Siobhan Davies + Sarah Wigglesworth

“One never experiences space like a book narrative where you go through successive pages in order. It's much more anarchic and chaotic than that, things may be experienced in completely different ways than you could possibly imagine” Sarah Wigglesworth, Architect
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  • SD _ To begin this conversation I am looking at the word choreography, to expand its meaning for me by looking at artists from other disciplines and to find out how they approach and assemble their own work.
  • SD _ I would like us to think about how you source ideas, find components and work out structures and spaces within your architectural practice, and if I might feel familiar with some of your processes, will I recognise some choreographic thinking, a shared ground?
  • SW _ It’s difficult for me to make the analogy in my discipline because I’m not familiar with how you make decisions in choreography.
  • SD _ I realise that, but architecture is an art form, so while much of your work deals with the practical, structural, social and more, it also involves layers of other possibilities that make up the experience of being in a building: how, why, where and when particular elements are chosen to transform a built place and engage with the people using it.
  • SW _ So in a way you’re asking for a sort of reflection on our practice and the way we make decisions in our work?
  • SD _ Choreography might be seen as the way in which people move within a building. They use the building as a form of score which they then interact with, but I’m trying to think of the smaller ingredients, the multiplicity of things that you have carefully chosen: the placement of a shape or a texture; material; proportion; use of light – these choices to me are compositional. Do you recognise that in your work – compositional or choreographic? And can you talk about some of those choices?
  • SW _ I don’t think of it as compositional at all. I mean I would never use that word because it sounds too painterly. I guess in the end I know that creativity comes out of something in me, but I’m not at all interested in knowing where or what – I’m just more interested in how you stimulate what happens and so I’d never call it compositional. I find the idea that there’s a genius moment that hits you to be very suspect.
  • SD _ I don’t mean it like that. I see in both of your buildings that I know well, Stock Orchard Street and Siobhan Davies Studios, many components that would have required a discipline in how they were put together. There are reasons why you have chosen to place the different qualities, forms and weights of materials in a particular place, how you use repetition, rhythm and pattern for instance in the hanging stairs in my studios. The processes that you used to make these decisions are similar to the ones we use, except that ours are placed into the qualities and dynamics of a moving body responding to a particular place.
  • SD _ Choreography can be how we choose to place one element alongside another and the impact that one has on another: the placement of ideas and how they accumulate.
  • SW _ There is obviously a deliberate choice and I think that in the end we do try and make architecture which has contrast and continuity – a clear set of identities. There’s a sequence to the way in which we think about your experience of the building. We might begin somewhere and end somewhere or it might be circular and reiterative – or there might be a less didactic way of organising where things are, as a more fluid dialogue. One never experiences space like a book narrative where you go through successive pages in order. It’s much more anarchic and chaotic than that, you have to understand that things may be experienced in completely different ways than you could possibly imagine.
  • SD _ In different orders
  • SW _ Yes in different orders, exactly, so in the end it shouldn’t be didactic. I think it needs to be quite able to be experienced in its multiplicities and still be relevant. There are bigger and smaller dialogues and they might be just at the level of a contrast of colour or material, or one event seen against the back drop of another. The sequence of coming in and taking your clothes off to have a shower and then redressing again – a way in which the backdrop orchestrates a series of experiences around what it is to be nude and then reclad.
  • SD _ Listen Let me pick up on that because I know these comments are made about the showers in our building, the Siobhan Davies Studios. You had a very conscious way of exploring how the person on the street comes into the building and transforms into someone who is going to go up into the studio to work with dance.
  • SW _ We wanted to expose the walls of the existing building, because they actually have very beautiful glazed bricks there and also the glazing has a pragmatic use because it’s a wet space.
  • SD _ In the showers
  • SW _ Image I’m referring to the walls of the actual changing room itself. The lower part of the external walls of this room are made of glazed bricks. It’s the sort of thing that you see in tiled bathrooms, but there’s a play on this because brown does not equal cleanliness. It was once a schoolroom so there’s a memory of that as well. It’s functional because it obviously does the waterproofing but at the same time it’s a bit like stripping back the wall to its nudity, which is a metaphor for what you’re doing when you’re actually taking your clothes off as a human being. So we quite liked that idea of the stripping naked of the wall and then the exposing of the wall – because that just picks up on the metaphor. Then you are stark naked in a quite large space with these very hard surfaces and that feels quite brash, and challenging for the nude body.
  • SW _ Image Then we thought about the showers in which you’re re-enveloped in warm water like a womb. We felt this should have a very different feel and should be like stepping inside a sort of cocoon. It should feel very nurturing and inward looking, so we made those a bit like stepping inside a fruit pod and I think that’s one of the ways in which the choice of the colours began to emerge; a painted-on surface which eventually ended up with an orange peel texture and this very bright colour. Then you step out again and you are re-exposed. It’s as if you are reborn in a way – it’s a bit corny but that’s what we were thinking about.
  • SW _ And you put on your clothes again and then as you come out…
  • SD _ Put on your dance clothes?
  • SW _ Yes exactly. You come out as a different person, the dancer as opposed to the citizen. The back of those changing rooms are just very bland and very grey, the idea being that when you’re walking down that corridor, before you enter it you don’t know that there’s this interior which is really special. It’s the same as putting on your pin stripped suit – the suit conceals the body behind it but the suit is all you see on the outside.
  • SW _ Image 1 Image 2 Outside the showers we made a balcony that is a soft cushioned gathering place that was to do with the first dramatic reappearance of the dancer as the dancer in the foyer. To remind you of the skin you’ve just shed we decided to make the seating out of leather and pad the cloth around that seat to reinforce the idea of the shedding skin and becoming something else. These are the metaphors that we’re playing with when we’re thinking “well why would you make it in a particular way or any other way?” However you don’t need to know any of that in order to understand it. It’s still an enjoyable thing because the moment you step on to that leather floor you’re aware that you’re no longer on the vinyl of the corridor: it’s something much warmer, much more sensuous.
  • SW _ I think there are echoes of just touching skin, which, though very sublimated are there none the less, so those are the kinds of things we were thinking about when we were giving structure to that as a set of ideas.
  • SD _ You needed to reach an architectural outcome but some of the strategies you use are similar to ours, beginning with us all trying to find the right questions to ask at the beginning of the whole process and the ability to recognise the best, even if unpredictable answers.
  • SD _ At the end of a project we are both aware of the immediate experience that a visitor has of a performance or a space but that there is also enough evidence left for the observer to reverse back through some of the layers that contributed to the finished room or dance.
  • SD _ The many people who visit Siobhan Davies Studios seem to physically relax into it when they come in. Nothing deflects them away from their enjoyment of opening up to movement. There is an invitation to experience the stuff of the building.
  • SW _ I’m delighted because most architecture is not like that. Traditionally architecture seeks to objectify a problem and present it almost as a tableau which carries a specific narrative the designer wants to get across, as if it were “my pristine art work”. I don’t see it like that. I think architecture is something that is made very much by the people who use it. I’m interested in the dialogue between the architect and the user who will creatively occupy a building. In this there is an inflecting and giving voice to the fact that the world is made through your own imagination, your own daily rituals and all the other things that buildings invite you to do. I’m not at all interested in the idea of the architect as the sort of prima donna and their unassailable authorship of the building. Let me give you an example, just to divert for one second: many people are upset by the young people skate boarding underneath the flyovers on the South Bank. They dislike it because it’s noisy and dirty and horrible and grungy and threatening. I think – fantastic – we should be making more spaces like that. I think that the architect should be trying to make an invitation to creatively use space. So if I manage to do that I’m absolutely delighted. Interestingly our work is seen as very bold, brash and in your face, offering too much of everything; too fruity, too provocative, too blah blah blah – you know, Rococo, Baroque… I think, “well, why not?”
  • SD _ The building that you made for us has only ever been described as welcoming. There is an immediate dialogue between our working figures and the building that seems to echo so many of the elements that we like: playfulness, texture, tension, gravity, lightness and rhythm. We walk through the building and as you said earlier, there is a sense of accumulating information: the combination and juxtaposition of ideas, it feels how we think.
  • SW _ Well I agree with you – this is what we were trying to do. What I’m trying to put in context is the contrast with what I perceive to be the architectural response to what we are doing. Architecture is in the grip of what you might call a kind of minimalism, the idea that very mute things can be highly laconic and form a neutral backdrop, which accesses a higher, more transcendent form of meaning. (I’m talking about minimal in two different ways: both in terms of a building’s texture and materiality and light – but also in terms of an ideology of minimalism). For me this is an outdated way of thinking and it’s also quite hostile to many people who see it as stark and uninviting. It’s really important to put something else across: that architecture can be very sensuous, grasping something quite aboriginal or primitive about our identity and meanings in the world.
  • SD _ If there are discussions between the values of the sensuous and the minimal in architecture, there are also ones about the physical acts of doing in performance and the conceptual. I like to see human behaviour in movement even though that movement shifts out of the day to day because of how imagination extends the movement range or because of a use of forms and patterns. I want to find reasons to move and also how feeling and form work together.
  • SW _ To balance all those things is very tricky. Of all the projects we’ve worked on yours raised to consciousness a set of issues which I hadn’t been fully aware of before. I didn’t quite understand why we made the decisions we made until we’d done it and post rationalised them. In design one slowly works through issues trying to test out lots of scenarios about how things can go and the reasons you end up doing things are not always high minded reasons: they might be connected with money or something. But the test is to try and make sense of those things none the less and I think we did that in your building.
  • SW _ Image The issue about the main studio for example – is interesting because I think we managed to strike a real balance between making a neutral backdrop but at the same time making something which was very uplifting and full of movement. I’m still pinching myself that we managed to do that.
  • SD _ I think it is beautifully balanced.
  • SW _ It is and I feel very pleased about that, I’m not quite sure how we managed it really.
  • SD _ You spoke about minimalism and recently I have become aware of testing what it means to reduce the movement language and at the same time increasing a use of forms. I have been in a place where I thought of movements as words and if I could extend my vocabulary I might find a more accurate move for the moment. Now I am looking at how moves could be more like musical notes and the different orders and combinations producing character and complexity.
  • SW _ Good question. I think as I get older I feel the need to reiterate more and more and to plough a deeper furrow rather than spreading myself very thinly. Looking at our work historically we go from Stock Orchard Street in which fifteen years of thinking pours out - and it has been said about that building, there are too many ideas.
  • SD _ In Stock Orchard?
  • SW _ Yes Stock Orchard Street. Pursuing the chronology, your building, Siobhan Davies Studios is middle period, in the sense that it is still quite full of ideas and if anything we could again be accused of over egging it. But I do believe having too many ideas is better than having no ideas. It’s a bit of a manifesto really.
  • SW _ And that you can choose to engage the bits you want to engage with to suit the mood you’re in, at whatever time of day. It should operate on multiple levels. I don’t think you should have to live in a piece of art; that’s not the function of architecture.
  • SD _ And yet it is – I’m going back slightly to that idea of parallel artistic decisions, because I do think of you as an artist making decisions, but one who is not separated away from other people.
  • SW _ We do try not to make purely pragmatic decisions. In each project we try and work out a strategy, a series of issues that we’re interested in. This forms a framework that helps decision making to have meaning. We prefer to give ourselves the freedom to make the decisions we want to make given the scenarios around which the building coheres. We work now a lot in the public sector and we’re building a school at the moment where effectively the whole thing is made out of brickwork. In telling the narrative of this building we’ve had to work with a very limited palate of materials. It has been a real challenge to try and find the richness within which we can work given the quite limited discipline of materials. I found that quite difficult but at the same time I can see the more restrictive your possibilities are the more inventive you have to be and the more challenging it is to say the things you want to say within those constraints.
  • SD _ Image You have mentioned that Stock Orchard Street is thought by some to be too much an explosion of ideas.
  • SW _ Image Yes, that is how one critic described it. But I don’t even think about it as that. To say there are too many ideas is to miss the point because the project was the product of a very rigorous set of ideas which are followed through consistently. If that means that it appears that it’s over done, well that’s inevitable because that was the premise on which it was based.
  • SD _ Can you tell me a bit about those processes?
  • SW _ ImageYes. It was an exploration of issues surrounding the idea of living and working in the same place and specifically what that means in terms of the categorisation of knowledge: work on one hand and leisure on the other. It tries to scramble those things and ask the questions such as ‘is it really true that you never have a good idea while you’re washing up?’ – or ‘is it that you can spend eight hours of your day in the office and at the end of it you’ve done absolutely nothing meaningful’– it’s those kinds of issues which underpin what we did here. These ideas are also carried through in the building’s materiality; the office is upholstered like a chesterfield because it’s a reminder that an office may not be what we think it is and ditto the house. The building plays with a series of conventions, from division of space to character and materiality. The office is of domestic scale while in the house it is open plan, like office landscape. Even this room where we are seated [the dining/conference room] is a literal confusion of living and working because functionally it is both part of the house and part of the office.
  • SW _ The project operates on different layers but you don’t need to know that to experience it at a visceral level.
  • SD _ But the fact that there are these various layers …
  • SW _ That was my point earlier on. It is important to say that architecture is more than just the money and the pragmatics. Of course, it is all of that – but there are other things which aren’t sufficiently acknowledged in architecture and they’re to do with the motivations of the designer in putting the parts together in a particular sequence or organisational structure.
  • SD _ Where I’m sitting in Stock Orchard Street is a physical expression of many layers of ideas?
  • SD _ How does the form of a building release the feeling from it – you have made clear decisions about how your use of space releases a feeling, can you talk about that?
  • SW _ Image I’ll talk generally to start. Obviously space and light, which are very closely coordinated, have very powerful meanings in architecture. It’s one of the great things about dealing with space as opposed to just colour or form. Large, tall spaces can be very powerful but they can also be very crushing when used in symbolic ways (for instance, palaces or churches). Equally, very intimate spaces can be comforting and nurturing (such as little booths in a restaurant or confessionals in a church). There’s a whole gamut of things in-between that. But space alone doesn’t do it – there are all sorts of other visual clues as well. This space we are sitting in is six metres tall. It’s extremely tall for a domestic space – in fact it’s taller than it is wide so it’s rather an extraordinary domestic space, a bit like the medieval hall which had the gallery with the solar looking down on it – but that’s deliberate because it is a symbolic space referring among other things to that historical archetype. And it has a dramatic quality not only because of the very large window, but because of that balcony as well. So there’s a sense that in this room you’re playing a role and this big window acts like a screen – a sort of proscenium in which you’re aware that you’re being seen from the street and through which you can also see the street. There is a performative nature to it which is very conscious. The house part of the building plays with the idea of a large undifferentiated space like the office landscape I referred to earlier. Here we were aware that we needed pragmatically to reduce the size of that enormous space and make more intimate areas where you could burrow away and do something rather different from what was going on elsewhere. It needed to be a series of smaller “departments” that were more intimate, so one end is the TV corner and there is a cosy space round the fireplace; another one is the staircase & the tower and the fourth is the kitchen table. Here, because you’re sitting at a table, we wanted to reduce the size of the space to recognise your height when you’re sitting down and make a very intimate place round the table.
  • SW _ While those are all sorts of moves which are consciously played out within Stock Orchard Street, similar ideas emerged in your building, such as the little balcony with the end of the prow which is just large enough for one person to stand in and the shower cubicles for just a few people to use – that idea that acknowledges a different scale of the body, when actually most of the time you are dealing with spaces which are for larger groups of people. That seems a real touchstone to remember…
  • SD _ …that we are an individual in a building as well as part of a family or a group at work.
  • SW _ Yes. It’s not a major theme but there are one or two chords which you can play with which are a touchstone back to the idea of the individual body.
  • SD _ Is that an unusual use of architectural practice at the moment?
  • SW _ Image Recently I was at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff and I felt like I was an atom whizzing around in this massive black hole – with nowhere that I could come to rest or feel at home in. It felt as if somebody had just designed acres of space but there’s nowhere for an individual to settle down and be comfortable on their own. I don’t like that – even big public buildings should have the possibility for you to feel comfortable on your own – it seems so obvious at one level but I don’t’ know why that doesn’t happen more often. There are some buildings which do it but I think that one in particular didn’t. It's interesting to speculate on why it didn’t. Architects might think, a big auditorium is all about crowd control, but crowds are made up of individuals – and in this particular instance I was waiting for somebody to turn up so we could go to a meeting together. It’s a public facility but somehow the designer didn’t imagine that you could be doing that in this place.
  • SD _ It’s about numbers.
  • SW _ It’s about numbers but I think intimacy, especially within a big public space is really important.
  • SD _ Certainly in my building I’m very conscious of two elements, lightness and gravity and I imagine there’s an obvious use of them in architecture because a building rises up out of the foundations but you play with that much more in-between the foundation and the ceiling, a play between up or down beat – a surprise, an enjoying of the tension between levity and depth.
  • SW _ We were very conscious of those issues in your building. The more this conversation goes on the more I think that the thing we’re really interested in is contrast. So when you enter one of our buildings you may think you’re doing one thing and then suddenly something will come up and surprise you. The buildings I like most are like that so I suppose it’s inevitable that I try and make my work like that as well – why shouldn’t a building surprise you – contrast and surprise is very engaging.
  • SW _ To go back to your question about gravity and levity, obviously in your building that was quite a big theme – and unlike some aspects of the work it was something we were very conscious of from the word go. This brought about the idea of moving the column in the foyer on to the slant. I suppose the idea of the swaying roof was about that as well – obviously there’s rhythm there – but there’s also the idea of the sort of sway or the wind that disturbed something. It's the same with the patchwork of the window as you move up the stair or the slight swaying that there might be to the stairs because it’s hung. Those kinds of things just ever so slightly disturb what you might be expecting to happen – and so just make you ask a little question about it all – they make you notice something that you would not otherwise notice and I quite like that – it draws your attention to something.
  • SD _ The movement in the hanging stairs and the way light and shadow changes the patterns are all things I can choose to notice, be delayed by. When I take the time I enjoy all sorts of intriguing and overlapping ideas.
  • SW _ I think of it as dropping something in a pond and expecting someone to pick it up. You don’t have to but if you choose to do so then perhaps you’ll get into a different conversation with the building.
  • SD _ In the redevelopment of my building there’s an integration of materials and forms over two centuries. You have celebrated the network of connections between those different times, materials and people, and the foundation ideas that were late 19th century weren’t a hindrance to you – you enjoyed working with them?
  • SW _ Situating this again in terms of the prevalent culture of architecture there is a desire to start with the Tabula Rasa. But even on a green field site there are traces and histories and things you can look out for which give you clues as to what the site’s about – it’s about reading the site and making interpretations of it. These are the things that put the building in conversation with the context around it and the history of its neighbourhood. You are adding another layer to something that’s existent and you’ll be in conversation with that – you’re adding something to it and I think that’s fantastic; what more can you ask to do as an architect? Your building is very strong in terms of it’s location – I think Stock Orchard Street is too – the railway and the cul de sac and all the rest of it – a complex set of historical prototypes all round it. That’s fantastic because then the ripples can travel further and you’ve got more to deal with. I’m always interested in putting more in the pot and maybe editing it out rather than trying for a single unifying idea which edits out everything else.
  • SW _ Image Image I think at Siobhan Davies Studios the existing architecture of that old school annex was a challenge because it wasn’t very coherent in its own right. At the same time I felt that the physicality of the existing structure was very powerful. Its brickwork was very robust, a very tough back drop against which to be working and it didn’t daunt me in any way. I look at the building now and I think it still looks a bit incoherent, because there’s the funny roof over the two halves of the building which are quite different We could have tried completely re-cladding it and erase the difference – which of course has been something that, historically, many architects have done - but that would have been a shame. We put a hat on it and allowed the hat to dominate and bring it together. I think that’s probably a minor gesture to sew it back together again. I like the fact that you can read the history of the building within it – the fact that it had been a school and now was going to be a place for adult education – it had quite nice tension. So when you go in here it sparks the memory of what it’s like to go back to primary school and yet it’s not primary school.
  • SD _ So the building is a learning tool in itself ?
  • SW _ It is. It’s like the way people used to think of cemeteries in the 19th century, that you’d go there and literally see history by reading the tombstones of people describing their lives and how they died: how big their families were, what plants they liked to be around – there’s a palimpsest of history there which I think is really rich and wants acknowledging. We never start from nothing ever, ever, ever. Never. And I think that’s great.
  • SD _ I like the ideas of tripping myself up and finding more originality but I can’t strive to be inventive, it doesn’t work like that.
  • SW _ And in a way the terror of the blank sheet of paper is really immense – and having something quite tough to work against is a fantastic challenge, a great stimulus to invention. It’s yet another ingredient in this big stew that you’re making and it’s got to be good. More is more – it’s not less is more, it’s more is more. I think the more you have to deal with the richer the experience can be.
  • SD _ But that statement still makes me curious about what and why you edit as you go through the process.
  • SW _ Well that’s where the narratives about what you’re trying to do come into play. It refers to the framework that I’ve referred to earlier. As you go through the design process, at the beginning you chuck everything in and then gradually you begin to make sense of it all and then certain ideas go out of the frame and you begin to pare it down, hone it and get back to a kind of core set of principles and issues which you want to deal with. It's a process of editing, but it happens over a long period of time. At the beginning you’re not quite sure whether certain things will stay in or go out.
  • SD _ You’ve got to give them time to see what ….
  • SW _ One of the problems is that if you get really fixated on an idea which then gets chucked out because it can’t be afforded you’re really in trouble so it is crucial to retain a flexibility about a number of ways of doing things within the context of the overall direction of the project. Otherwise you throw the baby out with the bath water. As a creative person my biggest fear is not having ideas and what I’m describing is a process of that fear so I put more – too many things in – in fear that in the end they’ll all get edited out. And that does happen, they do fall away.
  • SW _ I see it as a process of natural attrition that over the course of a life time project which is quite long on the whole – five years – you’ve just got to expect lots of things to drop away, so you might as well have more in at the beginning because if your core idea is compromised you’re really in trouble and you have to work hard to try and keep it on track.
  • SD _ Is it about living and dealing with the present experience, the one that is right in front of you? During rehearsal I will set up a situation to produce ’x’, but in fact we produce ’y’. I need to recognise ‘y’ and not pretend that it is anything else. Then I can make a discussion what to do with it and it could introduce new conditions for thinking within, prick at the stability and bring something new.
  • SD _ I know that you are talking about external influences rather than shifting internal ones.
  • SW _ There’s another prevalent ideology in architecture which is this idea of purity of concept. In certain cases people’s ideas have been heavily comprised during the realisation of the project and that’s seen as something incredibly negative. For me, these forced compromises are actually opportunities for refashioning what it is you’re doing within the context of the new parameter. You have to keep your eye on what you’re trying to achieve but be flexible enough to find a solution in a number of different ways – with reduced budgets or a reduced site, with reduced material or with a bad contractor or a hostile client. You have to keep the thing live and be flexible and keep on your toes actually to come up with a number of ways of doing it.
  • SD _ In the present and unhampered.
  • SW _ Your roof, for example, when Merk proved too expensive we were thinking – what are we going to do now? How are we going to realise this project in the way that we know Sue wants and that we would really like to achieve? It was a very tough call, but in the end we came up with a way of doing it. And I think sometimes you have to know when to let go but at other times like this key thing for the building we had to work a way of driving it through and okay, it was compromise in terms of certain things we might have liked to have done but actually the bigger thing was – we had to do that roof. So it challenges you to constantly rethink what you’re priorities are – and I think those are actually very good moments. I think architects have a really tough time if they’re so dogmatic about what they’re trying to achieve, that in the end it gets eroded and they can’t deal with the compromises that have to be made. That’s contingency for you – you have to able to work with the contingencies that come along.
  • SW _ It is to do with what you feel the core idea is that you’re dealing with. There are many different ways of realising your ideas but you need to keep your ideas constantly monitored. It’s like an animal with lots of tentacles: there are lots of things attached to it and there is a core – if you keep your eye on the core it doesn’t matter how many tentacles there are.
  • SD _ It belongs to a species of ideas.
  • SW _ Exactly! You can identify the species but every time it’s called into question or you’re trying to decide on why you’re doing one thing or another you have to refer back and think “has the species changed?” and it does change – it mutates and it can alter its colours. At the end of the day the narrative that you build for the project may be slightly different from the one you thought you were setting out to do and that’s because you’re not always completely in control of it: all sorts of things come along that can trip you up – but if there’s enough coherence about the result you should be very pleased because I think it’s quite hard to do.
  • SD _ It’s a long time five years.
  • SW _ It’s a long process and keeping your eye on the ball on this...
  • SD _ Even the people whom you employ will change over the period of time.
  • SW _ Absolutely – so the continuity of the ideas is really important.
  • SD _ Is there anything else you’d like to bring in … I mean of course you’re not going to say you’re choreographic.
  • SW _ I’m not sure I understand what being a choreographer is actually, so I’m not sure I could even call myself choreographic.
  • SD _ A choreographer is someone who uses movement, people and place and then goes into each of these elements in detail or simplification. To find out what is possible to express within the choices they have made or what choices they need to make in order to convey what intrigues them. We both have ways of choosing, assembling and editing. There is common ground there. We both help to organise ourselves or others in a space and we work with a lot of other people that do that.
  • SW _ I think you get at something very important: a lot of our work like yours is collaborative. I think there’s a real tension in everything we do which is to do with leadership versus collaboration. It’s a very tough call and I personally find that as a leader of a practice very difficult to deal with. One is working on it all the time as a project – it never goes away - and as different people drift through the practice and go again you’re having to reinvent your techniques all the time because it’s all about how to work with people and how to work with other consultants. Some of the issues we have with other consultants, trying to get the best out of them, to convey what you’re trying to achieve to them and get it across in ways that they understand so they can support the project is hard. The traditional view of the architect as team leader is very much under question at the moment and yet unless somebody keeps control over the conceptual basis and the framework for the design of a project, there isn’t anyone else – and although that role might be very devalued at the moment, I think there is an essential need for that person. In other words, how you lead is very open to question at the moment and a constant provocation because my management style is not to be very dictatorial – that’s not my style and it’s not your style either. Knowing how to command respect and get leadership and get people’s attention, but at the same time not be dictatorial and not be dogmatic and be open enough to ideas and encourage people to come forward and develop them is a real skill and I don’t know how well I deal with that.
  • SD _ So many of us are looking at leadership without a dogmatic approach: how to allow individuals to keep authorship of what they bring to the whole while working with and for a group. There is something about a shifting proportion of inputs. In my case during rehearsals I want the artists to use and develop their own questions and solutions and I need to be able to regularly shift between being background or foreground support. But, the rehearsal period is only part of the arc of the whole project. There is also both the artistic conception and evaluation of the project and how the long term is supported and managed by a totally different group of people. When it all goes well it is a shared experience, when it doesn’t it’s more my responsibility. That is as it should be but it takes doing.
  • SW _ I agree, I think it’s tough. Leadership is a lonely business – it carries responsibility but when things do go well they’re great; when they’re challenging, they’re very challenging and it’s hard to know what the solutions are – you don’t necessarily have ready answers because it’s a very live situation and every situation is quite different. It’s hard to work out ways of dealing with these things and one relies on experience and judgment. But I find it both challenging and endlessly fascinating. It’s one of the things that gives every project its edge because it’s quite unpredictable.
  • SD _ Are the art forms that involve many people rather than one individual perceived as being less sharp because of their collaborative nature? Instead of being directed by a single mind they have a plurality. But that is what I find exciting, to have many people work together to produce a creative and coherent whole.
  • SW _ I think that’s part of what I’m calling leadership. I think it’s that ability to interpret and hold on track something which is quite fluid where others may be plugging in at different points but somebody has an over-arching view and a long term investment in the project in seeing it through and adjusting it to keep the requirements of the framework that you’re working within.
  • SW _ I think what’s become clear to me in this conversation is the idea that surprise – contrast and a juxtaposition of differences – is quite important in our work.
  • SD _ What happens in the gap in between the polarity of certain things…
  • SW _ Yes. How far distant those polarities are is important because they could be very subtle shifts or they could be quite strong contrasts, but it’s the difference that makes the difference!