We do a lot of experimenting with materials to really understand how they can be assembled into beautiful and fit for purpose building elements. One of the advantages of our location is that we can use our own workshop, and the workshops of local collaborators and fabricators, to make everything from scale mockups and models to full size prototypes.
On the Jerwood Gallery, we were inspired to create bespoke terrazzo mixes for the flooring in the gallery and public spaces, by the beautiful terrazzo of Venice. We got a major terrazzo supplier to send us bags of all their different marble chips, which we played with in our own workshop, setting them in different mixes into different colours of resin. When we had a result we were happy with, we sent the recipe back to the supplier for them to recreate.
At other times we’ve cut up veneers in the office to understand exactly how a pattern might work with the grain and texture of real wood; or made prototypes of display cases, lighting mockups, or constructional large scale models. We made one model showing all the timber framing for a tricky rooflight, that ended up on site for the carpenters to refer to. Samples have had coffee and wine poured over them or been left out in the rain for months on end.
For us, understanding the properties of a material at close quarters – how it can be worked, fixed, how it ages and stains – is one of the essential qualities of an architect.