Jade Tilley talks to Richard Found about the expansion of internet research for architecture means and the immersive design practices employed for Saks Fifth Avenue.
Established by Richard Found in 1997 and based in Soho, London, Found is a leading architectural design practice with a diverse and international range of projects.
The practise is widely recognised for its thoughtful and innovative approach to contemporary architecture, with an emphasis on bespoke solutions and considered, contextual designs. Found’s UK and international clients include luxury brands Selfridges, DKNY, Harrods, Givenchy and Mario Testino, as well as RIBA award-winning residential new build and development projects for a wide range of private and commercial clients.
Here, Richard shares his memories of University on the cusp of digital change, designing across all sectors and the daydream of being an impoverished artist.
What is your earliest memory of design and architecture having an impact on you?
I think my earliest memory of architecture having an impact on me was when visiting London Zoo, aged 11, discovering Lubetkin’s wonderful penguin pools. I remember being amazed how structurally the ramps appeared to be self-supporting.
Where did you study? How do you feel the architectural education has changed in recent years?
I studied at the University of North London. On a hugely exciting day, during my last term of University, alongside our drawing boards arrived one computer that was the size of an industrial oven. 30 students were all clambering to try and learn how to use this very alien device. In order to draw a single line it felt like one had to write some lengthy code. The process was complicated and slow unlike today.
Drawing boards are obviously now dinosaurs from the past. However, there were those who were talented draftsman that took real pride in the quality of their Rotring pen drawings. They were perhaps concerned at the time that the computer would in some way result in their talent being overlooked. However, computers have enabled certain buildings to be created and built that would never have been conceived on a drawing board. Computers allow a complexity of shapes and structures that cannot be accurately drawn by the human hand.
Without the Internet we were restricted to library books and a handful of architectural magazines as our source of inspiration. Our knowledge of international buildings was limited unless we had the budget to travel. A student today first looks on the Internet for inspiration. Research is made easy. Student travel is unfortunately less of a necessity with Pinterest at their fingertips.
What kind of architect did you aspire to be?
My ambition was to form a business where people were passionate about their work; our goal was and is always to be creative and innovative.
Who are your design/architecture inspirations?
Le Corbusier and Eileen Gray.
What does FOUND represent as a firm?
We’re a firm that delivers the entire project, i.e. the architecture and the interior design, united through a powerful simplicity driven by space and context.
How do you continue to carve your own path in the industry?
By working on a very varied group of projects/sectors. We work in restaurants, art galleries, houses, department stores, aircraft interiors, and the list doesn’t end there. Keeping our work varied offers us experiences in all fields and keeps us abreast of the latest changes and challenges in that sector. It is really exciting and dynamic work, offering solutions for a spectrum of clients.
Where is the majority of your work based?
Largely in Europe and the United States.
What has been your biggest design commission to date?
Saks Fifth Avenue, Brookfield Place in lower Manhattan, NY. I worked closely with Saks Fifth Avenue to create a landmark luxury retail destination, featuring a new visual language that unites all brands and departments. The design combines an impressive spatial arrangement, crisp detailing and understated palette with a series of dramatic elements, all referencing the brand’s heritage and reflecting its unique location.
The centrepiece of the design is a cylindrical tower, finished in white polished plaster, which fills a rotunda space that rises vertically over two levels and provides the store’s prominent frontage onto West and Liberty Street and the 9/11 Memorial. Radiating brass fins, forming a two storey ‘veil’, act as a secondary store front creating an eye catching kinetic spectacle at street level while providing glanced views in and out of the store.
This was an extremely exciting and innovative project to work on and Saks were very open-minded to a new approach. Service and experience are now the most important features to consider when designing a store to compete with the online landscape, so it was important to create a journey for the customers. Saks have considered many touches to make the experience more fluid and appealing for the customer. We ensured that the architecture and design reflects the need to create a truly interactive and immersive retail experience.
What does the face of architecture look like to you in 10 years time?
I am hoping no different to today!
If you hadn’t become an architect what would you be doing?
I get great pleasure from drawing so maybe I would have been an artist. No doubt an impoverished one!