The latest installment of our Q&A series is out – and we have an exciting guest. Julian McIntosh is an architect, broadcaster and creative director. His architecture practice, Julian McIntosh Architects, designs spaces for residential and retail clients, including the likes of Burberry and Jo Malone. The hit BBC and Netflix TV show, Your Home Made Perfect, has brought Julian’s flowing, light-filled designs into people’s front rooms through the dazzling effects of VR.
He is also passionate about working in the community, and one of the ways he does this is through directing the creative operations at the Heritage and Arts Centre, or HAC, a grade-two listed church at Bow in East London where they host public events with artists such as Cj Hendry. Julian describes his practice as “taking a collaborative approach to design which enables us to execute projects in a way that brings maximum value and enjoyment of space to clients”.
We caught up with Julian to talk collaboration, community and his favourite YouTube videos.
Can you describe a typical day for us at Julian McIntosh Architects?
I tend to think in weeks as opposed to days. I know that makes my answer more complex, but a general week includes travelling to see clients at their homes to discuss the possibility of a project. We are big on visiting clients at the outset. This lets us discuss possibilities which they may not yet have identified in their brief. These may add to or bring more opportunities for the design and development of their home, building or space. Through the week I also have design workshops with team members where we try to be rigorous with exploring design concepts and spatial layouts and architectural details. I do end up doing a certain amount of emails and admin that come with running a practice. Then there are also filming days for Your Home Made Perfect. I love seeing all the camera equipment, and working with Angela and the rest of the architects and crew is a really joyful process.
Collaboration is a key element of your approach to architecture and design. Why is it important to you?
Before establishing my practice, not many people know that I founded a design group called Collaborent during my university years. Collaborent is derived from Latin and means ‘collaboration,’ which reflects my deep-rooted belief in the value of collaborative efforts. Some of the most fulfilling work I’ve undertaken within the practice has arisen from fruitful collaborations. Notable examples include partnering with Urban Symbiotics to design and construct the new Black Cultural Archives bookshop, as well having long-term collaborators and friends such as talented artists like Akeelah Bertram with whom we worked on various projects. These include the reception area for East Street Arts in Leeds and my inaugural exhibition, Gathered Relics, at the HAC in 2019. We’ve also had the privilege of collaborating with renowned artists such as Cj Hendry, Frank Laws and Samuel Butt through our work at the HAC. To me, collaboration is a continuous learning experience that helps us bring a unique perspective to the work we undertake with our clients.
Was it tough setting up your own practice?
I don’t think it’s tough to start a practice. Many architects do. I think to have a successful and relevant practice is more the challenge, but in many cases that is what makes it interesting. I think there is always the question circulating in my head as we develop the practice of what makes us relevant and what makes us special, and I think each time we embark on a new project, we find ourselves seeking answers to these pivotal questions.
You aim to support communities through your designs. What role can architecture play?
We are very interested in the role buildings can play in communities. We have several projects where our designs and buildings play an important role in communities such as the African Caribbean Care Group in Manchester, Kiondo Studios and the HAC in Bow. In an era marked by council cuts and high streets succumbing to chains, it has become increasingly challenging for people to discover spaces that foster community connections in our towns and cities. As a practice, we are acutely aware of this dilemma, and we are committed to exploring how we can design spaces that not only support the diverse needs of communities but also remain economically sustainable and beneficial to all stakeholders. Therefore, creating architecture that can genuinely contribute to the wellbeing of the community has become more vital and challenging than ever before.
Do you have a favourite building or space?
There are so many. Parks and river walks at present are really inspiring to me. Recently, my visit to Stratford-upon-Avon left a lasting impression, especially the Shakespeare Theatre and its surrounding public space. What struck me was how seamlessly it wove together diverse elements— a modern, tourist-friendly public area coexisting with the grandeur and heritage of the Shakespeare Theatre. The presence of numerous bars and cafes situated at various levels added an intriguing dimension to the overall experience.
Do you have certain philosophies or inspirations you turn to for each project? Like guiding principles.
Absolutely, we do. Light, layout and flow are the foundational elements that shape our architectural approach. My upbringing in homes that often lacked sufficient natural light has deeply influenced my attention to these aspects in my work. I feel like the depth of philosophy of the practice takes a range of guises and I look forward to sharing more of this side of the practice moving forward.
As well as being the creative director of your own architecture practice you are also the director of The Heritage & Arts Centre in Bow – a grade-two listed church reimagined as a multi-purpose events space. What are your aims for the future at the HAC?
There is so much opportunity for the HAC. I started working on the building a long time ago with some really talented individuals. Buildings such as the HAC that have been closed for more than 25 years take a certain resilience to keep open. I believe that the building has successfully traversed its resilience phase and is now on the cusp of becoming a thriving and vibrant place.
What are you working on at the moment?
We are working on an arts incubator in the West Midlands as well as a range of homes. We have been working on completing a very contemporary home at Harrow in North London called the Retreat which essentially is named after the type of oasis of calm space we are endeavouring to create for the client. We are also really interested in the transformation work we are undertaking with African Caribbean Care Group and looking at the future of intergenerational care within minority communities. These are among many other projects, but we are really enjoying the balance.
Can you recommend a book?
I am more of a YouTube kind of person. Lately, I’ve been immersed in some captivating videos, like the ones featuring the architect, Liz Diller, and a commentary of her Slow House project. Additionally, I’ve been tuning into Tony Fretton’s insightful interviews, especially those focusing on his retrospective insights. He’s a fascinating person whom I had the brief pleasure of meeting while at university.
See more of Julian’s projects on his website – www.julianmcintosharchitects.co.uk