Founded in 1978, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios has spent over thirty years refining its approach to sustainability, and is now regarded as one of the UK's leading practices in low-energy design. Yet their work still resonates on many other levels, bringing them multiple awards including the 2008 RIBA Stirling Prize for the Accordia Housing Project which they completed alongside Alison Brooks Architects and Maccreanor Lavington. In this interview from Indian Architect & Builder's May 2015 issue, Peter Clegg talks about the principles behind their work, explaining the concept of holistic sustainability which makes their designs so successful.
Indian Architect & Builder: The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, The Southbank Centre and many other projects desire to involve the social aspects for the larger good of the community. How would you describe the incorporation of these into the design process?
Peter Clegg: Architecture is an art form but also social science and we have a duty not only to work with our current client base and generate ideas collaboratively, but also think ahead and envisage the needs of future generations who are our ultimate clients. Our most creative work comes from working closely with creative clients who are more prevalent in the creative and cultural industries.
IA&B: Your firm has won many awards including the RIBA Stirling Prize and Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award. How would you explain your journey, from the establishment of the firm till today; its progression, hurdles and achievements?
PC: We started very small as a community based architectural practice in Bath and we had several lucky breaks, winning international competitions and major projects such as the Realworld recording studio for Peter Gabriel in the 1980s. Our work has always been firmly rooted in the public sector, predominantly schools and universities, but when we won the Stirling Prize in 2008 it was for a private sector housing development where we were able to generate a new paradigm in the design of a community of housing on the outskirts of Cambridge. Our work has always been true to our founding principles which emphasize the social and environmental aspects of architecture whatever sector we operate in
IA&B: Your approach to design seems to address sustainability, design and the built environment simultaneously. If you were to choose one of your projects that would be the most significant, which one would it be?
PC: In terms of sustainability one of the most interesting projects we completed recently is the City and University Library for Worcester. It is an exceptionally low energy design using a very carefully designed natural lighting and natural ventilation system. It uses renewable energy from biomass as a fuel and from the adjacent river water as a source of energy for a heat pump. But it also has a very strong social sustainability impact providing a communal resource for such a wide age range of clients and customers from the surrounding area. It is a new focus for civic pride.
IA&B: The St. Peters Primary School Project seems to have been dealt with a lot of intuition - how strongly do you think intuition influences the design process of an Architect?
PC: Like my mentor Ted Cullinan, I have always been an enthusiast for the “jump in and splash around” approach to design. But our work is always a product of an intuitive understanding based on past experience and a rational analysis of the clients program and the suggestions that come from an understanding of the site. Design exists between the dialectic of these two influences, and understanding of the design process informs us when to jump and dive and when to ponder and analyse.
IA&B: How would you describe your approach to design considering parameters of context, culture and sustainability?
PC: We find it absolutely necessary to understand context and culture and to absorb the pre-existing sense of place and help define “what might be.” An in-depth understanding of sustainability (an abused and overused word!) comes not only from understanding orientation and micro climate and the energy flows in a building but also the culture and context that the buildings exist in. Holistic sustainability will mitigate climate change but also help generate a more equitable society. Architects are in the front line of the fight against global warming. In the UK the regulatory framework is in place to ensure we take these responsibilities seriously, but climate change is an issue of global responsibility and we enjoy working with people from other cultures to get a different perspective of the way the problems are being addressed.
IA&B: Your firm Feilden Clegg Bradley conducts path breaking research in various fields, what do you think is the importance of exploration in the field of architecture?
PC: Over the last 20 years we have conducted research into many areas of low energy design and tested different approaches to reducing energy consumption. Completing the feedback loop into the next generation of design projects is very beneficial, but one of the most significant lessons is that we need to keep the control systems for our buildings very simple and let the buildings provide most of the passive environmental controls themselves.
IA&B: Lastly, what do you think are the benefits of academics, teaching and discourse in the practice of Architecture?
PC: The intellectual pursuit of architecture through teaching allows us to constantly challenge our preconceptions. Working with students who bring new and fresh (and often constructively naïve) ideas to the table, allows us as tutors to hone our critical skills, think fast and help develop many designs quickly which in an office environment would be hampered by pragmatism and impeded by cost and client constraints. Teaching is constructive “practice” for real architecture, and provides us with the discourse that we need to develop and explore new ideas.