In the first of our Bethnal Greeners series of conversations for the new year! We are joined by local Architect and co-founder of Arboreal Architecture Tom Raymont. We recently spoke with Tom to learn more about his architectural and design practice; particularly their work constructing the Stairway to Heaven, in Bethnal Green, built on the site of the Bethnal Green tube station disaster of the Second World War.
Arboreal Architecture is a vibrant young architecture and design practice founded in 2010 by local residents Tom Raymont and Harry Paticas. They met each other during their studies at the Architectural Association in central London and after working separately for a few years – Harry in London, Tom in Los Angeles and New York – decided to create their own studio together.
When we started working together we wanted a good name for our practice, something a bit more fun than just our surnames so we went for a walk in Victoria Park to brainstorm ideas. There, surrounded by all those incredible trees – the weeping beech is our favourite – we were inspired to use the name “arboreal”. What better inspiration could you have for a building than trees? They have such a wealth of forms, colours, textures, inventive structural systems, solar collection and shade, even plumbing! They seem to marry technical performance and beauty in a way that we humans should aspire to in what we build.
We’re an ecological architecture practice so our aim is to create buildings that help us live more sustainably. This means looking to the future and finding ways to build that are very different from our current practices that rely so much on fossil fuel energy and create huge amounts of waste and pollution. The construction industry creates 60% of the UK’s waste whereas households create 14% (according to 2014 DEFRA statistics) so there really is a lot to play for. Choosing materials carefully and finding ways to reclaim and reuse them becomes a key part of our design process.
Energy is obviously also a huge factor. We’re certified Passivhaus designers which means we use particular methods to measure how much energy our designs will use when built. It helps us to deliver very high performance buildings such as our retrofit in Clapham that won Residential Building of the Year in the CIBSE Building Performance Awards 2016. There’s a lot of “greenwash” out there, people telling you that their product or design will save the planet, so it’s really important to have standards like Passivhaus to make sure buildings really are as energy efficient as they claim.
Your passion for the area
We’re based in St. Margaret’s House on Old Ford Road and we have always felt that being an architect means actively engaging with your neighbourhood, its buildings and public spaces. Our first project was the Bethnal Green Memorial which all started when Harry heard the story about the disaster in the Second World War and sent a sketch to the East London Advertiser. They published his sketch and that put him in touch with some of the survivors and relatives of those who died in the crush on the steps on 3rd March, 1943. When these people heard Harry’s idea they were really touched and inspired to make it happen. Many years of fundraising and hard work later… here it is beside the tube station, overlooking the same steps where the accident happened. The project has been very well received in the local community and gone on to win quite a few awards: we’re the RIBA London Project Architect of the Year in fact.
As architects we offer a full range of design services, often to people in East London but also all over the UK and occasionally abroad. We design new buildings as well as renovating existing ones. We are particularly passionate about retrofitting existing buildings, transforming them to suit new uses whilst radically improving their energy performance. London is naturally full of old buildings that are often beautiful but also cold, draughty and terribly inefficient. They were built when shovelling coal into a fireplace in each room was considered normal! No wonder they are not as comfortable or efficient as we need them to be today. We have our work cut out to transform all our existing buildings to fit the green paradigm of today.
We’re a thriving and growing architecture practice so we are always excited by the latest projects on the drawings boards (aka computer screens). We would like to keep meeting new clients that share our ecological thinking so that we can continue to build exemplary homes, public building and spaces. It’s a fast changing world and we are keen to keep innovating so that we can all be living and working in the green buildings our planet so urgently needs. Get in touch you green Bethnal Greeners!
You can get in touch with Arboreal Architecture at their Bethnal Green studio in St. Margaret’s House, London E2 9PL or check out their Instagram @arboreal_architecture