Architecture - MA (Hons) graduates Sarah Castle (who is also an MArch graduate), Thomas Bryans, and Alexander Scott formed IF_DO, an architecture and design practice, in 2014. Recently they won the first Dulwich Pavilion design competition as part of the London Festival of Architecture. Their design, ‘After Image’, was chosen to form a temporary structure on the historic grounds of the Dulwich Picture Gallery and will host a series of events in celebration of the Gallery’s bicentenary year.
“We met in 2002 on our first day at Edinburgh and immediately got on well,” said the team, “During our time there we worked on a number of projects together from our very one in first year to our final degree project - a series of pavilions in a landscape. ECA [Edinburgh College of Art] has a strong tradition of designing buildings which are deeply rooted in context and we feel that this is something that has stayed with us. Our work is developed following careful analysis of context, and inspiration for particular projects often comes from some part of the site, its history, or the community around it, informing architecture that is sensitive and appropriate to its place.”
After graduating, Sarah, Alexander and Thomas initially followed different paths and gained a diverse range of experiences before coming together to establish their own architecture and design practice.
“After completing our first degree at Edinburgh we went our separate ways, but we stayed close friends as we studied for our Masters and began our careers working at some great practices in London, New York, Paris, Dublin, and Amsterdam. We had always talked of one day setting up a practice together and were all in London in 2014 when we decided to make the leap. We bought some computers and furniture, wrote a manifesto and moved into our studio in South East London, and have been happily growing the practice ever since.”
The manifesto was an important step, putting the trio’s values at the heart of their work.
“Writing our manifesto was the first thing we did in setting up IF_DO. We’re passionate about creating projects with a positive impact on users, the environment and the surrounding community – and have found that being clear in our vision from the outset has helped us to shape our business and guide us in the types of projects we take on. As architects, we feel that we have a responsibility to create buildings that people love and that have a positive impact beyond the site boundary.”
This philosophy can be seen in the approach that they took to their prize-winning Dulwich Pavilion design.
“We were fascinated by the juxtaposition of the gallery and surrounding landscape, so the design responds to both the solidity and monolithic nature of the gallery building, and also the porous, ever-changing nature of the landscape. Sir John Soane’s gallery is a striking building with a formal plan, and impenetrable rhythmic facades, while the surrounding landscape is an informal, picturesque composition of lawns and trees. The design also drew on the London Festival of Architecture’s theme of memory and the devices synonymous with the architecture of Soane: mirrors, folding panels, manipulation of natural light, spatial blurring, and framing. The pavilion is a creative experience for visitors. It is an instrument of reflection—both visual and cognitive—creating an architecture of the unexpected, by playfully distorting and layering its context.”
As well as the Dulwich Pavilion, IF_DO have also had a range of other successes and been involved in a lot of other interesting projects already.
“As a relatively young practice, we’re lucky to have had the opportunity to work on a great variety of projects of varying scales and typologies, and with some wonderful clients. One of our most interesting projects to date has been a 5-10 year strategic masterplan for internationally-renowned furniture designer Joseph Walsh. The project involved understanding the complexities of their design and production process, and projecting their needs out for 10 years, whilst also communicating a clear vision for the quality, look and feel of the spaces that form the future campus. It has been a wonderful project to work on, and we were delighted to have the project exhibited in the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition last year.”
For those looking to start out in their own careers as architects, IF_DO offer this advice: "be clear about what you want to achieve as an architect, stay true to this vision and, most of all, enjoy yourself!"