dRMM are proud to be part of the design team working on Brent Cross Town.
Sustainability, sport and social lives are at the heart of the £5 billion north London development, brought forward by Argent Related in conjunction with partner Barnet Council.
dRMM are working up designs for a significant plot which forms a transition between the civic and residential quarters. The project consists of 275 apartments (affordable and private tenure), shared residential amenities, gym, garden kitchen and a series of roof terraces.
Argent Related has outlined its overarching vision, which includes measures to ensure Brent Cross Town remains relevant and desirable post-pandemic.
The developer has made four pledges for the future of its Brent Cross Town proposals:
To provide the best of traditional and emerging sports, working with leading sports organisations, governing bodies and ‘hero ambassadors’ to help drive female participation and champion diversity and inclusion.
To launch a ‘flourishing index’ that will pioneer the measurement of how individuals and communities prosper flourish in a new town centre. The developer is partnering with Manchester University and Buro Happold on the initiative, which focuses on mental health and wellbeing.
To become a net-zero carbon town by 2030 by driving down the embodied carbon in buildings and infrastructure as well as the carbon used in energy supply – and offsetting the remainder.
To strengthen connections, locally through pedestrian and cycling routes, into Central London through access to the M1, and further afield to the region’s airports.
London is the economic centre of the UK and Europe and must meet the demands of an ever-increasing population. Making space for people in its dense sprawl of historically low-rise villages is difficult.
At worst, residents are at the mercy of high property values and rents, long commutes, and poor air-quality. But at its best, London is a series of vibrant, green, characterful and connected neighbourhoods.
dRMM’s proposition imagines a healthy, prosperous and live-able London, starting now. Changes in climate, technology and mobility are inevitable, nonetheless; challenges could persist. How can we enable the public to participate, creating a sense of ownership, belonging and togetherness?
dRMM is celebrating its 25th year in practice with the appointment of two new Directors, Saskia Lencer and Judith Stichtenoth.
dRMM now has six Directors with complimentary skills and experience, rounding out the leadership team of founders Alex de Rijke, Philip Marsh and Sadie Morgan, together with Jonas Lencer, who became a Director in 2015.
In their previous roles as Associate Directors, Saskia and Judith were responsible for running the project teams in the studio. Their promotion ensures the directorship remains closely tied to the studio team.
As part of the changes to the Directorship, Finance Director Tamsin Pearce has also been made Company Secretary.
Founded in 1995, dRMM has pioneered approaches to sustainability and innovation in materials, particularly engineered timber structures, that are now accepted best practice. These new appointments make dRMM well-placed to thrive in the face of the challenges of the next 25 years.
Founding Director Alex de Rijke said: “dRMM is constantly evolving, and this latest move creates new opportunities for a talented group of younger architects. Women make up over half of dRMMs team. Saskia and Judith’s new positions mean dRMM now has at least 50:50 gender representation at all levels up to and including Director, something we are proud of”
Portraits of the Directors at their front doors during the Coronavirus lockdown were shot in May 2020 by Alex de Rijke as part of his daily cycle.
In May 2019, dRMM joined 16 other RIBA Stirling
Prize winners to sign an open declaration in the wake of a global climate and
biodiversity emergency. Together with our peers, we announced a commitment to
positive action against the twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity. One
year on, we take stock of our assessment, advocacy and action, outlining the
ways in which we have worked to mitigate the profession’s impact on the natural
Buildings and construction account for nearly 40%
of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, whilst also having
significant bearing on natural habitats. In our studio, we grapple daily with
the realities of this serious impact. dRMM has been a steady ambassador for
sustainable design and construction since the studio’s inception, but we have recognised
the need to turn up the volume dramatically in a bid to bring our years of
research and development to the fore. For the past year, our contribution to
the sustainability debate has been steadfast and our ambition to create
architecture that addresses the crises at hand, resolute.
have been challenges – speed of procurement and delivery, lagging government
policy, and client misalignment being the most dominant. Despite future-driven
intentions, many studios – including ours – have had to make peace with working
on historic projects that may now feel anachronistic with our signatory status.
We also have had to contend with a dissonance between our sustainable ethos and
an eco-inertia that still grips the construction industry. Supply chains have
been slow to catch up with best sustainable practice; a reliable and widespread
market for reuse materials remains elusive; retrofit projects are still not VAT
incentivised. All these obstacles are exacerbated by the ongoing densification
of our cities and a growing disparity in social divide – which, as a
profession, we cannot solve alone.
profession, there appears to be a collective agreement that now is the time to
make significant change – a positive appetite for revolutionising practice,
supported by both societies at large and forward-thinking clients. While we
embrace this collective energy, we remain aware that compromises have, and will
always have, to be made – on past, current and even future projects. As
architects, we must exercise our role as professional advisors to clients; not
just on matters of material sustainability, but also on social sustainability,
affordability and quality of life. We need to establish the link between these
concerns and the question of profit, opening up a discussion around the
realities of that relationship. We will all fare better and achieve greater
results if we are open about the conflicts associated with building a more
sustainable future. A big part of dRMM’s sustainability mission is to champion
that transparency, to be frank about our moral dilemmas, and to find
commonality amongst our peers in our ambition to solve them.
What we need to achieve:
identified the need for radical change and questioning of old habits, design
favourites and default processes. We can no longer wait for legislative change
to trickle down and eventually reduce the impact of our industry. Change has to
be more than incremental. Following a year of learning, listening and sharing
knowledge, our commitment to the declaration made in May 2019 is ongoing and
growing. The following points outline what we hope to accomplish as we move
into the year ahead.
joined the Global Climate Strike in September 2019 in a bid to publicly declare
a state of climate emergency. We also participated in the profession’s Part L
& F consultation and associated campaigns, offering a response that urged
the industry to make significant changes to the way it designs, builds and
operates buildings. We are also responding to consultation to safeguard the use
of structural timber. Our most urgent challenge now is to help convert the
construction industry towards a retrofit-led model. As such, we have supported
the Architects’ Journal Retrofit First campaign, and continue to share
knowledge on retrofit practice through lessons learnt on our past,
award-winning conversion schemes.
recognise that a greater challenge exists with larger housing regeneration
projects, with difficulties involved in maintaining existing buildings that are
subject to complex phasing strategies and sites. Going forward, dRMM will look
to address this challenge more actively, working collaboratively with
construction professionals and lobbying groups to promote more awareness around
these challenges, inciting joined-up solutions towards meaningful change.
is a long-standing advocate for timber as an exemplar material in sustainable
construction. Going forward, we believe that sustainable forestry management
will be a crucial exercise in reducing the world’s carbon footprint. Trees are
a vital source of food and habitat for insects, birds and animals – we have to
support these ecosystems as we manage our forests. A focus on deciduous trees
and growing more variety within our forests must be prioritised, and architects
should strive to specify different species within construction – creating a
demand for diversity.
dRMM’s research into the development of Tulipwood CLT looked at engineering a hardwood as opposed to the conventional softwoods used in mainstream manufacture, with its fast growth an obvious advantage for carbon sequestration. As a studio, we will continue to drive research and testing of diversified timber. We will also look to collaborate with experts in the field of forest management to better inform our procurement practices.
usefulness and building for social durability are themes that have always been
at the heart of dRMM’s practice. We believe these priorities to go hand in hand
with best practices in environmental design. As such, we have been active in
advocating for a new ‘Architecture of Circumstance’. Our thesis embraces a
consequence-aware approach to design, where accepted aesthetic expectations
adapt to rely on ‘process’ as opposed to finished product.
forward, we believe a new focus for the architecture industry must be on
rigorous analysis and designing flexibility. Flexibility, in turn, will ensure
social sustainability, allowing buildings to take on longer lifespans with more
nuanced functionality. We must achieve a shift in focus towards understanding
what can be saved, what can be used, and how design can work to circumvent
What we have influence over:
has always encouraged young talent to impact design, influence debate, and
challenge pre-conceptions. In this same spirit, we have fostered a studio
environment that doubles as a platform for climate advocacy. Our team includes
active members of some of the industry’s most significant climate lobby groups.
Representatives from ACAN (Architects Climate Action Network) and LETI (London
Energy Transformation Initiative) within our team have been given both license
and encouragement to bring their knowledge and activism into the studio,
helping to meaningfully integrate it into our practice.
of dRMM’s team members have been crucially involved in the creation of the
Climate Emergency Design Guide and Embodied Carbon Primer documents; both
recently launched and well received by the industry. We have had team members
meet with the Committee for Climate Change, and we devote our time to supporting
the Architects Declare Steering Group efforts. Young members of staff are
charged with planning our environmentally focused events diary and CPDs. dRMM
also has a dedicated sustainability group made up of team members who – amongst
other sustainability tasks – monitor our in-house climate action efforts,
coordinating a carbon audit to review our carbon footprint.
has committed to dedicated sustainability and regenerative design resource as a
studio-wide practice. As such, we have undertaken an analysis of our technical
reviews, design crits, and quality assurance processes, and have worked to
improve processes such as BIM & computational design toolkits in line with
sustainability targets. It is our ambition to gradually introduce the challenging
endeavour of Life Cycle Costing across our projects, as well as undertaking
retrospective analysis on historic projects. This will include a study of our
early project, Kingsdale School, as well as the more recent housing project, Trafalgar
Place. Additionally, dRMM is participating in the RIBA 2030 Challenge, which
mandates project-data sharing on an open source basis. As such, the studio promotes
both the RIBA 2030 Challenge objectives, as well as the LETI Climate Emergency
Design Guide as targets for all new projects.
a continuation of dRMM’s legacy as timber pioneers, our team is now looking at
hybrid system design, investigating the way in which timber and other biogenic
materials can be used in mainstream. The studio maintains a longstanding
preference for working with off-the-shelf products in unconventional
applications, serving as an alternative to bespoke products that cannot be
easily repurposed past end of life.
is a thought leader, advocate and material pioneer within the sustainability
movement in UK architecture. Aside from contributing regularly to industry
media (including Building, Architects’ Journal, BD Online,
the Architecture Foundation and more), our team actively works within
various knowledge sharing groups, collaborating regularly with fellow
Architects Declare signatory practices to promote shared learning. Members of
staff across all levels, from directors to architects, actively participate in
public speaking endeavours related to sustainable construction, design and
policy. We stimulate advocacy through our established profile and through the
staging of studio-initiated events. dRMM’s Forest of Fabrication
exhibition has toured in London and Liverpool, with its associated educational
and networking events promoting the sustainable advantages of timber
architecture. Our strong network has also allowed us to consistently collaborate
with engineers and supply chain professionals to develop MMC/DfMA approaches that
significantly reduce construction waste.
embraces team initiatives and a sharing economy, including studio yoga, food
sharing, and circulation of sustainable vendor recommendations. In order to
further reduce the impact of our consumption, as a studio we strive to make
small changes wherever possible: we use local suppliers to avoid travel miles, we
have switched to zero waste paper, we get our energy from a green supplier, we
have swapped using dairy for oat milk, and we have drastically reduced our number
of chargers and electrical appliances. We are also in the process of undertaking
an operational carbon audit and are committing to re-wilding initiatives and growing
What we must overcome:
recognises the great challenges involved in converting our project output into
a predominantly regenerative practice. These exist at both micro and macro
scale. At micro, they revolve around early decision making on structure,
materials, and supply chains, and on tallying design objectives with adjacent construction
priorities. On a macro level, our greatest trial will lie in initiating
important client conversations about sustainable choices on projects. Re-educating
both ourselves and our clients on the definition of project value as it links
with holistic sustainability will be the greatest challenge we face.
a studio, one of our most prevalent obstacles will be to reconcile our
sustainability objectives with realistic practice demands related to
productivity, cost-management and efficiency. Understanding how we can operate
in the leanest and least wasteful way without compromise on quality will be an
ongoing challenge. Empowering team members to confidently air sustainability concerns
on both project and operational matters will be a key focus – working to upend
profession-wide habits that discourage open criticism and debate. As such,
providing team members with the confidence to be vocal about poor sustainable choices
will be crucial as we move forward.
a bigger stage, our greatest challenge will be to meaningfully engage with
commentary whenever our choices on sustainability are exposed to public
scrutiny. By striving to be open and transparent about the conflicts we face as
we navigate through daily practice, we hope to build more robust dialogue
within the industry. Despite the discomfort of potential criticism, we believe
that open debate is central to the growth of our profession. As such, we will
endeavour to better participate, contribute and listen to the ongoing
discussion on sustainability.
The year ahead:
long-term aim is to develop a standard post-occupancy evaluation framework that
enables different levels of scrutiny, including introductory, standard, and
intensive levels of analysis. To this end, our ambition is to encourage an
industry-wide culture that promotes focus on embodied carbon from a whole-life
perspective, ensuring that buildings are designed to be adaptable, circular and
healthy. As an immediate action, our goal is to begin looking at our past
projects in a bid to study specific aspects related to sustainability
performance. We will also identify a current project as a prototype for a performing
holistic post-occupancy evaluation over the 2020-2021 period.
goal for the year ahead is to support research and development surrounding
sustainable construction, both from within our studio and through our team
members’ extracurricular endeavours. dRMM will provide more support, working to
create a formalised framework for our in-house sustainability team. We will
implement sustainability reviews into existing design crits and review
processes. We will create a comprehensive Sustainability Design Guide for
studio use, incorporating guidance from disparate focus groups. Finally, we
will continue to provide regular resource and time within the working week for
a dedicated sustainability group to devote to measurable action, research,
participation, and activism.
understands that in order to embrace sustainable design wholly and
meaningfully, our team must feel empowered and supported in their daily work
routines. As such, we are committed to creating working conditions that are
nimble, subject to redefinition, and rooted in practicality. Through the next
year, we will work to strengthen the flexible and adaptive work ethic that has
been ushered in by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, changing our working
patterns for the future, and guaranteeing greater efficiency with less travel. It
will be dRMM’s aim to reduce working hours to 37.5 hours, allowing our team
more liberty and flexibility to exercise sustainable work and life habits.
In Home Edition 2020, Sadie explores her communal upbringing and how it taught her the value of sharing as well as the importance of different generations. She examines the bonds created through conversation and encounters, whether between family members, colleagues, and friends.
Architects not Architecture has launched this series of talks to make sure we keep cultural life and inspiration alive in these challenging times.
Watch HOME EDITION 2020 – TALK #3 with Sadie Morgan here.
With regard to the
current Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, dRMM are managing the situation
proactively and would like to inform and assure our clients, suppliers and collaborators
that the studio has full business continuity plans in place.
Our talented and
resourceful team have always been at the heart of our business and their
wellbeing is our top priority. The company is taking steps to ensure the team
is supported both physically and mentally.
Over recent weeks
the studio has implemented checks and measures to allow the business to
continue to operate and we aim to continue to deliver on schedule and to our
usual exacting standards. Our software systems allow project teams to work from
home via secure systems. Video conferencing facilities allow us to
maintain all essential meetings. Non-essential meetings are being
difficult period and the future, dRMM is dedicated to maintaining both work and
team, and offers all clients, suppliers and industry colleagues assurance of
our support and business continuity.
We wish you good
health in these unprecedented times.
Choosing high-quality, robust materials that lend themselves to future adaptation should be the starting point for any project – new-build or retrofit.
I’ve always been interested in heritage buildings. My university days were spent drawing up historic building spaces and details and I learned a lot: the generosity of their proportions; the lack of waste involved in their construction; the reduced toxicity of their materials; their propensity for circularity.
But I was never interested in rigid restoration architecture. What excited me was the ability to translate the lessons of heritage buildings into contemporary architecture. If I were to put forward a definition of what retrofit should be today, it’s that: a move away from the polarisation of restoration architecture versus new build.
dRMM wholeheartedly supports the AJ’s RetroFirst campaign. As one of the 17 founding signatories to Architects Declare, we believe the campaign to be in line with helping combat our profession’s collective negative impact on the planet. But we believe it is imperative to propel the definition of retrofit forward.
One of dRMM’s first projects – Kingsdale School in Southwark (pictured below) – was a retrofit. But we never categorised it that way. Our approach was instead built on the idea of radical collaboration, both in terms of community consultation and with regard to tightening the gap between design and build. We used off-the-shelf materials and engineered timber to combat extended construction periods and excessive waste.
Together with collaborative thinking, the key to reimagining existing spaces lies in building in flexibility. Perhaps the most important aspect to adopting a ‘retrofit first’ attitude throughout the profession is to ensure new-build architecture is compliant with future adaptation. The nature of historic buildings lending themselves to retrofit is their expansive volumes and predisposition for flexibility. It’s in their focus on robust structure and priority on durability.
As construction professionals we have to ensure our cities continue to work better as systems, that their density can be maintained, that their housing needs are met, and that all this is done without further damaging the natural world. We have to begin to find a way to negotiate quality with achieving the necessary quantity.
We also need to think of flexibility in terms of materiality. Choosing high-quality, robust materials that lend themselves to future adaptation should be the starting point for any project – not just retrofit. We need to be responsible for understanding the re-usability and recyclability of the resources we specify. And for this there needs to be a greater co-ordinated front from all industry professionals.
For this reason, if projects must be new-build, they need to follow a similar pattern to their ancestors – an approach of non-determinative architecture that is built with inherent flexibility.
Material and functional flexibility was at the heart of dRMM’s RIBA Stirling Prize-winning project, Hastings Pier (pictured below). Our team resisted the attractive opportunity to create a landmark architectural structure and instead reimagined the Victorian pleasure pier as a sustainable, flexible platform able to accommodate a broad range of community and commercial uses for years to come.
Today, we no longer require our architecture students to spend hours drawing up buildings. We have digital twinning technology that can provide similar, more accurate results, and existing buildings can now benefit from the same digital advantages as new-build structures.
What we do need to return to is more meaningful utilisation of those results as tools to creating spaces that are hardy, adaptable, and – above all – joyful to inhabit.
Retrofit needs to be about resisting architecture that is prescriptive and inflexible, and understanding that the way we use buildings is changing. It’s about improving performance through new technology and re-thinking the meaning of ‘added value’.
Value needs to be about creating spaces that are fit for purpose and fit for the future. Heritage specialism as an insular practice holds far less value than if it is actively integrated into the new definition of retrofit – a definition built on progressive, collaborative and flexible design.
Saskia Lencer is an Associate Director at dRMM Architects. Her expertise lies in marrying a heritage-based technical background with innovative material exploration. Saskia leads dRMM’s focus on retrofit, construction strategy and materials, integrating her research and practice with the studio’s wider sustainability priorities.
The new decade has begun with a collective awakening to a serious problem. 863 UK architects have signed up to Architects Declare, demonstrating consensus that tackling climate change should be the focus of our profession. Yet as we face the perfect storm: climate emergency, biodiversity erosion, and social divide, it is clear that radical change in the way we design and make buildings is needed.
In our studio, we are grappling daily with the challenges presented by the climate emergency. dRMM is a steady ambassador for sustainable design and construction, but we’ve recently turned up the volume dramatically, contributed to the debate and changed our design process in order to learn more – and do more – about the crises at hand.
Despite real headway being made, the concept of progress in our industry still reminds me of the German car industry’s approach to innovation: sticking to a redundant century-old model and dragging it into the future via new designs, materials, and manufacturing.
The same attitude rings true during discussions on climate action. Focus predominantly lies with grafting solutions onto systems we are not ready to change. The discussion on swapping out concrete for more sustainable materials illustrates this attitude perfectly. It is certainly a positive and legitimate argument – one that dRMM has been making for twenty years – but it comes a little too late, representing a clear-cut case of missing the wood for the trees.
The problem is bigger. It requires radical change and questioning of old habits, design favourites and default processes. As an industry, we can no longer rely on legislative change to trickle down and eventually reduce the impact of our industry. We need to let go of the construction paradigm we have come to depend on and acknowledge its growing irrelevance.
Our industry contributes 40% of the UK’s CO2, much of it through embodied carbon, and therefore through our designs and the way we make buildings. The current reality was created by us. Constraining positive change through arguments of commercial necessity is no longer an acceptable exercise. Change has to be more than incremental.
Luckily, these challenges coincide with the rise of a new generation of talent – one that is nimble, non-dogmatic, and inclined to seize opportunities that come with change. If the global climate effort has shown us anything, it’s that youth and young adults are completely ready to abandon the status quo. They are not bound to it, because they had little to do with creating it. Their generation is enormously adaptable to change, and they have rightfully asserted themselves as leaders against this environmental catastrophe.
dRMM’s studio has always encouraged young talent to impact design, influence debate, and challenge pre-conceptions. We provide a space for collaboration and problem-solving, void of taboos and embracing of debate as fertile ground for innovation. In this same spirit, we have fostered a studio environment that doubles as a platform for climate advocacy.
Our team includes active members of some of the industry’s most significant climate lobby groups. Representatives from ACAN (Architects Climate Action Network) and LETI (London Energy Transformation Initiative) within our team have been given both license and encouragement to bring their knowledge and activism into the studio, helping to meaningfully integrate it into our practice. Some of our youngest team members have been crucially involved in the creation of the Climate Emergency Design Guide and Embodied Carbon Primer documents; both recently launched and well received by the industry. We have team members attending the Committee for Climate Change, and representation within Architects Declare Steering group. Our young members of staff are charged with planning our environmentally focused events diary and CPDs. They also champion our studio’s in-house climate action efforts, coordinating a carbon audit to review our carbon footprint.
As a founding signatory for Architects Declare, we’ve made it our aim to liberate ourselves from a system that no longer works and replace it with realistic problem-solving. The younger generation represent all the tools we need to actively change our situation – collaboration, openness, resourcefulness, and a touch of irreverence. We need to embrace the help of our younger colleagues by leaving our pride at the door, accepting culpability, and listening. Only then can we tackle the challenge of climate emergency, biodiversity erosion and social division.