Relocating to Deal, a seaside town in east Kent, has exposed Charles Holland’s practice to fresh influences, new ways of working and opportunities to engage with the community in profound ways.

When I started my practice in 2016 I was excited at the prospect of a change of scene. I had been working in Shoreditch and Clerkenwell for nearly twenty years and felt that there were interesting opportunities and roles to explore beyond there.

So I moved to Deal which is a small seaside town in east Kent. The office is based in Dover, five miles along the coast. Dover is a fascinating place, dominated equally by its incredible history and the contemporary reality of its port infrastructure. The studio occupies a former shop on Castle Street, a well-preserved, early 19th century street with the Market Square at one end and Dover Castle looming over it at the other. Along the back of the street runs Dover’s slightly mysterious River Dour, a beautiful chalk stream that comes off the North Downs but is rarely visible in the town itself.

Some of our work is based here: we are designing an art building for a local school as well as a new nursery school. We have also just finished a public artwork on the Kent Downs just outside the town, one of a number of projects we have worked on with Dover Arts Development, an important local arts organisation. As part of my professorship at the University of Brighton, I teach an MArch design studio and this year we have focused on Dover, exploring new uses for some of its remarkable but unoccupied buildings.

It’s good to work locally but the practice’s work extends a lot further afield. We are designing an upcoming exhibition at the RIBA as well as houses in London and Holland. Moving here has allowed us to develop new approaches and to engage with the community in which we are based in profound ways. The work has developed too, taking on board new influences and drawing on architectural history as part of a distinctive approach.

Rural housing is a question that interests us a lot and we are involved in developing ideas that break out of the current, often very poor model for new housing in rural places. This feels like an urgent question as online working and the pandemic opens up the possibilities of where people live and spend their time. The practice feels very well positioned to explore these questions.

Charles Holland
Deal, Kent