Bureau de Change Architects discuss the nuances of residential design for harmonious and yet playful living.
Bureau de Change is an award winning architecture practice founded by architects Katerina Dionysopoulou and Billy Mavropoulos. Its work is a direct product of the founders’ upbringing, passions and experiences, combining the pragmatism and formality of their architectural training with a desire to bring a sense of theatre, playfulness and innovation to the design of spaces, products and environments.
Bartlett graduate Katerina Dionysopoulou trained at Foster+Partners before joining Heatherwick Studio. During this time she led the team designing the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, winning the coveted Lubetkin Prize. She later worked alongside Danny Boyle as the project leader for the iconic Olympic Cauldron for London 2012. She is a visiting lecturer at Harvard University. Billy Mavropoulos studied at the Royal College of Art and trained at Foster+Partners. Prior to founding Bureau de Change, Billy worked as an independent design consultant on projects for the Tate Modern, Tate Britain and Selfridges.
What was your first residential project that you completed as Bureau de Change?
We were very lucky with our first residential project as it was a unique opportunity. It was based in London and unusually the client owned two adjacent properties, which they wanted to merge, in order to create a much larger family home. An extension to the rear of the property provided a kitchen and living area, whose exceptional width allowed us to create an 11m long glass façade.
What are some of the best things about designing residencies for people?
The relationship built with clients is one of the most rewarding parts of the process. We like to establish a distinct identity for all of our projects and we’ve worked with some amazing clients, who have been as invested in creating something special as we are. We like to work closely with clients to understand their lifestyle, how the space might eventually be used and the design opportunities this creates. We enjoy rethinking elements whose design may otherwise be taken for granted, developing these as part of a series of elements, which create embossed ‘moments’ for the user.
What are the biggest challenges that come with residential design?
We have worked with some exceptional planning officers who have been in total support of our proposals. However, there are occasions when there is a challenge in finding a balance between creating a building of architectural value and the preferences of local planning authorities.
Where do you garner your inspiration?
Research is a very important part of our process and the majority of this comes from areas beyond architecture. Our education encompassed a broad range of visual arts, giving us an understanding of how to look at these arenas independently, and, importantly, how to bring distinct elements of these together to develop a design concept. Assembling diverse and unexpected of sources research, in order to create a broader concept, has also taught us to look at materials in a certain way, bringing these together in surprising combinations to establish a particular narrative or atmosphere.
We are also fascinated by traces of a site’s past use and use this as a means of bedding the project into its context. For example, we are currently working on new build project in the Cotswold’s, whose site was originally occupied by elongated chicken sheds, which have informed the shape of one of the key volumes.
How has residential architecture changed over the last 10 years?
Access to visual resources online has had a huge impact on residential architecture. From the client perspective, a far greater design awareness and vocabulary has been cultivated through access to an abundance of research and inspiration material. Not only does this foster a clear set of aspirations for the project from the outset, but there is more open mindedness about what can be achieved.
Houses are increasingly seen as financial investments, as well as homes, and we have seen an enthusiasm to improve homes and create a personalised identity, rather than buy something ready to go.
Projects Slab and Fold have very strong identifying features, was this a request on the part of the client or was it driven from the way you work as designers?
In the main, the outcomes of these projects came from our process. We are interested in physical gestures, which stand out within the project’s narrative. In each case, the client wanted an extension that was clean and graphic, but with a strong identity. Therefore, it was important that bold gestures were introduced.
The waffle roof acts as the prime focus within the Slab House, its rhythmic beams breaking up the minimal surfaces of the living area. The lightweight atmosphere, achieved through ample glazing with fine frames, counterbalances the weight of the slab roof, enhancing its floating quality.
In Folds, we wanted to create a physical dialogue between the extension and the original building. The focal point of the project is a pleated roof at the back of the house, which appears to be formed from a flat surface, forced to crinkle up into a faceted structure, as it is pushed up against the exterior wall. From the garden, the pleats are purposefully sunk from view, creating the impression of a simple flat roof, which allows the character of the original building to stand out.
You worked with Efasma on a furniture range last year, how has this foray into furniture design helped inform you in your residential projects since then?
In general, we explore a new making technique in each project. We work closely with specialised fabricators and gain knowledge, which we can end up applying to another project in an unexpected way. The Efasma project has nourished our interest in hand craftsmanship. In fact, we are currently working on new flats in Fitzrovia, an area historically associated with furniture making. The façade of the building takes cues from marquetry techniques, which would have been used by craftsmen based in the area.
If you could design one famous/historical/iconic figure, who would it be?
We would love to design the home of Stanley Kubrick or Wes Andersen – directors who each use a bold visual language in their storytelling.