“A great deal of thinking can be done on the touchline,” states Adrian Lees, one half of Powell Tuck Associates, when questioned about how he spends his free time, what little of it there is. Partner Angus Shepherd is equally demonstrative, which goes to show that no matter the immediate environment, this dedicated duo never stop thinking about the job that is their equal passion.
Since 1990 Powell Tuck Associates has thrived on a reputation built on solid foundations – really great architecture, applied to commercial, creative and public spaces and most significantly, residential homes. To say that Powell Tuck Associates has a style would be perhaps pigeon holing one of the capital’s most creative practices, yet there is an underlying feeling that runs through all of their work that can make you realise you’re in a Powell Tuck-designed house before you actually know that you are. A byword with estate agents for superbly finished homes, the practice has attracted a loyal following, working on three and four houses for individual clients, over a span of several decades.
With such a body of work under their belt, it wouldn’t be untoward to assume they had seen it all before, yet Shepherd and Lees couldn’t be more emphatic about the continued challenges that face architects today in the face of changing living and working arrangements and futuristic technology that is now being applied to property in urban and country areas.
Powell Tuck Associates takes its name from its founder Julian Powell Tuck. How easy is it to continue the principles that were laid down at the beginning, with new management at the helm?
We have worked together for a long time and so the principles of Powell Tuck Associates are our principles and we have been instrumental in seeing them applied to our work over the last twenty years.
Powell Tuck Associates is in its fifth year of your management. What is the practice currently working on?
Perhaps our greatest engineering challenges to date. The first is a 16,000 sq ft family home in west London which will incorporate a double-height basement flooded with natural light. Our excavations have been pretty extraordinary, even by London basement standards and it’s been a great project so far, for combining our architectural experience with the new generation skills of our younger architects. The second is a 9,000 sq ft former production studio in Camden, which we are doing for client who we have previously created two properties for. Making sense of what was a commercial space and translating this into a residential home is an interesting concept to create.
These are both obviously very large homes. How is your work translated into more modest terms?
We work on lots of smaller projects and are often called upon to exert a ‘light touch’ on a property, changing elements to refresh the architecture. In our plans for the future direction of the practice, we are looking to collaborate with a developer to create multiple houses or flats. Detailing is a huge influence in our work and this can so easily be applied to smaller spaces in an equally effective way. Good architecture should be for everyone and too much of the downfall of society can be attributed to a poor built environment. We would also like to use a multiple housing scheme to add elements of better environmental practice to show how you can subtly educate people in better living principles.
How important is a more environmentally aware lifestyle to your clients?
Hmm, I think we are the generation that is still coming around to the fact that we need to change our ways. However I still believe that we won’t be the ones to implement it. We all want to embrace some kind of change but equally ground-source heating and solar paneling isn’t what sells houses at the top of the market. Swimming pools, media rooms, home gyms and entertaining space are the things that tick boxes. Things are changing all the time though so I may be eating my words sooner than I think.
You’ve mentioned some of the most sought-after property demands above but what is the most asked for element of any residential project?
Storage. This might be the city, but we are all living in it with a great deal more baggage than we used to have and it all needs to go somewhere. We design our buildings from the inside out, so we focus first on what needs to go into it and then the form that we wrap around that. No matter how great the finished exterior is, its ultimate function will be to serve what’s inside.
So what do you think of the somewhat comical exteriors of some of our newest buildings?
The papers reported this week that there would be 200 new buildings in London’s skyline if current proposals go ahead. Really? We already have the Cheese Grater, the Gherkin and the Shard, which are all somebody’s legacy buildings. Individually they are all interesting but do they really all need to be together in one place? British architecture has been revered for centuries because of its quality, yet here we are making sweeping statements about the wealth of our city by destroying a skyline that used to be signified by the great juxtaposition between new and old. If we let this development take place, London will become as anonymous as that of any emerging city keen to wear its wealth in public.
How does London inspire your work?
The greatest inspiration in London today is the people. Being home to so many different nationalities and cultures; some transient, some permanent, means there is a constantly changing perspective on how we live and work and an exchange of creative ideas that gets translated into some really interesting architecture. If you had a fear of flying, you could very effectively see the whole world through the architecture and private homes of London.
Architecture has been glamorized amongst the young as the most desirable of all creative industries. How does it feel to be compared to a pop star?
Completely unrealistic, I’d rather be a time traveller. Nobody goes into this industry because they want to see their face in the paper. There are much easier ways to achieve that. What most architects want is to see into the future and look at how their buildings are doing. If some of our houses transcend time like the Victorian terraces that exist in every part of the capital, then we will have played our part in supporting our industry.
So, back to that touchline. Dare we ask what you do at the weekends?
We both have children, which basically dominates any free time we have. Sport plays a big part in our weekends, or rather transporting to and from, and watching sports of all kinds. Our kids are real city kids and have a great social life using the cinemas, theatres, museums and attractions. We joke that for us as adults London is on ice, waiting for a time when the business isn’t quite so busy. We are fairly fulfilled through our work though and the challenges it throws up, so maybe we’ll just have to wait until the next time that band comes to town.
Domus Life caught up briefly Adrian...
Adrian, give us a snapshot of yourself -
Favourite place in London:
AS: My home in Dulwich although its a building site at present!
AL: The Rookery Garden at the top of Streatham Common: a hidden gem!
Music that inspires you:
AS: Anything from Dave Bowie to Johann Bach
AL: Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Johnny Cash, The Who, Pink Floyd, The Clash and Woody Guthrie... It's a long list!!!
Best view in the capital:
AS: The view from Sydenham & Dulwich Golf Clubhouse.
AL: My cherry tree at home, its very old and makes my home special.
Most over-used phrase:
AS: ….'Non Architecture'
AL: I can't really answer that as I have probably used most of them!!!
Building you wished you had designed:
AS: The chapel in Flaine, NE France.
AL: I don't really think that way, but a building which stands out for me is Canterbury Cathedral.
Favourite time of the day:
AL: Story time with my kids, providing they are behaving!
Discover more about Powell Tuck Associates on the Domus Nova Architect Guide.
Powell Tuck Associates, 6 Stamford Brook Road, London W6; powelltuckassociates.co.uk