In convo with ... Oshane Woodhouse
In this edition of our ‘in conversation’ series, we caught up with Oshane Woodhouse, the CEO, and Co-founder of the architectural firm, MMerge Studio.
Born in Jamaica, Oshane moved to the UK with his family when he was just four years old. After eleven years of intensive study and training, he finally obtained his architectural badge of honour and is now the CEO and Co-founder of London-based architectural firm, MMerge Studio. After some technical difficulties, we finally got to talking …
M: Why architecture?
O: From age 9, I always knew I wanted to be an architect. Funnily enough, I set out wanting to be an artist first, but I couldn’t draw people I could only draw buildings so my father said, why don’t you become an architect? My father, who was planning on building his dream home back in Jamaica, also influenced me.
M: How long have you been an architect?
O: It will be a year next month.
M: Yeah, I know it takes a really long time. I have friends who are architects and while they were studying I was always asking: Are you done yet?
O: It’s a good feeling when it’s done. It’s taken me eleven years to get here. I started my architectural course in 2010. When I did my Masters, I continued to work in a studio and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
M: I can imagine. And at what point, during this eleven-year process, did you decide that you wanted to start your own architectural firm?
O: 2015. And this is because the first company I was working for was quite a large firm and sometimes it felt like the work was continuous and it seemed like the work wasn’t for individual clients. Rather it seemed like we were doing the same work for everyone and I wanted to change that. I feel like every client has a different, individual need and they understand space differently. My company’s motto is Making Moments because we see architecture as a moment rather than a building. We believe what makes the building, is the moment.
M: Moving to current times, how has COVID-19 changed the architectural industry?
O: This is a really good question because COVID-19 has changed the industry, but I do believe most millennials preferred working from home anyway. For us, it’s not too much of a change, as we’ve mostly worked from home. I think it’s changed more for the generation above. What has changed is obviously the creativeness.
I believe each architect has to understand how they can be creative by themselves and within the spaces they’re in.
We need to know how we can keep up that creativeness with our peers via Zoom, via Google Hangouts, etc, so the biggest challenge is thinking how can we still be creative without our team members around us.
M: Have site visits been affected?
O: No, not at all. When we visit sites we always wear protective gear anyway and we’re usually quite distanced as well so it hasn’t changed dramatically.
M: Now when we look at architecture, how do you see it innovating moving into the future?
O: Now that COVID has happened, I’d say clients are looking at spaces that can last but also be adaptable. For example, looking at how office space can be used apart from just being a workspace.
M: What is the most complicated request you’ve ever received from a client?
O: It always comes down to a time scale. Clients don’t always understand how long it takes to design and build projects. So, it’s trying to have a great design fit within a short space of time that is always a challenge.
M: Looking at the industry, do you have any role models or people whose work you look up to?
Oshane: Two. My old university tutor – Professor Leighton Reid. He encouraged us to think rather than just do. He encouraged our minds and challenged us to always ask ‘why’ with every design we drew. And then the architect whose work I envy and whose work I love is Phil Colffy, from Coffy Homes. Just from looking at the scale of his projects, it’s obvious that he works closely with his clients and you can tell from the details of his designs that he puts careful thought and meaning into each project.
M: Do you have a favourite building?
O: Peter Zumthor – Therme Vals. It looks like a leisure center, like a spa area within the landscape. So from how it’s built, you’d never see the center unless you’re looking closely.
M: Moving to your own practice, do you try to ensure that your work is sustainable and eco-friendly and if so, how do you do this?
O: Firstly, what we try and do is try to design something that is eco-friendly and sustainable from the start. This encourages us not to lose the quality and to ensure our clients that it will be a cheaper solution later on. For example, we are currently doing a home renovation and we are advising our client that putting in a double-glazing window would consume less energy so you’ll spend less later on. Usually, we try to source material that is from the UK, so using natural resources to the country.
Experiences and Lessons
M: The government has recently signed the new Green Deal. What are your thoughts on it and have you designed any green homes yet?
O: Every single project we have done has ticked the boxes on the ‘green homes’ list. So as I said, we try to make sure we are sourcing locally and looking at materials that are good for the environment from the very beginning of a project.
M: When we look at the average cost for good architectural service, what does that look like?
O: I can’t really give you an exact average because each architect and design and is different. It all depends on the scale of the project, the particular sector it’s being built for, client requirements, and the budget.
M: Do you have an idea of how much it would cost to hire your firm to do a renovation?
O: It depends on the square-meter and scale of the project and any structural issues we may encounter. We do go with the RAB (Resource Accounting and Budgeting) charge says when it comes to pricing.
M: As we were speaking about COVID-19 and changes you’re seeing, does that include business collaborations?
O: My partner has an interior design background so it’s a good thing because he as a lot of input when it comes to interior. We also try to use the same contractors who we mostly collaborate with. We’re also looking to start collaborating closer with Councils, just to see their vision for local areas in the next ten years and how we can work with them to achieve that vision.
.... don’t stop being creative during this time.
M: What message do you have for young people, especially young Black people, looking to get into architecture?
O: My main message would be to plan, follow-through, and execute. My second message would be to just have fun, enjoy it. If you have fun and just be yourself, you will always inspire others. Create yearly mood boards that can guide what you want to achieve in the next year. As an architect, it’s always great to bring through your personality in your work. And, don’t stop being creative during this time.
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Normette Homes specialise in property investment and tenant sourcing.