The semester 2 series of OxArch Talks are off to a strong start with clear, encouraging advice for young architects in the first lecture by emerging practice Feilden Fowles.
Feilden Fowles (2016) Feilden Fowles Studio. Available at: www.feildenfowles.co.uk/FF/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/3-5.png (Accessed 17/2/17)
There’s something daunting about a fresh-faced Fergus Feilden laughing about the youthful appearances of himself and partner Edmund Fowles in a photo taken when Feilden Fowles was established, a mere 7 years ago and within two years of finishing their Part II. Since their first project, Ty Pren, was featured in Dezeen and shortlisted for the Grand Designs ‘Best Eco-home’ award, the practice has woven its way into architectural household recognition for unassuming, high quality and well crafted design.
Throughout his lecture, Feilden attributed their success to a number of salient practices that have carried through each of their projects: reframing projects to sell themselves to new clients, being entrepreneurial in how to find them and recognising the people behind the projects – both on the client side and in the studio. Despite being a private residential project in the Brecon Beacons, Ty Pren marketed the practice to schools and offices wanting the tactility of their drawings and models. Indeed, their decision to employ an in-house model maker from of outset, at the expense of the directors’ salaries (it’s unclear as to whether this meant they took a basic living wage or had any return to live on at all), was a calculated risk, aimed at establishing a consistent and refined aesthetic quality that would avail them to new clients. Fortunately, it paid off, all puns intended. Similarly, their decision to build a studio for themselves, despite having only 2 years remaining on the lease on the site, was weighed against its value as a marketing tool and portfolio piece in itself, though its realisation only became possible after winning a much bigger project elsewhere.
“The path from starting a practice on graduation to winning
Young Architect of the year is well trodden and rocky, and probably without shortcut”
Of the case study projects Feilden presented, most demonstrated a shrewd eye for seizing opportunities and also actively looking for them. Knowing the spatial disorganisation of his former school, he contacted them to offer “architectural outreach” to the students and ended up creating a masterplan and designing two buildings for the site, offering opportunities for student participation in the design process. Equally, the lease on the plot for their new studio was swapped in exchange for free design work for a local charity. It is an ever relevant example of emerging architects in our generation having to innovate beyond offering the traditional services of an architect in order to get work.
There was a notable warmth added to Feilden’s lecture in how he spoke about his staff and the clients he had collaborated with: “Gavin”, “Dan” and “Ed” were all given the recognition they deserved for their contribution to the Feilden Fowles story Perhaps the most significant slide in his presentation was a timeline of the practice from 2005 to 2017, plotting the employment period of each individual staff member alongside key projects, events, and annual turnover. This affirmation of his studio team gives a student hope that somewhere out there, a practice might see them as more than just a CAD monkey.
In many ways, the success story of Feilden Fowles appears fairly typical of an emerging practice – with an award winning first project commissioned by a family friend under their belt, they went on to win several significant competitions in a variety of sectors and garnered the right sort of media interest along the way. Of course, as Feilden quite clearly elaborated, it wasn’t without sheer hard work, constant hustling and willing financial sacrifices: just another confirmation that the path from starting a practice on graduation to winning Young Architect of the year is well trodden and rocky, and probably without shortcut.