrically irregular, and structural. Alison describes this approach as magical realism, a fantastic oxymoron normally associated with the literary and artistic genre. Our Maggie’s in Taunton is both an outstretched hand in plan, but also explores the park pavilion archetype, a timber house wrapped in verandas. The cladding of our Vancouver towers has been designed to evoke the rugged bark of British Columbia’s giant conifers. Our approach comes from a love and respect for archetypal typologies, from mansion blocks to municipal museums, that we re-imagine with unexpected uses, subjective inference, and a degree of humour. The results are typological hybrids combined in useful and engaging ways. The Cohen Quad is a perfect example of this, where the traditional Quad arrangements of courtyard and cloister, façade and roof, have been reconfigured to intertwine and merge, loosening spatial relationships while offering a coherent informality to its ‘artisan’ Oxford neighbourhood.
Many of Alison Brooks Architects’ formal experiments find origin in our work with private houses which is why we still engage in these commissions. Alison’s position is that a house commission is like an essay – in a very succinct way, you can test an architectural idea to its limit. The organic geometries and unfolding spaces of Salt House and then Mesh House have influenced our social housing work; the narrative journey through Windward House directly relates to the narrative architecture of the Cohen Quad.
Whilst we have worked with local authorities, education charities and arts organisations, we also work with private developers to ensure that great city-building traditions can find new expression. The generosity of accessible public space and community uses that we embedded in The Passages is a radical progression from the standard model of North American urban development. Our approach aims to provide both immediate and long-term value for our clients and citizens of an emerging city. This requires a good deal of creative persuasion, and subsequent trust and enthusiasm from our clients. The result is a major urban development that is recognised for both its formal innovation and street-focussed shared-use strategy. Our proposed installation for the 2020/21 Venice Biennale, Common Ground, will reflect on this project and others where Alison Brooks Architects has created diversity and shared spaces in our urban housing models.
As our portfolio expands to include more public buildings, a critical mission of our practice is understanding how architecture can perform as a sustaining platform for all members of society; so that it supports both nature and human culture and removes the boundaries between us.