Morag Morrison and Massimo Tepedino talk about promoting the use of colour and materiality in projects and how the practice’s H\B:ERT tool shows the carbon embodiment of each material used.
Hawkins\Brown Architects partners Morag Morrison and Massimo Tependino – interior design sector lead and studio lead respectively – are based at the practice’s London office.
Hawkins\Brown’s main studio is based in the heart of London’s design centre, though the 200-plus team also works from offices in Manchester, Edinburgh and Los Angeles.
The practice relocated to its Clerkenwell studio around six years ago and the fit-out places the material samples library on a main thoroughfare through the office. The library is a meeting table surrounded by shelves of eye-catching material compositions.
Partners Morag Morrison and Massimo Tepedino – the practice’s interior design sector lead and studio lead respectively – talk to us about using the material library to help new team members get to grips with specification, their growing interest in material provenance as a storytelling tool and how the pandemic has in some instances provided a welcome short circuit to the specification process.
How is the materials library arranged?
Massimo Tepedino It’s quite easy for everyone to have access to it. The idea is that the sample library is very close to where we work, so when we have project meetings, we can take the samples and work with them. The sample library is really led by us and we’re involved from the outset in projects.
Morag Morrison We built the sample library as part of the fit-out as it’s always been integral to the Hawkins\Brown culture. It’s on the way to the bike rooms so a large portion of the office walks past it twice a day, and they quite often stop and look at interesting materials.
We’re both very hands on and really promote the use of colour and materiality within all projects. When we do design reviews, we look at samples and colours in real life. I think it’s very hard to do things like that virtually – you have to feel and touch and see combinations of materials together. The success of built projects is in that process, and refining and developing those pallets through a project. They don’t come just at the end.
What was quite interesting during lockdown, which is obviously quite challenging when you want to select real materials, were a couple of big projects we had on site: a co-working project in Wood Green called Greenside House and a town hall at Waltham Forest. And at both these projects we met with clients and contractors on site and had project rooms where we got samples delivered to site. We were able to work collaboratively as a team to refine with the clients, which I think they got a bit of a kick out of. They really enjoyed it over a more formal presentation process. We were able to short circuit the process and do it more quickly and directly.
Foresso, a type of terrazzo made from recycled wood, specified for a restoration project at Regents Wharf. “We have reused the timber that we are taking out from the floor. We can give the timber to Foresso and they use it to make new flooring – there’s a nice story about it.”
How difficult has that process been when you haven’t been able to be on site? Do you have a virtual library?
Massimo Tepedino This is something we started before the first lockdown. We have a digital schedule of materials and supplies we normally use, which is linked to the sample library. Each manufacturer has a zip code and it’s all saved on to the server so everyone has access to it.
This has been a way to really interrogate materials and look at their credentials. When we put together our database we realised there were a lot of materials we had been using for a long time but we had never really looked at them with sustainability in mind – or thought about whether there was an alternative.
It’s very difficult to keep it up to date because materials change all the time, and some products are discontinued. We don’t really have a person who is in charge of updating it, so it’s an opportunity for everyone to learn about new materials and suggest ones that we haven’t used before.
Morag Morrison It’s a really good learning tool for younger designers and architects to get familiar with different products and to really understand how to specify them.
The practice is using Smile Plastics on the redevelopment of the former printworks at Harnsworth Quays in London. “Sustainability is very high on the client’s agenda, so none of the materials we’re using are not recycled. We’re using Smile Plastics for bathrooms because it very waterproof, it’s recycled, has an amazing texture and comes in a lot of different colours.”
Is it easier to get to grips with specification in practice than in education?
Morag Morrison When you’re at university your training is quite academic and theoretical. It’s not really until you start work that you have to think really much more about the materiality of a project and why you specify something and whether it’s fit for purpose, not just aesthetically part of the concept. So we’re always keen that younger members of the team get familiar with as much material as possible.
We tend to have monthly CPDs where manufacturers come in and talk about a specific product. We’re always keen to find new materials and test them out, especially on smaller-scale projects. We used to go on showroom visits quite frequently – we’re ideally located in Clerkenwell! We’re trying to go to places that are open now to keep up to date with new materials, new developments, new ranges.
It’s a continual learning process for all of us and every project has different challenges. We try not to default to the same material, but to think what’s appropriate for each project and what forms part of the narrative of the design and the provenance of the material we’re using.
And as Massimo mentioned, sustainability is a real driver at the moment. All our clients are looking at the provenance of the material – not just the carbon embodiment and percentage of recycled materials but also where it’s been manufactured. In some projects we’re working on it’s really key to support local businesses and manufacturers.
At the Waltham Forest Town Hall building we looked very hard to find furniture that was made within the borough. So we worked with Isokon and a joiner based nearby so we weren’t transporting materials great distances; and financially that was putting money back into the local economy.
“Our client was also very keen that we use metal for the interior and that was because in their mind it is an industrial building so everything we add needs to look utilitarian. We know that metal has high embodied carbon levels, so we demonstrated using the H\B:ERT tool that aluminium was actually the best option because of all the metals it’s the one that requires the least energy to produce.”
Are there some materials that live in your library almost permanently?
Morag Morrison We do have favourite materials, like terrazzo – although we vary the colour and makeup of it on different projects. There are quite a few composite materials we use quite regularly in our projects and, more and more, acoustics are becoming a big issue as we’re designing workspaces. We have to think much harder about the acoustic performance of buildings so we’re doing quite a lot of research into that.
Massimo Tepedino There are two types of materials we constantly keep in our library: ones that we have been using for a long, long time like MDF, and which we’re trying all the time to look at where they’re sourced and whether the glues that are used are sustainable or not; and then there’s another range of materials, which are the ones we haven’t used before, but we really want to use so we’re trying to find a location for!
We’re doing a lot of research into materials that don’t need a finish, like clay-based plaster. We find it incredible that you need to get an army of plasterers and painters to finish an interior.
It is shocking every time that we do a refurbishment there is so much plasterboard to knock down and we are not even able to reuse it, so we have been looking at a lot of alternatives for internal partitions. We’ve been looking at rammed earth, which is much thicker and heavier but has good acoustic properties, so we’re trying to see how we can add a component that does the same thing as the traditional plasterboard or blockwork wall but doesn’t necessarily require a finish.
The sample library, and the process of looking at samples and colours in real life, is central to the practice’s culture. “It’s very hard to do things like that virtually – you have to feel and touch and see combinations of materials together.”
The component being attached to the colour rather than being added in another layer is a nice story in terms of people wanting to know where things come from.
Morag Morrison You get nice naturalistic colours. There’s also Foresso.
Massimo Tepedino It’s terrazzo, but rather than using stone aggregates it’s timber. It has a strong story behind it as the recycled wood clippings they use often come from a specific location.
Massimo Tepedino Yes, for one of our projects we have reused the timber that we are taking out from the floor. We can give the timber to Foresso and they will use it to make new flooring. The flooring for the project will be new, but actually the timber that’s been used is the original timber from the building.
This is in Regent’s Wharf, which is a warehouse we’re refurbishing into offices at the moment. We’re rebuilding its existing features and adding something new, so this is a nice way of bridging the new and the old with a great new material, which has in itself parts of the original building.
The practice is doing a lot of research into materials that don’t need a finish like this clay-based plaster from Clayworks. “We find it incredible that you need to get an army of plasterers and painters to finish an interior.”
How common is it to have this level of customisation with a material?
Massimo Tepedino This particular company, Foresso, offers it as a standard. There’s a slight increase in cost, for which clients are willing to pay because of the story behind it – particularly for commercial clients now that sustainability is a high priority. Nowadays manufacturers know that this has value.
You’re using a lot of recycled materials like Foresso and Smile Plastics, where there’s a really understandable message about the product’s origin. How do the sustainability credentials stack up against more mainstream materials with clients?
Morag Morrison We use our H\B:ERT tool, which is a plug-in to Revit, where we look at the carbon embodiment of every material we use. That’s everything from the structure of a building if it’s a new-build to the finishes. Then we can graphically show clients the carbon embodiment of different materials, which informs the selection process. It’s not just driven by costs. We look at the difference between a brick facade curtain walling system internally, whether we use plasterboard or whether we use a more natural build up. That’s driven in parallel to the aesthetic and the whole design narrative. We look at it holistically.
Massimo Tepedino When we run the H\B:ERT tool very early on in the process we need to make some fundamental choices. We use the information from our samples library about embodied carbon and sustainability to run various scenarios that tell us if we use these materials we’ll get a certain amount of CO2 produced over a whole life cycle. Before, we tended to use materials like timber as they had a very symbolic message. Now we’re using materials that have a completely different appearance and there’s an opportunity to refine the aesthetic of a building. I think it’s exciting.
Cork has been used for renovation projects at Waltham Forest and Romford town halls. “Many of the town hall buildings built in the 30s originally used cork. The cork that was used then was quite thick and it’s lasted really well. In some places we’re restoring that cork, but we’re having to replace it in other areas. What’s nice
these days is you can use a very satin lacquer on it so it’s not that a horrible glossy finish from the 70s or 80s. It’s a very green product, and it helps acoustically so we’re using that in new builds but also it’ quite a theme for
You mentioned that you’re specifying terrazzo in a number of recent projects. Why is the material so interesting to the practice?
Morag Morrison There’s just so much variety. It’s a sustainable material and quite a lot of it is now manufactured in the UK, where originally it came from Italy. It’s got a really long lifespan – we’re specifying it in our stations for Crossrail and it’s got a life expectancy of 50 years. There are very few other materials that are that stable and thatwill perform in those kind of environments.
Massimo Tepedino There is a trend of people looking back at the 1980s, and in Italy, where I’m from, it was very trendy back then. It’s also very much about the fact that you can see what the material is made of.
These days, people are interested in provenance and understanding how things are made, and the fact that this is very linked to the craft of making this by hand. Back then it was used as an alternative to marble because it was cheaper but now it has gained a completely different meaning – it’s amazing.
“There’s a trend for using terrazzo. It’s a very durable material, you can make it bespoke to your project and use leftovers from stone manufacturing. There are a lot of materials that look like terrazzo but are not. Alusid is another material we’re using for Printworks. It’s made from toilets and sinks, crushed and mixed with resins – the material is suited to worktops and vanity units. We used InOpera terrazzo for our renovation of the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields to replicate a marble floor that has been destroyed.”
How ruthless are you with what lives in the library?
Morag Morrison Well … we’ve just had a major cull and tidy up – this interview has been great in forcing us to do that because things had got a bit sloppy when we were in lockdown. We’ve been going through boxes and have found some really nice materials that we’ve got excited about.
Massimo Tepedino It goes in cycles. When the piles of material become too high then we start to have a look! It’s really difficult. Obviously we never have enough space.
Morag Morrison Our aim is to keep it more succinct. Where we are in Clerkenwell it’s very easy to get a tile or a carpet sample. We don’t have to keep full ranges.
What happens to samples you decide to cull?
Morag Morrison We’re part of a programme where samples go out to primary schools and they use them for their craft and art classes, which is nice.