Office S&M
Against the lack of though
London, UK

Established by Catrina Stewart and Hugh McEwen, Office S&M works on a variety of new-build multi-unit housing, high street regeneration, and public realm projects. From their office in London, the practice creates an architecture that celebrates colour, materiality, and the various narratives of the everyday use of these spaces.

 

Starting out with an open competition 

Office S&M emerged from working alongside each other at the Bartlett school during our masters in Unit 12. Our practice’s approach involves our differing views to find common ideas that enrich the design. Fast forward to today, and this collaborative approach is particularly important given that we are now a team of four working remotely, geographically split from Stratford to Chester. Our very first built project at Office S&M was part of a collaborative scheme with Jan Kattein Architects (JKA) in 2012, where JKA were delivering shopfront improvements to Leyton High Road in east London. JKA selected several young designers via open competition to complete improvements to shop interiors. They knew that by working with other designers, each shop would have the benefits of a personal design team.

 

Industrial materials as a smart solution

As a young practice, we often turn to other practices, consultants, and fabricators for their specialised experience. Taking a collaborative approach supports our more experimental way of working. For example, we particularly enjoy developing materials and using them in innovative ways – such as on Janus House, where we did a spray coating on rubber that is typically used on oil rigs, giving the client a cost effective, seamless exterior, and the supplier exposure to a new residential market. This unusual industrial material, Prokol polyurea, is waterproof, won’t weather, and is guaranteed for 60 years.

 

Taking advantage of a digital space

The digital spaces that we create within the home have become more and more important - where is there a good backdrop, where do I avoid glare on the screen, and where can I get the best signal! These digital spaces allow us to have new views out into the world, and create new social spaces. We're part of Dalston Architecture Collective, a group of 14 architectural practices that mutually share knowledge and experience. This currently takes the form of a weekly Zoom meeting, and as our most recent project, we have developed free 45 minute online consultations for potential clients, using digital and augmented reality tools. Our unique collaborative approach of the group means that we are offering these meetings with a number of intentions: to clarify ideas in a brief, test options with a video call, and set out a clear way forward with a sketch.

 

Making a statement

At Office S&M we don’t use brick. It feels like this shouldn’t be such a statement, but in the current architectural climate, it has become one. Brick is expensive to make and lay, has high embodied energy, and requires additional structure, all of which mean it is not sustainable. But more than this, brick has become a default response by planners, architects, and consultants, which has dumbed down architectural discourse and design. It is this that we want to make a statement against - the lack of thought and investigation which the New London Vernacular has led to.

 

Reforming the educational architecture

As teachers, we want to tackle school design, and show that you can do more with less. While BSF (Building Schools for the Future) is viewed as a heyday for educational projects, we know that there are creative ways to deliver on a budget, as our projects have shown. We work on publicly-funded projects with local authorities, alongside our private residential work, and we hope to bring our skills to bear on the education sector. Working with schools to understand what doesn’t work with their buildings, and how they want to use them in the future would be an enjoyable challenge and build on our retrofitted work to date.



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Photography Courtesy of Office S&M






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