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THE ITALIAN ICON

Gianni Botsford - Gianni Botsford Architects

23rd Jan 2014

Domus Nova Blog Image

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MmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmMmGianni Botsford is something of a contradiction, an award-winning architect who started his career as an interior designer and has created wonderful public and commercial spaces, yet who says that individual houses are his main focus. He also has a penchant for awe-inspiring visible architecture while keenly developing an in-depth understanding of how to build underground.

The firm itself is a small, private business that’s extremely flexible and able to design and supervise construction anywhere in the world, from the prize-winning Light House in Notting Hill to the Lubetkin prize-winning Casa KiKé in Costa Rica. It was involved in an entire village in the hills of Taiwan and came up with ingenious solutions for a New York skyscraper, a museum in Estonia and a telephone centre in Haiti. All Gianni Botsford Architects projects are original solutions to particular problems with the surroundings, materials and local traditions. They are all based on a thorough thinking-through of the available light, the weather and the disposition of their elements. The practice always makes the most of any site and for any purpose. It has worked alone and in partnerships, and as it looks forward and expands, it is thinking increasingly of larger-scale public building projects: how they can be made to fit their context while meeting their clients' needs, how they can be local and humane while still being original, beautiful and apt. Meet the man with the vision…
 

Gianni, you started out in interior design before moving into architecture. Do you think this helped shape your understanding of how people live and work?
Absolutely. The foundations of a great building should start from the inside out and the external framework should be dictated by the way the internal spaces are used. All buildings are for use in one way or another, so why should the way they look dictate how they work?
 

Individual residential homes are a big focus for your practice. Domus Nova is currently selling one of your recent projects on Sutherland Place. Can you tell us about this?
This was an interesting conversion, joining two maisonettes together to create a single family home. The brief was to combine practicality with indulgence, which required a complete reconfiguration of the lower-ground floor to enable views to the garden and flood what had previously been dark space with light. The end result is, we hope, a truly individual property that functions as a unique family home.


‘Lifestyle property’ is a much bandied phrase. What does it mean to you?

Lifestyle is what makes us tick and it’s dictated by our DNA – we drive our own lives the way we want them to go. As architects we have to be curators of other people’s lifestyles in order to create properties that will suit. In urban areas you have to work with what you have, but this makes you more inventive and makes the challenge more interesting.


Do you think subterranean living is a real solution to a lack of land in urban areas?

There is certainly more scope to realise potential underground, but in an already overcrowded city you have to think carefully about the process. Unless you build up against the wall of the tube, you are effectively working with a virgin open site and as such you can be more free with layout and facilities. The challenge, though, will always be lighting a space such as this, so you do need access to an expanse of open ground level to draw light through. But technology is changing constantly and the subterranean houses of today and tomorrow will be much better designed than the pioneering ones of the past.


Among your current projects are a subterranean house in Notting Hill and a new-build home in Kingston. Tell us more about these cutting-edge homes

The Garden House is a residential project for a private client currently living in a very traditional period house. It will be a subterranean build using a former commercial space at the back of a row of houses within a stone’s throw of the client’s current home. In Kingston we are building a brand new house for a couple developing at the bottom of their back garden. The plot is substantial enough to take another property but within a few hundred feet of the home they’ve lived in for many years. In both instances these new homes will give their owners the chance to live life in a completely different way without having to move from the areas they have established themselves in. That’s the part that’s so exciting. It’s a bit like cheating the system.


How important do you think the built environment is?

The buildings that surround us have a huge impact on us but this doesn’t necessarily mean that more urban areas make us feel bad. It’s all about management. Look at Notting Hill. It’s part of the densest borough in London yet everyone wants to live there because of the way it looks and feels. There is new and old architecture but it’s all looked after well. The high street has retained lots of small interesting businesses and the street-scape goes from flat to hilly to opening out onto magnificent garden squares. Packaged up it makes for interesting and pleasant surroundings, which is what attracts new residents in their droves.


What’s your favourite part of London?

I quite like Soho, where our practice is based. Soho is often misrepresented and people generally don’t know that it’s a haven of independent shops and businesses, some of which have been here for decades. People live in hidden corners and above the street-level buildings, and so there is a real neighbourhood vibe that’s consistent, welcoming and hugely satisfying if you are part of it.


Which building worldwide do you wish you had designed?

I love the California ‘Case Study Houses’ that were created after World War Two. The style of living they created really turned convention on its head and is still hugely aspirational today. Sadly in London we don’t have the views to complete the full picture.


If you could become invisible in the capital for a day, where would go?

I’d love to peep inside 10 and 11 Downing Street and see all the official business that goes on behind closed doors. Those properties have changed with each new prime minister and chancellor and I’m curious to see how they currently look.


What interests do you have outside your job?

I like to cook. In my house the kitchen is the most important part as it’s the space that anchors the whole interior. Great kitchens inspire great chefs.


What would you like your legacy to the world of architecture to be?

I think what every architect ultimately wants is for their buildings to be still be there long after they’re gone. That’s a true legacy, something that has a place in its built environment and has been designed and built to last. A commission for a museum would be a favourite challenge – to create a space that will constantly evolve, whose doors will be open to all and will be enjoyed for many years to come.

 

Sutherland Place is currently for sale through Domus Nova
 

Gianni Botsford Architects Ltd, 5th Floor, 83-84 Berwick Street, London W1F; giannibotsford.com

Discover more about Gianni Botsford Architects and other firms on the Domus Nova Architect Guide

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