Oliver Marlow explains how Studio TILT works in collaboration with clients and end users to create great spaces
In an age where social media, blogging and online commentary means personal opinions are given more authority than ever before, one design studio is bringing this open exchange of ideas into their building design process. London-based Studio TILT is a forward-thinking young practice headed by Oliver Marlow and Dermot Egan, leading experts in codesign. In the following interview, Marlow talks to WAN about the importance of listening to the end user during the design process and how their ideas and opinions have shaped Studio TILT’s work.
Providing a unique service
We believe collaborating with users transforms peoples’ relationship with the space and leads to better design. We have developed our own unique codesign methodology that allows us to engage people; harnessing their inputs and empowering them to take ownership of the design. In this way, we like to talk more about space design than traditional architecture.
Architecture can often be seen as an all-encompassing practice, something that people, and those who use the space, feel is didactic and monumental. So we prefer to talk about space design as a literal description of what we do. Likewise it propels the idea that the shaping of the space creates the form of the building, so from the inside out, rather than designing simply a container into which things and people are placed.
Our unique method combines different tools and techniques that improve collaboration and aid effective outcomes. Through activity-based workshops we combine elements including qualitative and quantitative research, prototyping, blueprinting, collective learning and crowd-sourced design solutions. The process brings people together to interact and share ideas; challenging perceived needs and uncovering what is really required for a space. Ultimately, this empowers those who use the space, creating an inherent change culture.
Engaging with the end user
The invitation to participate in a codesign process is critical. For a complex brief with multiple stakeholders, potential conflicting needs and opinions, the initial formulation and strategy is a significant piece of work. There is something exceptionally powerful about a CEO and a cleaner, or admin assistant engaging in meaningful dialogue about how to create an enabled space for their shared organisation.
We believe, like many others that good ideas can come from anyone and anywhere, they just need the right conditions to spark. So it makes no difference who has or doesn’t have experience of design or professional experience at the workshop phase.
I will often use a quote from Victor Papanek as an introduction to the process: “All men are designers. All that we do, almost all the time, is design, for design is basic to all human activity.”
He goes on to talk about how arranging a drawer, painting a picture, anything really, is design, because design is simply the ‘conscious organising of things’. This is a very powerful and exciting proposition for the codesign process. We can all have agency in how we organise things.
Learning through international collaboration
Studio TILT was chosen by the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) to host an international architect and together explore a particular brief. We hosted the Nigerian Architect Papa Omotoya as part of the festival and our focus was on Poplar, East London.
A very short time frame and an ambitious brief led everyone involved to create exciting, spontaneous and free-flowing work. While the framing of the residency focused on émigré architecture and the work of Erno Goldfinger, the work itself was far-ranging and thematically diffuse. One key theme seemed to be a resistance to the sureties of architects and designers working in Goldfinger's era, who when experimenting in Poplar in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain, demonstrated their convictions so profoundly. Cities in the sky, grand plans from above and an unwavering belief in designing people's lives.
So what did we establish as a group of designers looking again at this legacy? Most significantly for me the need to look beyond our own narratives, and elsewhere, to the South as we now call it, (since the Third World is a thankfully defunct term). Working with Papa I realised again the reality of something I heard Charles Jencks say about how little of what is actually built involves an architect. By saying architect, he didn't necessarily mean the profession but more the literal meaning, someone who oversees, thinks in context, designs alongside; is in charge somehow of what gets built.
Consistent critical dialogue
There are a good many exciting-looking buildings that have dull, unconsidered, dingy floorplates within. They are no fun to be inside. Consistent critical dialogue is essential. For me it is what keeps the practice vibrant. Thoughtful reflection and sometimes a good old fashioned argument are a necessary part of studio culture.
Within the design and architecture industries there is no shortage of argument and discussion about the work itself, but very little discussion about why do the work in the first place. Are we doing the work to see some well-co-ordinated very large objects that sit awkwardly in their surroundings, or are we interested in something deeper?