G: Where does your fascination for architecture come from?
That’s hard to explain. Ever since I was a very small child, I’ve always loved nosing around buildings and streets and cities. It’s just innate in me. I’m a space-geek. What I’m especially fascinated by is how our spaces, our buildings, the objects we use and the streets we inhabit, how they are made through the interaction between you and me – ordinary people – and “Designers” with a capital D. I’m fascinated by how that interaction and conversation takes place. I’m also convinced that we all have deep within us an ability to design that is usually locked away and kept there by design jargon and exclusivity, but which just requires the right key to release. Finding the right key is the challenge.
G: How would you describe the designers’ community in Shoreditch?
I used to live round here, until the rent got too expensive! The place has been a centre of London’s design world in the 20 years I have lived in the city. Two decades ago it was more ruinous, secret and quiet, but the design community that began to settle here connected very fundamentally with the existing community and the unique sense of place in the neighbourhood. It’s still a place in which creativity and possibility are simply in the air, but I do worry that the very young have fewer opportunities to settle here. These days, the challenge is to make sure, as it develops, that people are not excluded from it, and that it retains this unique sense of place and history, while continuing to be a place of innovative cultural and social production. The best kind of creativity comes from freedom – and key to this is the freedom to be able to move about and inhabit a city, without having to buy an expensive coffee or a sky-high apartment. I deeply hope this continues.
G: Who are your favourite architects and your favourite buildings in East London?
I’m a sucker for postwar architecture, and East London has long been a place in which architects have experimented often quite wildly, and been given the freedom to explore fascinating new ideas about space and society. So places like Denys Lasdun’s Keeling House, Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens and Erno Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower remain to this day, for all their flaws, incredible confidence and vision. I also like a lot of what the generation of architects who settled here in the 1990s have built, such as the Blue House, by FAT, with its sequins (yes, sequins), and the new entrance to the Museum of Childhood, by Caruso St John, with its delicate decoration.
G: Tell us about the Heineken Iconic Bar Design Challenge?
To design the best bar in the world: what a dream commission! The best young design talent, in disciplines from fashion to architecture to graphics, will be asked to come up with designs, and then the jury will mentor them, with Heineken, as their designs are realized. The underlying ethos is to create a space which really rethinks what a social space might be today, now that most of us spend our social life with our nose buried in tablets and smartphones. I hope it will encourage our designers to really experiment with ideas about what it is we all want to do when we go out in a social space like a bar – apart from the obvious!
G: What to expect from Heineken Lounge experience?
Heineken asked the world what the design DNA of a great night out was, tens of thousands of people responded with Instagrammed images. Then twenty designers to used these images as inspiration for the lounge. I’ve not seen it in person yet – I can’t wait – but from what I’ve seen it looks fascinating: a series of lounges that envisage what a bar might be five or so years into the future, all created within two transformed shipping containers. I’m looking forward to exploring the “cocoons”, little dens for escaping the crowd and being plied with food and drink. I’m the kind of person who always ends up in the kitchen at parties.