Friday, May 01, 2009

Profile: The AOC

Architecture's answer to the Power Rangers, the Agents of Change is a practice of "architects, urbanists and cultural interpreters". True to the group's heroic name, its members lead double lives. Outside the office, Daisy Froud works to develop design training for local politicians, and Vincent Lacovara has infiltrated the planning department of Croydon council. Together with Geoff Shearcroft and Tom Coward, they also teach at London Metropolitan University.

"We can test our principles in other places and inform our practice in turn," explains Froud. The AOC's plural approach is founded in a deeply held belief that design should come out of the complexities and idiosyncrasies of the user, and so every project begins with an intense process of consultations and brief-building.

Very much in the FAT mould, the AOC uses play at every level, and has developed a series of games, "from programmatic Duplo for seven-year-olds, to a card game for planners, politicians and developers," says Froud, the positive aspect of competition resulting in several responsive school buildings and a number of thoughtful urban proposals.

Developed with 12 community groups across east London, their recent Lift theatre was an exemplar of engaging adaptable space, serving as performance venue, village hall and pleasure dome in one.

Originally published in Icon, May 2009

Profile: 2012

"The trick is to be as lazy as possible," explains Cesare Peeren of 2012 Architecten, clearly one of the most energetic practices around. "You have to listen to your materials; they dictate what is possible and ultimately generate the design."

This is no return to Ruskin's "truth to materials", but a purely pragmatic response to converting recycled waste products into building components, the essential basis of 2012's work - and an increasingly urgent alternative for us all.

Every project begins by creating a "harvest map" of all nearby waste streams, scoping out the available surplus materials around any given site. The design then grows out of the qualities of what they can get their hands on.
 A surfeit of redundant Audi 100 windscreens inspired a gently undulating shelving system for a shoe shop fit-out, while a truckload of washing machines led to the futuristic pod-like structure of the office's travelling studio.

They are now completing a house for an art dealer using the steel frame from a redundant textile machine, clad with timber reclaimed from cable reels. Even the mechanical elevator used during construction has been retained and incorporated as an internal lift.

"The next step is to start working backwards," says Peeren. "Manufacturers have to realise that their products will be reused for construction and will start designing them accordingly."

Originally published in Icon, May 2009

Profile: Christian Kerez

Christian Kerez represents the cautious new wave of Swiss architects who are gently challenging the status quo. Sidestepping the dogmatic material worship of Peter Zumthor and the grammatical rigour of Peter Märkli, Kerez has forged his own path, following the elegant possibilities of structure. His research-based practice begins with models, often on a vast scale. To convey the impact of his proposals to clients and the public, the sheer size of 1:10 - whether cast concrete or delicately welded steel frame - tends to get people's attention.

Kerez's insistence on realism comes from his days as an architectural photographer. Dismissing computer-generated renderings as painfully false, every move is worked out in physical form. His current structural experiment is a school in Leutschenbach, Switzerland, suspending six floors from an external frame of double-height trusses.

Originally published in Icon, May 2009

Profile: Supersudaca

As the SuperDutch wave reached its peak, nine Latin American students at Rotterdam's Berlage Institute formulated an alternative. "We wanted to raise awareness of the realities of our countries," says Felix Madrazo, "so we combined the Dutch idea of ‘super' with ‘sudaca', the derogatory word for a Latin American."

Back in their respective homes of Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Curaçao, Supersudaca now operates as a decentralised office, engaging in a broad spectrum of networked projects, from state-funded research initiatives to commercial buildings.

"You need to be in both networks," says Madrazo. "Social housing is important to us but we need to be in contact with the people who have money to make it happen." Their tactics of strategic alliance and satellite working are becoming a valuable model, allowing distributed, localised production.

The group made its name with Sudapan, a politically charged alternative to the European competition, Europan, focused on tackling the divisive urban developments along the Caribbean coast, where ailing tourist strip meets burgeoning pueblo. Now they are developing social housing schemes from South America to Spain.

Originally published in Icon, May 2009