‘Every project starts with a question — What if?’ This is the first line from the manifesto of the young London design firm IF_DO, and a governing concept in their work. Founded by three former classmates from the University of Edinburgh, the firm is fresh off their recent win for the design of the Dulwich Pavilion – a temporary events space that will debut during this summer’s London Festival of Architecture.
As Neue Guild members, we’re thrilled to have them share thoughts about their design process, how they got started, and where they’d like their firm to go. Read below!
The Neue Guild [NG] What is your area of design expertise?
IF_DO [ID] We’re an architecture practice, working across a wide variety of scales and typologies. We’re passionate about creating projects with a positive impact on users, the environment and the surrounding community.
NG How did your firm begin?
ID The three of us met as first year architecture students at the University of Edinburgh. We collaborated as students and stayed close friends as we dispersed for our masters and early careers, always with talk of one day setting up a practice together. Between us we’ve had diverse professional experiences, working in New York, Paris, Dublin, and Amsterdam, but we were all back in London, working for really interesting practices, when we decided to make the leap. It began with a chat over a pizza in early 2014 and went from there. Before we knew it we’d all handed in our notices and set up a studio.
NG Do you have a favorite part or phase of the design process?
ID We genuinely enjoy the whole process. Inevitably certain stages are more difficult than others, but it takes a lot of work to deliver buildings so it’s important that we find fulfillment in all of them! It is the early stages of projects where we are able to most affect the big-picture impact of our work, particularly if projects involve complex briefs and diverse stakeholder groups, but detailing and delivering those projects well is what makes the difference between a good project and a great one.
NG What’s an area of design with which you’re unfamiliar but would like to be more familiar?
ID We are particularly keen to get more involved with both urban realm and landscape design, both as a way of further stitching our buildings into their contexts, but also because they provide the potential for greater social and environmental impacts than buildings alone. We are currently working on one urban realm project immediately adjacent to our Lower Marsh Smile project in London, but would love to expand this area of our practice.
NG What inspires your work?
ID We are very much context-driven, so inspiration for particular projects usually comes from some part of the site, it’s history, or the community around it. We really enjoy working with new materials as well (whether just to us or to the market in general), with a good example of both being our design for the Dulwich Pavilion—the translucent mirrored screens were a direct response to the brief and the context, but also a new material for us, one that is more typically used in scenography.
NG What has been your biggest design challenge to date?
ID As a relatively young and small practice we’re lucky to have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects of varying scales and typologies. The design challenges have come from both ends of that spectrum: from understanding the complexities of the production process of Joseph Walsh Studio, and projecting their needs out for 10 years in developing a master plan for them; to working on an incredibly tight budget with a large number of stakeholders on the Lower Marsh Smile and its Granby Space co-working space.
NG What role does collaboration play in your work?
ID Collaboration is vital to us, and in a way, the three of us setting up a practice together was our first collaborative act. In naming the practice, we were very intentional that it not be our own names, because architecture is always a result of collaboration.
We have tried to surround ourselves with people who are masters of their field, whether they be structural engineers, image makers, or otherwise. For our Dulwich Pavilion project for instance, we teamed up with the engineers StructureMode at the competition stage, enabling us to create a proposal that was both striking, but also achievable. By working together we managed to reduce the number of supports to just four relatively small shear walls—if we were doing it on our own it would have ended up with far more! Fundamentally, collaboration brings more ideas and expertise to the table, and results in better projects, which is why it’s so important to us.