With roots in the 1990s British transformational period, London-based architectural practice FAT (Fashion Architecture Taste) made its name with satirical installations, artistic objects and pop-collage interiors for cool advertising agencies. More recent projects include Islington Square - a Manchester community regeneration housing scheme, which offers residents unashamedly quaint and decorative homes.
FAT was selected by Shumon Basar as one of the best emerging architecture practices for Phaidon's latest overview of contemporary world architecture, 10 x10/3. FAT's Charles Holland spoke to Phaidon.com.
Q. Why do you think Shumon Basar selected you as one of the best emerging architecture practices for 10 x 10/3?
Like Shumon, we’re interested in talking about architecture as a cultural activity. Our work, quite unusually for a British architectural practice, is ideas based; its starting point is conceptual and theoretical rather than essentially pragmatic.
Q. Which buildings or project of your own design do you consider the most interesting and why?
Islington Square was critical because we had to work with the residents to develop the design of their houses. The project involved us trying to include expressions of difference into 23 houses which also have a necessary degree of repetition.
Q. Talk us through Bentley Library in the Midlands, United Kingdom.
The Bentley Library is something which is quite prophetic and simple, but enriched with a communicative layer; it's a brick-clad box that uses Modernist and exotic Beaux Arts spatial planning. It explores contradictory styles and reference points, which get mixed up, overlaid and changed as they meet each other.
Q. Is this typical of your practice?
We borrow a lot of our techniques from fine art and contemporary art. We often use sources which are initially clearly referenced from somewhere; we might cut into them or add pieces, or the material might be changed or the scale shifted, so that the original meanings of the reference are overlaid by other ones. For us this gives it a richness, it avoids it being too literal and adds a level of ambiguity that makes it a more enjoyable experience.
Q. Good design is many things - what elements do you feel underpin good design?
Communication. That’s why a number of our projects use façades as a key compositional tool and juxtapose different kinds of space; they communicate both stylistically and spatially. We’re therefore interested in both recognisable, figurative elements and also more indirect and abstract elements. Our buildings often flip between the two, sometimes becoming abstract and then coming into focus.
Q. How important is sustainability to your designs?
It’s a more systemic issue to do with how we build, where we build, what levels of energy usage are involved in the building and the resulting urban configurations; how far people have to travel, what mode of travel they use.
Q. What do you feel are the greatest challenges for today’s architects?
Their own marginalization from the architectural process; as an architect you’re constantly struggling to have some control over the process and the outcome. There’s a divorce between the low-grade, commercial and generic buildings, and the exotic, iconic buildings with big budgets at the other end of the spectrum. The process tends to favour things which are risk free, innovation free, and quality free. We see architecture as an artistic activity which enriches the environment, so the major challenges are first getting commissioned to do something ambitious, and then getting good quality, interesting, exciting architecture at all levels.
Q. How do you see the future of architecture?
I think the tendency for exotic masterpieces will increase as globalization allows architects to operate on a global stage, producing ever more exotic things of wonder in Abu Dhabi or China, or wherever might be the next developmental growth spot.
Charles Holland, thank you.