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Tom & James Teatum - Teatum + Teatum

17th Mar 2015

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Teatum+Teatum produce innovative contemporary architecture, focused on exploring the experiential qualities and social opportunity of space. Their work is inspired by the idea that architecture can choreograph the social possibility of space, create interaction and connect to the experiential and cultural energy of the city.

At every scale, their proposals engage with the urban possibility of the site. Teatum + Teatum believe great cities; those with tangible possibility are informed by the interface between use and spatial organisation. Their work includes new buildings, the reorganisation of existing space and masterplanning.

Teatum + Teatum's approach seeks a contemporary architecture that interacts with its physical and historic context, is accessible and spatially engaging to users and the public. They explore the possibility of each project through an intuitive and analytical study of the brief, the programme and site to produce a specific architecture full of possibility.

Both directors contribute to teaching in London Universities; Tom Teatum is a unit tutor at Royal College of Art and is a steering group member of the RIBA Building Futures Think Tank.

Teatum + Teatum notably designed and master minded Hidden House in Shepherd's Bush, recently let ny Domus Nova. We caught up with Tom Teatum to find out more about Hidden House...

What defines the style of Teatum + Teatum?
Less a style, more an approach. We bring a set of strategies to each project and also look to use the context and existing building to inform a design approach. With Hidden House it was the sense of ‘hiddenness’ and disconnection from the street that we sought to amplify, to create a house that was very internal, intimate and received all of its daylight from top-lit spaces. All projects use space as a device to amplify the experience of moving through a building.

We talk about spatial choreography - the ability of space to be experienced around you. We always seek to relate the space to its context by using varying strategies. Our office is located on a high street. The shop front has been recessed into the interior creating a cut on the street. This cut encourages pedestrians to slow down and view in. It creates an interaction between interior and exterior space.

Our projects are interested in choreographing this interaction.

Can you provide us with any interesting history about Hidden House?
Hidden House was created from the leftover space at the rear of several commercial buildings just off Askew Road. When we purchased the building, the site was a yard to a cab office, complete with a couple of sofas sat in the garden, used by the drivers for their tea break. We recently found out the rear cab office was used as a pirate radio station during the early 90s. In front of Hidden House is a high street shop that is used as our office. During the refurbishment works we uncovered the original shop canopy and signage band of an original Victorian grocer. This was the first user of the building.

When did you acquire the property?

In 2010.

What drove you to the site?
The space provided an open opportunity to create a small but unique project. It wasn’t in a Conservation Area and it didn’t sit within a typical terrace. This meant that the site potentially had a freedom that’s not often found in London in terms of limited planning control. As a developer we are interested in buildings that allow us to create special spatial projects and we felt that the site could offer this.

Talk us through the project

Hidden House is a brand new build, but organised within the existing party walls that form three sides of the house. The site is enclosed and this informed the design, particularly the way daylight is brought into the house through high-level glazing. In section, the ground floor has been lowered from the external street level. We often use this as a device on entry where you descend into a space and then you experience vertical space. This technique is used to create a sense of transition as you move through a space.

What was your overall concept?
Our concept was a house that was internal, intimate and would allow interaction between its spaces. Central to this was a large area for socialising. The front elevation is a shear black façade with carbon silica particles bedded into the render which is a complete contrast from the openness of the street to the private space of the house. This feel is reinforced with a bespoke laser cut butterfly door of 10mm thick steel. On closing the door it creates a very definite separation from the world of the street to a very internal private space.

The living space contains a kitchen, study area, dining area and storage area all organised in one open plan space. One wall is defined by a 10-metre long joinery unit that contains a built-in seating bench, media-area and storage spaces.  A lightwell extends seven metres through the center of the house with bedrooms organised on one side with the living space on the other side. The bedrooms are four-metres high and characterised by daylight that enters through high level skylights.

Throughout the house, everyday low-cost, raw materials have been used, but finished with a craft approach including fine joinery to form kitchen units made from OSB Sterling board and French Polishers to wax the units; a simple low-cost material, the production methods used were very high quality and this gives a very different feel to the material. The wax intensifies the colour and creates strong contrasts. The skill of the joiners create precise junctions and joints. Poured concrete is used across the living space floor and steps, a standard concrete mix forms the slab but the surface has been ground down exposing the aggregate. This creates a robust and visually vibrant floor.

How long did the entire process take, were there any unforeseen problems?
Hidden House was a new build and from start to finish it took eight months. There were no unforeseen problems, given the level of our involvement we were able to anticipate issues and resolve them in advance.

What was your biggest extravagance when completing your home?
The laser cut steel doors with a bespoke pivot hinge. The doors took three months to design, prototype and fabricate. Twenty options were prepared for the laser cut pattern and many steel sheets were assessed for the right level of blackness. A big investment but the doors define the front elevation.

What can you personally not live without?
Daylight, particularly top light, volume and simple but finely crafted joinery.

Your principles of good design for all are reminiscent of the ideals of Corbusier. Who are your influences?
Our aim is to produce mixed use residential buildings that offer a range of rental spaces that are integrated with social spaces. Where residents can share gardens and kitchens. Every time we look into those new blocks that are built along the river and watch lots of single people rattle about a small kitchen on their own- microwaving a meal, we feel very sad. For Teatum + Teatum, the opportunity of space is social, the simple pleasure of people meeting, at the scale of a room or a garden or as part of the city. In that sense we would definitely follow Corbusiers ideas on mixed use residential buildings that created a range of spaces where people could mix and exchange at the top and base of his Unite d’Habitation blocks. We feel it is a shame that the majority of new housing in London provides such limited opportunity for social exchange. If you develop an apartment block why would you not enjoy the spatial possibility of creating places for residents to enjoy socially?

In general our influences are very broad. Recently we have looked at Adolf Loos in terms of internal planning and the way he juxtaposed materials. We look at a lot of painters to understand the way a spatial mood can be formed with light and material.

You have proved that the most awkward of urban spaces can be redefined as an exciting and interesting place to live. Do you think there is a model here that could be adopted by local authorities?
Definitely, when you examine the amount of space that is left over in the city we could increase the amount of built space by 30% using existing left over spaces that already have access to servicing and infrastructure. These spaces can feed off of existing conditions. They are located above, between and below existing buildings. What they require is a flexible planning approach and a flexibility from residents in allowing new types of development in their locality to provide new homes.

Planners need to trust young architects to produce innovative solutions. If a space is all top lit and has no windows it does not mean it is a poor space, just different. We often experience resistance from residents before a project is built. Following completion they often come to us and tell us how much they enjoy seeing the change. These left over spaces provide opportunities for small homes where the land value is sometimes lower. They offer an opportunity to create unique urban spaces that can contribute to an area.

You have a patch of west London that you’ve focused your projects on, why? How have you seen the area change?
We know W12 and the surrounding area very well. We grew up here, went to school here and still have many friends that live in the area. That knowledge is important in development. You intuitively know what will work and how spaces can be developed that will relate to the locality and the history of the area.

While previous projects have focused on west London we have recently carried out feasibility studies for projects in Notting Hill, Stoke Newington and Maida Vale. We are asked to look at a lot of complex sites where less progressive developers have walked away. We will carry out a detailed analysis of the locality and site. This allows us to create an innovative response to sites that cannot be developed in a conventional way. We approach development as architects. This gives us a unique vision on sites, allowing us to create a commercial and architectural approach within one team.

What would be a dream local development site for Teatum + Teatum?
We have always felt that Shepherds Bush Green provides a huge opportunity to create a mixed use urban space that people spend time in rather than move through to get to the train. This space could retain people during the day and attract people to visit Shepherds Bush Green. We have produced a speculative proposal for the Green and the surrounding area. It is conceived as an Urban Campus and includes a BBC University, a digital library with a large free nursery for local residents, a cinema with a connected film school. Uxbridge Road is pedestrianised and provides a large space for a newly re-located Shepherds Bush Market with an emphasis on UK produced foods and fabrics. The market would sit parallel to the high street shops that would provide start up spaces for fashion students from the local Fashion School. The proposal would seek a vibrant mix of uses with the Green acting as a large public space where all the edge activities overflow and interact. For us parks define London, they are critical to the public life of the city.

On a smaller scale we would enjoy the opportunity to develop the Goldhawk pub on Goldhawk Road. It’s been closed for years and was formally owned by our aunt. In the 60’s The Who used to practice in a first floor room. We would bring back a venue that played live music and gave a platform for young bands in W12. The history of live music in pubs in W12 has been completely eroded which is a loss.


Teatum + Teatum, 79 Askew Road, London, W12;