Urban Radicals is a design collective based in London, founded in 2019 by Era Savvides and Athanasios Varnavas. The practice operates at the intersection of multiple disciplines, exploring public space and the notion of collectivity across a variety of scales, contexts and design expressions. One of Archdaily's Best New Practices of 2021, Urban Radicals shrinks and grows organically through the projects, dissolving the boundaries between diverse fields of knowledge and circumventing traditional office structure to integrate a multiplicity of perspectives within architecture.
ArchDaily had the opportunity to talk to the two architects about interdisciplinarity, collaborative processes and the challenges a young practice faces today. Read the full interview below.
ArchDaily: Can you tell us more about Urban Radicals? What defines your body of work? What are your main areas of interest within architecture?
Urban Radicals: We are a collaborative studio for design and architecture, interested in people and public space. Urban Radicals is a network made of different players, forming a larger We, a polymath, a system to solve problems across contexts and scales. We see our body of work as a garden; as knowledge that grows naturally or is grafted upon, therefore keeping the work we produce rooted, fresh, unexpected, open, playful, common, multi-authored. The outcome is inherent to this process. Every project presents a new challenge. We don't believe in signatures, as signatures tend to become outdated. We formulate our process based on research, stories, painting, parties, dinners, fishing trips, walks, gatherings and conversations; it is loose and very much informed by our everyday. We examine our ideas via politics, economy, ecology, storytelling, community and craft.
Our main interest is to envision an architecture that moves freely outside stereotypes of traditional office structures, to search for the local, to seek further into the global, to ask what else is there, to act upon the bigger questions, with rigour and urgency, a spirit and generosity, to touch and speak to people directly, to go beyond what we think architecture is.
AD: Almost all of your projects are developed together with different collaborators. Is this a thing you particularly care about? Is it a way of bringing different areas of expertise into your work?
UA: We are particularly inspired by the way other disciplines work, acting upon a shared body of work. Through collaboration, conversation and exchange, we feel that ideas can go much further. In a basketball game, there are always the different players who contribute to the end result; the same goes for a piece of music. As these groups are formed, the impact we may have on our built environment can go much further than our siloed offices. There's so many talented people out there which we would love to meet, learn from and work together on projects and visions.
AD: Many of your designs deal with public space and places of collectivity. What is your main focus when addressing such works?
UA: We love origins, the stories which have formed communities and the communities that consequently shaped our cities. These stories are worth telling and celebrating, and this is what we look for when developing a project. Today many crucial notions which have come to define the public, the shared, are under enormous pressure by private capital. For us, it's important to give authorship to the public. When we designed the Cyprus Pavilion at the17th Venice Architecture Biennale, we tried to incorporate the existing cultural foundation of Spiazzi and its people, allowing them to make use of our architectural intervention with events that went beyond the exhibition, whilst allowing the local community to interact with it and somehow make something out of it which was outside the frameworks of the Biennale. What we love is that fragments of our project still remain there and are used by the space, extending its lifespan and going further than a temporary installation for architectural tourists.
AD: What are some projects you're currently working on?
UA: At the moment we are working on visions for cities which we love such as London and Nicosia. We are also in touch with colleagues we met through the Biennale and are hoping to work on community build projects outside Europe. In parallel to this, we have partnered up with London-based engineers to look into new material possibilities and construction methods linked to sustainability and the environment.
We are also developing two homes for painters, friends who are based here in London. Both projects will involve designing their living spaces as well as their painting studios and exhibition galleries. One is in urban Hackney, London, and the other one in rural Aburi, Ghana. We see both as collaborations, rather than a traditional client-architect relationship.
AD: As a young practice, what are the challenges you face, and how do you overcome them?
UA: We live in an age where fear of failure seems to prevail. Fear of putting one's work out there; fear of not producing enough, or doing it fast enough; fear of not complying or of not being seen as relevant. This is likely powered by the way we browse through data, images, information. Yet fear is the ingredient which paralyses the creative process and makes us shut down to the opportunities which may exist around us and the way we respond to the world. The biggest challenge is to overcome these and start allowing the practice to form as part of an ongoing process, embracing failure, trial and error, testing, risking, finding out. By embracing the unknown, believing that we will continue no matter what, sharing, exposing ourselves and where our work finds itself at the present moment, collaborating, creating opportunities, clients and briefs, opening up to friends and new friends is our way forward.
AD: With changes to climate, technology, and construction, the increasing complexity of the design process, what do you think is the designer's role today and how do you see the practice evolve?
UA: We believe that the design process can be as simple or as complex as one likes. What is changing though is the way the 'building' part of architecture is taking place, and this, we feel, will be the biggest challenge for the future of the practice. The previous generation was defined by starchitects who traversed the globe with signature styles implemented on contexts and cities, mostly fuelled by private capital. Architecture is still operating on the global canvas, and this is not to say that it shouldn't - we shouldn't be anachronistic, fetishise the past or operate within bounded localities. However, the interesting crossroad will be to creatively respond to globally imposed regulation, streamlined processes, building technologies and most crucially, to do this with intent and with a vision that goes beyond protocol; not to create more copy-paste cities, which tick regulatory boxes except that of architecture and the spirit of a place.
Our generation will need to work hard to engage with issues of environment, climate change, migration, as cities and communities are re-formed and re-defined. We should respond to questions that we are currently faced with, look, interrogate, find substance and define our ever-changing localities in an endeavour to make sense of place and home. The corpus of our built environment is so rich, we can reuse materials, choose to graft buildings rather than flatten them and start again. We are in a moment where the future is unfolding in front of our eyes, and we should use our agency to act now.
We invite you to check out ArchDaily's comprehensive coverage of the curated selection of 2021 New Practices. As always, at ArchDaily, we highly appreciate the input of our readers. If you want to nominate a certain studio, firm, or architect, for the 2022 New Practices please submit your suggestions.