Nomadic working has been growing in popularity in recent years, as a combination of improved communications, advanced digital technologies and soaring property prices push many creative professionals out of the cities and onto the road. Now, it has come to architecture.
Here, Red Deer founders Lionel Real de Azúa, Ciarán O’Brien and Lucas Che Tizard speak about their young architectural practice, and the benefits, approaches and challenges of the nomadic process – an increasingly popular working style.
Charlotte Richardson Andrews: Where are you, what are you up to and what can you see from where you’re sitting?
Red Deer: It varies. In the last ten days, we’ve collectively been moving through seven countries: France, Croatia; Mauritius; Reunion Island; Portugal; Turkey; Montenegro. Partly for leisure but mainly for business. Travelling is an intrinsic part of our ethos; it’s through travel that inspiration from all parts of the globe can be found and translated into design.
With a laptop, a global connection, a space that we can vibe off, the world becomes our office. We engage in the act of working, not being ‘at’ work.
CRA: How did the founders of Red Deer meet, and how did the company come together?
RD: We all shared engraved pint glasses in the local pub, around which we decided to work together. First in a tiny flat in Westbourne Terrace, [London] then a cold food store warehouse in Hackney.
The setup always resembled an ethos rather than a practice. We are now a herd of nine, based in Shoreditch, with the plan to widen the net to 11. We strive to be as lean and nimble as possible.
CRA: What is the nomadic process?
RD: Fundamentally, nomadism relies on autonomy. We have a company ethos that is grounded in that. We allow flexibility of working, and although we have a hot-desking membership at Soho Works, our team are able to work anywhere, as everything we use, from drawing to office management, is digital.
Each member of staff is given a laptop and we communicate workloads and content through various cloud-based platforms to ensure everyone is on the right page, so that even when we can’t be physically in an office, we connect digitally. Interestingly, we are able to cultivate a strong company culture and sense of community despite being in many different places.
CRA: Can you describe your role in a typical project’s life span, from inception to completion?
RD: We are involved at every stage of a project, even from the earliest concepts without a brand or concrete offering, to established companies with brand guidelines. We work with both commercial and residential clients.
CRA: It’s an unorthodox approach. What prompted it?
RD: It is unorthodox to be so nimble when working with something so fixed like architecture and design. But what we’ve found is that by allowing the freedom of movement in a work setting, we are more creative, less fixed in mindset, and ultimately, it becomes a lifestyle. It allows us to take inspiration from anywhere – from a Romanian film still to tiny detail in a Marrakesh riad.
CRA: What are the benefits and challenges of the nomadic practice as a way of working?
RD: Red Deer ultimately seeks to be a place that is life and lifestyle-affirming. We have found a way to have a successful business alongside creating a company culture that treats people as creative, autonomous, dynamic individuals and provides a platform for them to have a life outside of work, but also a work life that isn’t so different from the life outside it.
CRA: Can you see this approach becoming the industry norm? Is architecture and design an industry that celebrates innovation, or frets over it?
RD: The industry seems to suffer from double standards. Architects are initially encouraged to dream big but then scaremonger each other into risk aversion. Ultimately fear stifles creativity so we aspire to remove ourselves from the institution.
CRA: What are the underpinning ethics and principles at Red Deer? What kind of projects are you committed to, and what would you draw the line at – if anything? What are your thoughts on things like renewables, gentrification, poor doors and other socio-political aspects of architecture and design?
RD: It is important that architects engage with projects concerning architecture and design as necessity. Wasting energy, money, space and time is ungrateful and we strive to avoid this with our architecture. Ultimately, we strive for simplicity in design and lifestyle – if we start from there, one naturally makes the responsible decision.
CRA: Part of your practice is academic, since all of you teach at various UK institutions (London School of Architecture, the Royal College of Art and Oxford Brookes). It sounds, from your press release, like teaching is a reciprocal process for you all. What are you learning from your students?
RD: We see teaching as a feedback loop into our work and life. We tend to view our students as peers – and expect them to challenge us every day we meet. Beyond form, architecture is very much an attitude and we look to them to confront us so we’re reminded to do the same with our clients.
CRA: You’ve said you believe that “design, rather than the product” is an important but often underused imperative in the lecture hall. Why is this direction important for Red Deer?
RD: The greatest learning comes through the process of making, imagining and actually failing at something. Process is the key – and often times a product or a building isn’t the right answer. Reminding oneself of this is crucial.
CRA: On the subject of academia, what received knowledge have you found yourself having to ‘unlearn’ in order to be better at what you do?
RD: Hierarchy – we like to lead from the side and feel we get a lot more back for it.
CRA: Who, what and where are your design and architecture inspirations? You talk about nomadic movement as a way of absorbing influences from around the world; are these things counterbalanced with faithful, fixed touchstones you return to again and again for inspiration?
RD: Reclamation Yards. We love these wonderful vestiges of the past. They provide infinite opportunities for design and reinvention. We also love sailing; being at sea forces one to shed unnecessary weight, to move and build as efficiently as possible. It imposes a mindset of resourcefulness, curiosity and adventure. These are all healthy reminders of how to live and design.
CRA: Can you talk a bit about Red Deer’s latest projects? What are you excited to be working on right now, and why?
RD: We are working on a range of projects that are due for completion soon: one in Brixton (Brixton restaurant Canova Hall) and another off London’s Regent Street (Magpie, Michelin-star chef James Ramsden’s latest eatery).
We’re continuing to expand globally, and are now working on restaurants in Dubai and Los Angeles. We’re working closely with various collaborators who are passionate in their own respective industries and are opening doors to new work that is taking our practice to another level.