Introduce us to your practice?
My practice is first and foremost, a culmination of things I enjoy. I’d say it’s always an interdisciplinary practice that comes as a slightly autobiographical mix of architecture, art and community engagement. I’m a firm believer that everyone’s an expert in the way they understand and experience the built environment. My practice comes from trying to achieve some kind of empathy with the experience of the spectra people that make a place what it is and aid in translating this into the built environment in whatever form it wants to take. For me this boils down to providing public space, creating a sense of civic pride and making more environmentally conscious interventions.
What motivated you to follow a creative career?
So, to be honest the answer to this is not a romantic one. I have to say, from seeing my mum struggle and living on benefits for most of my life, I definitely felt motivated to use my creativity in a way where the changes I could make felt tangible. Architecture to me seemed like a balanced compromise between creativity and a somewhat academic and well-trodden carefree path that would allow me to essentially better my mother and I’s circumstances. So it wasn’t exactly that I’ve always had a burning passion for architecture, but since my time studying I’ve actually come to realise how much I enjoy architecture, why architecture is so important and why it’s so important someone like myself is able to influence placing making in a city like London. So definitely no regrets.
Who have you been inspired and influenced by?
Funnily enough, I’m rarely inspired by architects as such, I tend to draw from creatives from a variety of disciplines. Some people who have had a big impact are:
Horace Pippin- amazing painter of 1950’s America.
Denzil Forrester- Also an incredibly painter of inner-city London, his paintings speak to me because they remind me of all the funny stories my mum used to tell me about dancehall culture and her experience of being black in Britain during the 80’s-90’s.
Kano – was one of the first CD I remember playing repeatedly and loved his music ever since.
More recently, Darren McGarvey, who wrote ‘Poverty Safari’. It’s a great book and speaks of the contemporary issues of class and urban development. Things that I personally related to from my own upbringing.
Have a little boast – what are you really proud of yourself for achieving? Give us some highlights.
This is very difficult to answer but some I’m really excited to be a part of is designing and helping to build a meditation centre in the hills of Jamaica. I can’t really say too much about the detail because it’s not finished yet. But the idea of the project is that it will serve as a place where young men from the UK who have been affected by difficult circumstance will be able to go out to JA free of charge and learn how to farm, how to practice martial arts receive spiritual tutelage etc. It’s been an amazing project and for me, it has special significance because of my own Jamaican heritage. From living on site I feel honoured that in some ways be the first recipient but also blessed have a big hand in shaping the concept and design of the project.
Give us one piece of wisdom for young creatives in the current climate?
I think have at least 3 creative projects at your disposal which really show what your practice is about in a nutshell. Don’t put yourself under too much pressure. Being creative in the climate of Instagram can make you feel you have to be doing everything you won’t do all the time. It sounds silly but for me, being nice to people has always been a really fun and genuine way of creating moments of serendipity with other creatives, from unrelated conversations and establishing common ground, some amazing and fruitful relationships have come about. Getting involved in community activities in real life, whether it be at your local community garden or your local youth centre (providing it’s not been knocked down!), there’s always going to be interesting people who are trying to make something happen.
How can creativity change the world right now?
Creating alternative space to exhibit creativity. There’s so much power we as citizens have in defining the civic space we use every day. Moving creativity into a space that is not commodified is so important because it allows people to play to their own rules and build new social structures without an economic backdrop. I think this is also where virtual space can have a good influence in galvanising support for worthy causes, raising awareness and organising people. The creative responses that continue to come out of the BLM movement show that we have agency in affecting the social tides through our perseverance and ingenuity. I think this needs to continue happening, whether that be virtually or physically.
In this issue we are talking about Place, how do we create a sense of place: is it the people or the architecture? Or a conversation between the two?
I think it’s most definitely a combination of the two. In terms of making ‘place’, architecture is always able to hint at the kind of purpose it was intended for but it’s people who do 80% of the work in making it what it is. In this way, people are always able to reappropriate space for the needs of the community. It’s incredibly important, especially as, architecturally speaking, the built environment and ‘place’ has been largely devised by patriarchal powers that based design strategy on a set of very exclusionary assumptions.
What do you think the future holds for our built environment? What would you like to see happening in the industry?
At the minute there are so many new builds going up and architecture which not only sticks out like a sore thumb but also does nothing to benefit existing communities. I really hope that architecture and the various bodies that work with architects, start to absorb environmental and socio-political lessons that aim to foster community and care for our ecological environment.
I hope architects and designer will continue to consider as a collective local social impact of developing areas. Especially in London, gentrification has been happening in a lot of areas all over. It’s become a process of urbanising the building environment which creates serious impacts in ostracising people along with class and racial lines. In terms of the future of our built environment, I hope architects continue to pay attention to the social implications of additions to the built environment and treat the notion of community with reverence and respect.