Architect in Profile - James Walsh

In this month’s Q&A, James Walsh, CEO of Studio Anyo, fills us in on what inspires him and how young architecture students can get ahead.

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James Walsh

is the CEO of Studio Anyo

Please tell us a bit about your career background.

After graduating from Hull School of Architecture, I worked for several London practices, including Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, Sheppard Robson and Hamiltons Architects, cutting my teeth on various projects before setting up Studio Anyo in 2010. I learnt an awful lot, and for a young architect, it all provided great exposure to the work of renowned architects, such as Foster and Rogers, on some of London’s biggest regeneration projects, including Oxford Street’s Armadillo Connect.

Have you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture?

Yes, I’ve always wanted to be an architect for as long as I can remember. No one else in my family had worked in architecture, but I found myself drawn to it early on. I was also stronger in technical drawing, graphics and design than in other subjects at school, so it was perhaps a natural career for me to pursue.

Who has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?

The modern geometric work of the great Polish-American Architect Daniel Libeskind has always inspired me, particularly his design of the Jewish Museum Berlin, Germany. I’m also intrigued by buildings with stories to tell. This includes churches and cathedrals, whose design and architectural narratives have transcended the generations to remain as influential and inspiring as ever.

What has been your most notable project to date?

The citizenM Tower of London hotel, completed in 2012, has to be one of my most important pieces of work and the one I’m particularly proud of. This complex building sits within a UNESCO World Heritage site and above the nearby London Underground station. The development saw a lot of technical and design challenges to overcome to deliver a flagship luxury hotel where concrete, glass and high-tech works across architecture, interiors, urban development and brand significance.

How do you approach your projects?

It begins by working closely with the client to identify a storyboard for the project, whether it’s a new or refurbished hotel, office block or leisure facility. From this, the first concept flows, feeding the design narrative and, ultimately, a distinct meaning and purpose for the building.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for designing in sustainability?

Designing in sustainability is one of the key requirements for almost all new buildings, regardless of whether they are commercial or residential developments. For architects, this presents a tough ask – the great challenge is to create functional, inhabitable buildings that aren’t compromised by sustainability requirements and the need to use energy-efficient technologies and materials.

What is your favourite building?

Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum Berlin. It’s a testament to the value and power of narrative within design and architecture, conveying the social, political and cultural history of the Jews in Germany from the fourth century to the tragedy of the Holocaust in an achingly-powerful, evocative and acute style. The light and darkness of the subject matter are captured by a unique building that’s both brutal and compelling by turns, relating a story for the ages and reminding people of what happened during one of the darkest chapters of our time.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for architects today?

Striking a balance between delivering beautiful, energy-efficient buildings that we would all want to live and work in with budget constraints can be highly challenging for architects. We are seeing good design and architecture being stripped away because of the rising cost of sustainable technologies and the products used in construction. Energy efficiency and net-zero carbon emissions always come with a price.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for architecture students?

Understanding that academic courses bear little relevance to the actual job of being an architect is a massive challenge for students. Those students who come to a commercial practice must then attain two to three years of learning and experience before they can be considered ready and equipped with the skills to work in the real world. This can be a costly process, placing considerable strain on practices’ budgets.

What advice would you give to newly-qualified architects?

Try to get as much real-world experience as quickly as possible. Get yourself involved with live projects via work experience and, crucially, understand how builders work and interpret architectural drawings. Possessing the skills that enable you to communicate designs succinctly and unambiguously to builders is paramount to being a successful architect and delivering projects.

What can we expect to see from you over the next year?

We are growing our work in residential and high-end sectors through creating and delivering new products incorporating the latest developments in MMC and offsite, modular construction. For example, our new range of sustainable prefab houses for consumers will offer more choice and variation than ever before.

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