This is my fourth interview with young designers identified by the Design Council as Ones to Watch. Emma Thomas’ housing designs for 24-hour-care and supported-living put a focus on circulation spaces, giving their autistic residents the opportunity to observe social situations without having to engage, and include threshold spaces and places for chance encounters and social development. Her project was selected in the Social Impact category alongside The Potty Project, Julia King’s New Delhi sanitation project; and Dear Friend, a social campaign designed to raise awareness of global issues using the Moonpig platform by Adam Radi and Mathias Trads.
What’s the most important thing to know about you?
My interest in architecture follows a love for travel. I love to experience architecture of different cultures and climates.
What inspires your work?
My architecture is inspired by people. I believe architects should attempt to improve the quality of life for the end user.
Talk me through your design and making process.
I start with the brief: who is the end user of the building and what do they require? I like to create a narrative as to how people will use the building. Then out comes the tracing paper and pens and I draw up various iterations of a building working in plan and section. I work quickly freehand sketching until I have a workable solution which I will then transfer into computer modelling. This allows me to generate a further level of detail and inform the design process further. For the final proposal drawings I use a mixture of computer generated images and freehand drawings. I find computer modelling useful for the technical aspects; freehand drawings allow me to explore the atmosphere of the architecture I am proposing.
What’s your favourite part of the process?
Spatial planning. The process of connecting individual elements together to create an enjoyable journey through the building. I love the combination of user experience and logic.
What’s your favourite tool and why?
Tracing paper. It allows me to test a particular detail quickly. I can layer up various versions over each other to work out the best way forward. I often find solutions to problems by scribbling over and over.
Tell me about a really good day and a really bad day in the life of Emma Thomas.
A good day is when you finally solve a troubling aspect to a project. Architecture has so many different angles to it, so when it comes together, nothing is more satisfying. A bad day is when the design is shown to be weak and thus you are letting down the final end user. It is never fun when you feel like you could push the scheme further than you have.
What defines good design?
Something which improves the quality of life for people.
What are you most proud of?
That I can design socially conscious architecture which does not need to be showy or iconic.
What advice would you give to an aspiring designer?
Personalise experience as much as possible so that you can relate to an end user. Understanding a brief comes from understanding how an end user would interact with your design.
What did it mean to you to be selected as one of the Design Council’s Ones To Watch?
It inspires confidence in my approach to architecture and has encouraged me to continue to question socially conscious architecture.
And finally, what’s your favourite colour?
Further reading for the especially geeky:
Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.
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