Q&A with Amenity Space

by Robert Such

Set up by Nicky Kirk and Tony Broomhead, Amenity Space is a London-based arts and architecture firm.

RS: How and when did you, Nicky, and Tony first meet? What keeps you working together?

Tony Broomhead: We started University on the same day. We must have met in the studio on 15th floor of the Arts Tower – but neither of us can remember the exact moment. Weirdly we never worked together at university, but we did become good friends and this is what encouraged us to team up after we left. We both wanted to continue exploring architecture outside of university and so started doing the odd competition together. This lead to the radio and beyond.

Nicky Kirk: Running a practice together allows a relationship to develop that you would not expect when first starting out. We never meant to run the practice or necessarily realise the projects that we have, but by testing each other in creatively we have explored areas of design outside outside our comfort zone.

RS: Why did you start up the Resonance FM radio show?

TB: Radio is a great medium for exploring a visual subject. It forces you as the producer to research an issue from an alternate perspective, rather than focusing only on its physical understanding. This leads to a greater understanding and encourages us to think about architecture in a fresh way. The radio show was always a way of learning and relaying our discoveries, but the side effect is that is has allowed us to work in an array of areas we could never have imagined.

NK: We have always thought of radio as another form of space: radio waves allow audio projections into different environments and transform the space into something different. We always had an urge to explore this, and the show allows us broadcast the acoustic properties of different environments. Equally we are fasinated by the built environment and often take a more conventional approach by reporting on a specific subjects. The radio show came first – then we formed our practice. If it was not for the the airwaves I cannot imagine how our practice would have begun.

RS: How do you approach a commissioned work? What can you tell us about your working methodology?

NK: We get commissioned as artists on some projects and architects on others, our approach in both disciplines is the same. The boundary is often blurred between the two, which is important now as the traditional role of the architect becomes increasingly marginalised other building professionals. We like to work in areas where our profession and expertise is valued and work on projects that inspire quality and design ingenuity. To this end, we approach all our projects in a similar light.

Primarily, we discuss and analyse the purpose of each project, our role in it and aspirations of the client. We have learnt (especially in the public sector) that clients do not always understand what they really want. We start by working with them, designing out ideas, testing concepts and talking through every detail before forming conclusive ideas. We value this process and it allows us to forge new meaning so that the brief can fully be developed. We are the spark of creativity that inspires people to look at their everyday activities in a new way and help to develop a better public realm.

Our projects rely on close collaboration with a network of talented friends (including software engineers, other artists, joiners, etc.) who have of expertise in a range of disciplines. We are never afraid to seek advice where needed. We realise that gone are the days of architect as master builder if you want to establish yourself in different disciplines and fuse together art and architecture.

RS: What is your impression of the current state of the architectural profession?

NK: Its a  very interesting time for architects – we are a profession governed by social and economic pressures and the recent downturn has had a huge impact on architects and the way the profession works. As a small practice we are just about hanging on and have even been commissioned for a small project as a result of the recession! (Wonderwood in Leeds – completed June 2009, was a project on a derelict piece of land, previously earmarked for development until the recession forced the developer shelved the initial scheme.) However, friends and colleagues  have struggled in larger, commercial practices with many losing jobs.

However, on the flip side this period has allowed architects to rethink their position. It has allowed creativity to blossom again as projects become smaller and briefs more complex. It could be argued that the profession is learning a new architectural language not based on the iconic, but in a more humble approach cemented in the everyday.

RS: Any projects (anywhere around the world) you dislike?

TB: Canary Wharf. A lot of Norman Foster’s work. You can have too many iconic buildings.

NK: Broadgate (Liverpool Street). Meadowhall, Sheffield.

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