Clarity & Integrity
Alan Stanton (Stanton & Williams) & Paul Williams (Stanton & Williams)


Issey Miyaki Women. Shop

©Peter Cook

PW: Design language, or preoccupations, are relatively easy to list: a commitment to order and the quality of space and light; the quality of materials; and the quality of movement through a space. And materials are perhaps the most immediate and obvious elements. We've always tried to restrict that range of materials that we use, in order to understand more deeply, and to learn to work with them, and develop them in a more abstract way. And in the studio we talk about materials which a positioned to express weight and lightness, solidity and transparency. We refer to mass and forms, sculptural quality, carved out bases, planes that float, that fold and interlock, elements that are locked into, and carved out of, spaces; and that's the sort of language that you know, in a day to day working session. We used light in order to articulate form. To flatten, to carve, to make a space obviously either more dramatic, or calmer. Light we feel, I think, draws people through spaces, very much so. And of course the understanding, the using of colour and the quality of natural light can transform the mood of a space hour by hour. But perhaps the articulation and manipulation of space and forms, is the area that we most enjoy working in. And at best, we would say, it is a very sensuous process that. When Alan and I are actually working together within the design team, I mean that the greatest pleasure we get, is when we're sitting around together and the dialogue and the debate starts. I suppose the more we've worked together, if we talk about that in the design session together it's interesting the more we understand each other, the less we have to say. Design sessions quite happen with very few words, with few lines... AS: Well, it is a kind of debate, isn't it? PW: And with others in the studio. AS: Testing out, testing out ideas, and options, and concepts, and each of us taking different views of it in order to test it. PW: I suppose the development in the studio which is from the thirteen years been working with, we've obviously got larger, the projects have become more complex; but the design, I think the design process in many instances is quicker. We don't have to reinvent the wheel as much as we did in the early days. AS: I think that's true Paul. I think these days we do have shortcuts we do, we have ways of getting to the heart of a problem quicker, and being able to discuss it with this kind of unspoken language. But it's not only us, it's also, as we've taken on larger projects, more people in the studio become involved, and they contribute to that kind of vocabulary. Perhaps we could say something about the idea of abstraction, which we think is central to the way that we work. And there's a quotation from a painter Ellsworth Kelly, who says that abstraction evolved from a desire to free art from the material world, in order to represent the pure, the ordered, the spiritual and the poetic. This is what attracts us to it, it's a way of working, it's a way of analysis, but also it's a way of providing a structure to the way we work, and also of opening up these poetic possibilities. We work on many of our projects with existing, quite difficult, contexts. Existing sometimes sensitive historic buildings or sites, and these days quite often complex urban sites. And as a way of understanding the context and setting, something which is unashamedly contemporary and modern within the historic context; this process of trying to abstract the existing context through a process of analysis, gives us a structure into which we can then insert something which is new. So while we respect the detail and character of say, for example, the Ashmolean Museum, or even the National Theatre which is a more contemporary building, but a listed great building, we respect the detail and character of the buildings, as the context for our own work, our own insertions and extensions. The analysis and the design process that we put into it, and try to reach beneath those buildings, and get beneath the outward appearance, and reveal their fundamental abstract structure. This structure then can be, once it's understood, and fully understood, can be extended so that our own interventions, albeit different in character, sit quite naturally within them. The actual working process in the studio is, I suppose, disciplined around this idea of an abstract model, the structure, and it's developed by process that involves both intuitive moves, which can be applied to a project, and then followed by a process of rigorous testing of each of these ideas. So the two go hand-in-hand: the intuitive idea generating and the testing process. And they're both, the two sides of the same coin, and our ability to be intuitive is dependent upon the intensity of the testing process we can bring to it. We do try to produce ideas that actually grow from intensively work problems, that then can form the perceptual framework for the project. Making good architecture, which we think starts with throwing the net wide, bringing all the problems to the surface, laying them bare. And this is what we do individually and as a team in the studio. It's dense and concentrated, hard work; it probably takes about ninety percent of our time. PW: Going beyond these obvious design preoccupations, and being somewhat more reflective, I think the two words that seem to underpin, and express the constant in our design aims are clarity and integrity. Mental clarity: before we start the sort of design/development; after mental clarity's visual clarity, which responds to and closely follows the spirit that Kahn talks about, the one that embraces all the elements of space and light and services and junctions and movement. I think integrity is a word that we feel is important because that's achieved when a project is in place, with all areas having been considered. And a project that we would say is true to itself, it works in total. If the meaning of whatever we can do can be grasped by both the mind and the senses, then understanding and appreciation of fulfilment and harmony hopefully will follow. It's that which has been conceived as a whole, it's that wholeness. And indeed it is the word that really sums up both clarity and integrity. To achieve this sense of wholeness in whatever we do, must be our ideal and our aim, I think that's true. But wholeness in terms of design it's essential that everybody plays the part in that design process, and I think this is where with every project the first discussion we have with the client is that they must be very much a part of that wholeness: the design team and the end users. The buildings on day one they're still growing, buildings develop. They should get better and better and better, if they're cherished properly, if they're looked after by the client, the client understands the grain of the building, the design process, the building can only get better. AS: It's perhaps useful to talk about the problem of scale and where our work is coming from. Paul and I have been working together for now, I think it's about fourteen years, and during that time we've grown from just Paul and I working on selling artists projects through to much larger team of people with quite extensive buildings to design. Our early work started with temporary exhibitions, fine art exhibitions, in museums and galleries, shows which last for just three months and then be taken apart, then we move on to the next one. But it was for us an experimenting ground a way of testing out of ideas, which are fairly fundamental to the generation of the vocabulary that we now use in architectural projects.


Art Of Ancient Mexico Exhibition, Hayward Gallery, London

©Peter Cook

AS: From the early work on temporary exhibitions, we learnt to design permanent installations and then interiors for shops, office and living spaces. And more recently we've realised larger scale projects and spaces and have moved into landscape and projects in urban contexts. The challenge for us has really been how to take the lessons of the early working into a major scheme; how to extend the density of thought and attention that we put into something like an exhibition, through to a large building; how to stretch the limit, the vocabulary that had been developed in the smaller projects. We're still struggling with that, and trying to maintain the quality on the larger projects. worldwide. PW: I think Alan and I have worked on over forty exhibitions both in this country and abroad,

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