“The competitions are a test kitchen for our architectural recipes”

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Practice Name: Hopkins design

Based: A dining room, soon to be moved into permanent premises in south-east London

Based: March 2020

Main people: Thomas Hopkins (founding director)

Where are you from?
Franco-Welsh but educated here in London at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. After graduation I found myself developing my skills in various large firms along Clerkenwell Road (including Grimshaw), until I ended up on Old Street for a few years (Thirdway Architecture).

Then the pandemic struck. With that came a downturn in the business sector and I was put on leave. For many people, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst in distilling what really matters in their careers, from changing paths to even going back to school.

For me, it was about finding my own space to create architecture without too much paperwork. I had the idea of ​​going solo for a while and it just felt right to take the leap under the circumstances. If not now, then when?

What job do you have and what kind of projects are you looking for?
It has been an interesting journey until today. We had the privilege early on of working on a recently completed small house extension in North London with a fantastic client who trusted us; it really helped kick things off.

Since then, we have been very lucky to find more work in the residential sector. It was a little refuge for us. Residential work has been our bread and butter, given the downturn in commercial work during the pandemic and private customers currently being receptive to modernizing their homes due to changes in the nature of the workplace.

We are working on two houses in the French Alps near Geneva which have just obtained a building permit. This project is an amalgamation of what we like to do: find a good client who trusts us, explore an ambitious architecture that is inspired by its local heritage but is expressed in a contemporary way, while being sustainable. We use prefabricated CLT panels, geothermal energy and water recycling to minimize on-site construction, carbon footprint and operating costs.

At the same time, we are in the early stages of the concept of a luxury villa complex located in Apulia, southern Italy, which promises to be a really interesting project based on historical plans by Trulli and using local limestone pietra leccese and apricena.

We are also fascinated by all facets of architecture at all scales. We like to have fun with smaller projects, such as furniture, which allows us to ease the pressures of commercial or private work. A nice little project that we do in the background is a wedding arch for a castle wedding venue in the Burgundy region of France.

Culturally, we try to have a competition or a competition every six months or so, not only as a business development, but also as an exercise in designing and testing new ideas. Think of it as a test kitchen for our architecture recipes. We then take the most successful of them and put them on the menu, so to speak.

In addition, we seek to bring our expertise in sustainable design and prefabrication to the commercial sector which is slowly taking shape given the current climate.

What are your ambitions?
We have the ambition to continue our international portfolio across the UK and Europe. However, we pride ourselves on not being fat at the moment. We like the transparency and openness it offers us, and we want to avoid the pitfalls of too rapid a rise in power. Our aim is to carefully select the projects we are working on to build our portfolio in accordance with our core principles.

We see ourselves as providers and sculptors of spaces. Sometimes architecture can get lost in the myriad of practical obligations. We have a multiplicity of responsibilities, environmental, statutory and societal, to name a few, but our job is to create opportunities for beautiful, captivating spaces from moments that are unexpected despite it all. Poetics and sculpture are so important in our work.

Poetics and sculpture are so important in our work

We are very keen to continue to develop and research our sustainable approach to our work. We love wood, LVL and CLT in particular, it is so versatile, strong and environmentally friendly. But we’re also very excited to see what other new technologies have to offer, such as Mycelium products and ultra-low carbon or cementless concrete.

We are based in London and see ourselves based here for the foreseeable future; it is beautifully diverse, home to some very talented young people, and is at the heart of the conversation about the direction of architecture.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a start-up and the profession in general?
We all have Zoom and MIRO fatigue and this is something we all recover from and persist a bit. We are very happy to find a new permanent space now that things are relaxing a bit and we can’t wait to be seated at a table with a roll of trace and ink.

We are seeing signs of a recovery in the commercial sector and look forward to growing our customer network slowly and steadily.

Perhaps the most touching advice ever given to me was that of the late Kathryn Findlay (of Ushida Findlay): invest in people.

Which program, carried out over the past five years, has inspired you the most?
Not exactly finished, but I’m very happy to see ZHA’s Forest Green Rovers all-wood stadium start construction. We’re a strong advocate for net zero, offsite construction, and we love wood.

Forest Green Rovers by Zaha Hadid Architects, interior hall

I’d do a second, too: Monoarchi’s bamboo hut, based on a series of non-concentric circles and capped with a corrugated shingled roof, is another favorite. It’s a small team in China that does a really exciting job.

How do you market yourself?
We are currently testing different strategies. Much of our work so far has come from word of mouth and industry connections.

We appreciate a good photo for the ‘gram

As a practice, and like most people I’m sure, we much prefer a human connection. We build much better relationships with people when we are face to face. Recommendations are my fun recommendation here, that said, we appreciate a good ‘for the’ gram ‘photo.

Website and social media: hopkinsdesign.london @ hopkins.design

Concept art


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