John Pardey talks to Chris Loyn of Loyn & Co Architects about reading the site, drawing by hand, the illustrious neighbour who pushed him towards architecture as a career and the delicate relationship between architect and client.
John Pardey Once I’ve visited a site, I’ve got a design sorted in my head. With a site like this it seemed so obvious to lift the living space and give it a view of the harbour. That’s not to say I’m a genius and it all just pops out fully formed. It doesn’t. It takes a lot of hard work. But the basics are determined straight away. The finished house and those initial sketches are pretty much the same thing.
Chris Loyn It amazes me how few architects draw things in context – and it drives me insane. You look at the planning register and there are these floating houses somewhere in Mars or space or somewhere. It’s blindingly obvious. You analyse that site – the sun, the view – and out of it comes the solution. I’m the same as you; I sketch – straight away. You don’t just look; you see. This is my big thing at the moment, seeing not looking. When the planners say “Oh I’ve looked at your drawings”, I say “yes, but you haven’t seen them; you haven’t felt them”.
John Pardey I always say to clients: if you don’t trust me, please don’t work with me. Because that’s the bottom line.
Chris Loyn The classic comment from clients is “we kind of know what we want”. It has become a bit of a stock response but I always say: yup, and I’m going to irritate the hell out of you by challenging you and suggesting alternatives. Otherwise I’m bringing nothing to the table and there’s no point in me being here. It’s that mutual respect. You build that relationship. It’s ongoing. You’re invading their lives.
John Pardey I only became an architect because of a friend of my father. I was a bit lost – late teens, done my A-levels, hanging out, no real plans to go and study. But there was this chap who lived a few doors away from me. He was very elderly and he was an architect. I didn’t really know what architects did, but this man kept saying to me “you must be an architect. You must be an architect.” His name was Robert van’t Hoff. He was one of the founders of the De Stijl movement in Holland. He’d become disaffected and was a communist. He just happened to married to a member of the Dutch royal family, which made it all affordable. He ended up living in the New Forest, and he was lovely to me because I could draw. And that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to draw. I can draw every day. That’s what I love.
Chris Loyn I often say to people, if when I was in school somebody had told me I was going to spend the rest of life painting, drawing, making things – like Meccano but for real – for the rest of my life, I’d never have believed them. It’s wonderful.
John Pardey Van’t Hoff kept telling me about this guy called Gerrit Rietveld. I discovered Rietveld’s chairs and found out more and more about him. He fell in love with his client, Truus Schröder, which is not a wise thing to do. But he went home to his wife every night until she died. And then he moved in with Truus, into the house he had built for her. It’s such a personal thing. Houses are a container for life.
Chris Loyn I used to joke that part of the terms of engagement – the service that we offer – is marriage guidance counsellor. I always stress to my students the need to communicate – and to do different drawings for different people. The drawings you give the client are different from the drawings you give the planner and the drawings you give the builder. The drawings have to morph each time.
John Pardey I notice more and more that people are just designing for a single image. They’re designing for publication. For the CGI view. There’s a generation of architects who are so proficient on computers they’ll produce amazing CGIs that are all about trying to keep up with each other. I see it all the time. Don’t try and show off. Never ever. Because that’s when you end up designing things for a magazine cover. And you have this proliferation of images coming at you online. I just delete it. I don’t want to see it.
Chris Loyn It’s so easy to imagine things; to do shape-making. But if you don’t know
what a brick is, you can’t build it. I notice that with my students. They’ll Photoshop an image of brickwork on a drawing. I’ll tell them it’s the wrong scale and they’ll say “How big’s a brick?” I’ll say: get out there and find one. Feel it. Touch it. Feel the weight of it. If you’re in the business of architecture you’re in the business of making, not just drawing.
John Pardey There are things I just will not do unless the context absolutely insists on it. I don’t like white render. I remember, in my second year, visiting Villa Savoye. I’d been force fed Corbusier. I love the ideas and the abstraction; the ambition. But it was green and it was cracked and it was awful. And that was it. I was finished with render from that day on. And now you get all these silicon renders but they go green in no time. I work with natural materials. You know then they’re going to weather better. The boarding on Montague House will have to be done in 10 to 15 years to look pristine. But we’ve had it factory applied so it’s really well done. It won’t rot. But it’s going to need a wash; it’s going to need a lick of paint one day.
Chris Loyn Everything has a lifetime. To me that’s a really important part of what makes a good piece of architecture. It’s like us John. We’re getting better over the years. We’re weathering well.
John Pardey It’s really really important. When I was studying at the Polytechnic of Central London there was a tutor called David Leatherbarrow and he wrote a book, On Weathering. It was amazing and it made me see architecture as a thing that endures. Housing gets passed on from generation to generation. You don’t want to pass on a complete nightmare. And I think it has to be true to its time. That’s important to me. Take Poundbury. It’s beautifully planned but it’s a Disneyesque theme park. It’s horrific. Nothing you see is real. It’s scene-setting. It’s fake. And I can’t live with fake.
Chris Loyn There’s no integrity and depth. It’s wallpaper and that’s not what architecture is about. There has to be an authenticity and honesty and a tectonic to it. You get the volume housebuilders who scatter their little blank boxes randomly across our beautiful countryside, paying no heed to the things we’re talking about: orientation; context. It’s just box dropping to maximise return. There’s no interest in the end user.And because we don’t teach architecture in schools we have a populace which is largely ignorant about design. They’re clued up about the environment; they’re really savvy but design expectations have been kept very low. If we could change that, we’d have better clients in the future. Though I think the Covid crisis might actually drive people to reassess what a house does. It needs an office. It needs outside space. The idea of building a tower block without decent balconies or a roof garden – suddenly it’s not acceptable any more.
John Pardey Nature is the ultimate thing. I haven’t done many houses in a city context. One I did get through, in Wimbledon, has been abandoned due to Covid. It was just a plot, like any other, but I was determined to get that house engaged with a tiny bit of nature. I dug out a hole in the middle of it and put in a tree that you could see from all levels. That’s pretty much how I design houses. You get in touch with the view if you have one. If you don’t have a view, you make one. It is actually very simple. And why not? It’s just a house. It’s just about celebrating a few things. I always find an excuse to put a chimney in it because Frank Lloyd Wright was right, wasn’t he? Hearth is home. I just love that sense of being in a cave. You just feel safe. The view and the fire are they keythings. I had one client who said “I want to be able to sit outside in the sun at six o’clock in evening and have a glass of wine.”
Chris Loyn I had a client who said “I want to be able to stand there, against frameless glass, stark naked with a storm raging.” It’s so personal, some of the things that make up a good brief. You invade their lives.They have to trust you and like you to confess things like that.
John Pardey It’s just about what’s meant to be there. It’s a gorgeous little site. But quite a scrappy little corner. It’s called Ferry Point but I don’t think the ferry’s run for years. It’s very very narrow there. There’s a pub and a bit of a common but the great thing is that from upstairs you can see the Solent to the south and the light from the harbour is just beautiful. We put most of the glazing to the east so that it gets the sun most of the day. The view is illuminated. That’s the wonderful thing. And it all comes from what you feel on that first visit to the site.