Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
Didier Ryan: Undercurrent Architects specialise in brownfield regeneration projects, difficult urban sites and exceptional architecture worldwide.
Novedge: Originally from Australia and based in London, your practice is truly international, with projects and collaborations that span the globe. What are some of the most surprising differences and similarities you have encountered working internationally in the architectural design field?
Didier Ryan: International practice brings us in contact with diverse groups and cultures, different climates and materials, and unique social, political and economic structures – all of which influence our approach and our work. The interplay between these – their similarities and their differences – is a key point of interest.
Although we work internationally, we practice locally. On the one hand, our work aims to assimilate, and to cultivate similarities. On the other hand, we are not interested in mimicry, and so we differentiate. We love indigenous qualities and constantly learn from and adapt to our surroundings … although we also carry with us our own unique history as well as our experiences from the journey we have already travelled. We see the resulting body of our work as representing all these experiences and encounters, something that evolves within the local context rather than something we bring from outside and superimpose on top… You might say we aim for dialogue, in the local dialect.
The most surprising similarities that I've encountered within International practice are universal values of passion, optimism and curiosity. The most surprising differences are limitless ingenuity and the capacity to express.
Novedge: Your website shows images of the concepts behind your work among other things. How and where do you find inspiration for your projects?
Didier Ryan: Inspiration is everywhere!… Although it's easy to forget to recognise it, or to forget how to use it. I say forget, as I don’t see Inspiration as a skill you attain, but a normal condition you forget to put to use. The skill comes in learning to listen and allowing what inspires you to enter the creative process.
For us, big ideas very rarely strike out-of-the-blue. They mostly start with a very small idea. And small ideas need to be nourished in order to grow – like a seed needing a combination of air, water, sun, space and time. So we try to give equal attention to all ideas – no matter how small or insignificant – as every idea will have some effect in the process, it just depends how subtle the aroma.
For me, inspiration comes from my immediate environment – natural, historical, social and political.
Novedge: How do you collaborate with clients during the creative process?
Didier Ryan: Each client is different and we try to harness all our collective resources to their fullest capacity – whether encouraging a client to be hands-on or bringing their skills, background and experience into the process as one of the team.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Didier Ryan:Two recent projects: designing and building.
Archway Studios, London: an escape from the toughest of urban conditions
Leaf House, Sydney: a building to be inside and in-the-garden at the same time.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Didier Ryan: We mainly use CAD and Photoshop and work between virtual and physical models to enhance the manual connection with what we do.
Novedge: In your experience, what are the biggest challenges architecture professionals are facing today?
Didier Ryan: The biggest challenge for architects is staying engaged and connected with the means of production. Without the reiterative feedback from production, you lose a big part of the power to innovate. We have seen this initially with outsourcing, globalised production and the more atomised role of Architects within the construction process, and we will continue to see this with the pre-eminence of 3D printing. Architects should avoid sidelining the fabrication process or being sidelined by it: the process and experience of making is an important part in innovation.
Novedge: What do you hope to achieve over the next 20-30 years?
So far, we have worked and collaborated with an incredibly interesting array of people, from local artisans and craftsmen to multinational corporations; we have built on a few continents, adapting to different climates and incorporating materials unique to each place; we have engaged diverse cultures and communities, transforming neighborhoods and unusable sites – and we’ve learnt a lot along the way.
What has begun to evolve is a body of work that represents these experiences. It speaks without words, across languages, and perhaps through time. In the path ahead, I hope that we continue this growth and to stay curious.
All photographs of Archway Studios, London, by Candice Lake.
All photographs of the Leaf House, Sydney, by Hugh Rutherford.