Carl Turner

Related Project:
Slip House

Carl Turner

Legibility, flexibility, durability, affordability. If a building is successful in these terms, it can be considered ‘sustainable’ in a wider sense (or maybe just good architecture).

By legibility, we mean conceptual clarity and simplicity at the scale of the building and its detail. Legibility may be layered so that a passer-by gets one idea, while a daily user recognises other layers. There may also be some subliminal elements that are less tangible: perhaps hidden code for architects.

Slip House for instance is a simple idea about three stacked boxes, slipped or pushed from the back of the site to the front. This diagram started life as a pile of three bricks and remains legible in the built form although the translucent skin of the building has added another dimension to the project. The house has subsequently been given several dimensions to the project. The house has subsequently been given several local nicknames such as the glass house (obvious), sugar cube house and so on (as well as a few unmentionable ones).

Flexibility is an often misunderstood architectural concept. I would argue that that many architect designed spaces are inherently inflexible due to their bespoke, super-tailored nature – a charge that could be levied at some of our own work. We subscribe to a low-tech version of flexibility that is more about simple, adaptable methods of construction that can be changed or extended simply by ‘normal’ tradesmen or through DIY.

As the balance of the work within the practice tips to new buildings, we question the brief and explore how a building can be adapted from day one. By locking one internal door at Slip House, for example, the building is transformed from a house into a ground floor workspace with its own entrance and a separate apartment above, or into apartment with studio flat. Open the door and it’s back to a house. We see this as true sustainability.

What does affordability mean? In truth, ask some of our clients and they will probably tell you that costs rose and that the project cost more than anticipated. However, some clients need support to recognise some of the value added through design. It’s a relative term, but we try to run the studio in a way that allows not just the well-heeled to contemplate using an architect. Ultimately, if a project isn’t ‘affordable’ it won’t happen. At a basic level this approach has resulted in projects that work with low cost, industrial materials, and are often based around simple, orthogonal structures that are carefully considered and quiet in character.

It seems obvious to us that buildings should be durable but increasingly ‘fashion’ dictates a certain level of redundancy. The trouble is that building is a slow process (even fast track) and so building that seek to b fashionable rarely are. There are signs of a return in London to a predominantly brick language and it does seem right that building within the city should be about the idea of context and ‘backdrop’ architecture. A return to simple values. Thus ‘durable’ is part of this argument: durability in the sense of both appearance and use. The adaptation and re-use of brick and concrete warehouses is to me conclusive evidence of a durable, flexible and legible architecture.