This year, alongside the #AJ100 practices in the Architects Journal are 25 ‘Disruptors’. The AJ editors have included this great list to recognise that the status quo isn’t working to address the climate crisis. Our sector needs to change and that’s what the ‘disruptors’ are pioneering.
We’re very pleased to be part of this, alongside the likes of ACAN, Architecture 00, Black Females in Architecture, RESOLVE collective, Assemble, and a host of other inspirational teams.
Here’s what we said to the AJ:
Q In a nutshell, define your practice
Studio Bark is a small design practice based in east London. The practice is made up of three parts: Studio Bark (design), Studio Bark Projects (contracting) and U-Build (our not for profit self build company). We teach, we make and we innovate.
Q What do you do differently to more mainstream practices?
Underpinning all aspects of our work is a drive to explore new ways of practising architecture, by challenging outdated ideas about construction, education, and running a business. We increase our outreach by teaching, innovation, and joining movements which aim to bring positive change in our society.
Q Tell us about a current project/research that exemplifies this
We run a national study into Paragraph 79, a complex piece of planning policy which celebrates innovative, environmental and beautiful rural architecture. Through creating knowledge where none existed, we have carved-out a specialism for the practice, itself a springboard for new ideas and many interesting collaborations, including recently self-build.
Q What was the thinking behind your U-Build self-build system?
The design principles for U-Build came out of the desire to make construction affordable and truly self-build.. The ethos of the system centres on empowering individuals and communities to build their own homes and structures, unlocking social and economic benefits, with a focus on circular economy timber construction.
Q You’ve challenged the concept of sustainability ‘tokenism’ – what do you mean by this?
Perhaps a better word here is ‘greenwash‘, or the promotion of select green features in an otherwise ‘Business As Usual’ approach. Sustainable design has at long last become fashionable, and so of course the construction industry wants to be seen to be doing its bit. But being seen and actually doing are two different things.
Q The AJ100 celebrates the UK’s largest practices. How do you judge practice success?
Until such point as architecture stops ‘doing less harm’ and starts actually doing good, then scale is only ever going to be a multiplier of damage.
We are moving away from profit and growth mindset and instead want to value our success according to improvements in environment, society and studio culture.
Q What ambitions do you have for your practice?
The economist Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economy model talks about earth’s ecological ceiling (outer ring) and social foundation (inner ring) and how sustainable practice sits within this doughnut structure. Our ambition is to be inside the doughnut. It sounds simple, but has deep-rooted implications that will make us work very hard.
Q How should the profession respond to the climate emergency – what needs to change?
There seems to be a great willingness to talk about the climate emergency, but the problem is that we all need to support ourselves financially and this gets in the way of our ability to act. So let’s rewrite our business plans and stop working on damaging projects or even those which ‘do less harm‘, and instead find work in ‘making things better‘.
Q You’ve been involved in architectural activism and XR – why is it important to get involved in this way? Is there a reluctance to do so in the profession?
We see many of the challenges faced by society and the environment as being systemic. If the current system does not permit us to respond adequately to the emergency, we must also change the system. If there is reluctance to do so, it is because this message is uncomfortable to hear. Our challenge is to operate within that state of discomfort.