Tag Archives: Ken Shuttleworth

Ken Shuttleworth on drawing

How did you get into drawing early on?

Drawing has always been a way for me to express myself. I can’t remember not drawing. My dad encouraged it early on and when I started school, I was always enormously proud if my drawings were pinned up on the classroom walls. In my spare time, at the age of six or seven, I drew houses. We didn’t have a television, so this kept me busy and I developed a bulging portfolio of dream houses and crazy fantasy structures. Illustrated reading, jigsaws and maps also fascinated me, which I guess gives an insight into to how my mind works. I would often use pictures to explain my own thought processes; I still do.

How important was drawing to your education at university?

My ability to draw gave me confidence. As with many other architects – Norman Foster, Birkin Haward, Bryan Avery, Robert Adam – drawing was, for me, a way into architecture. I could draw really quickly, a useful tool when trying to justify an idea then and there. John Lee who taught me at Leicester Polytechnic, as it was then, noted my aptitude with my Rotrings (greatly admired German technical drawing pens) and started calling me “Ken the Pen”. The name stuck.

How do you draw now?

I still sketch a lot with pens and pencils, but I also increasingly use an iPad. Sometimes I scan my drawings and continue working on them with ‘digital brushstrokes’ software, which I learned about through David Hockney’s work. I also like to paint abstracts in acrylics.

Image © Ken Shuttleworth

How do you think digital tools have changed drawing as a way to design buildings?

New generations of architects are using their computers to sketch buildings. This is a much slower and more precise process than drawing by hand and the computer creates what is essentially a fixed drawing. It’s no longer an exploratory sketch, and we don’t see it as one. This can make an early iteration of a building more definitive than it perhaps should be. Then again, 3D models allow you to have multiple points of view of any particular design. It’s so much faster to visualise the whole with a digital drawing or even a 3D print.

But it’s also valuable to have to draw a section through a building – this doesn’t happen often enough anymore – because it makes you think it through differently. All tools have to be used with a lot of discretion and intelligence. Right now I am excited by the potential of VR (virtual reality). My clients are too. As an industry I think we need to invest more in this to really reap its benefits.

What do you look for in architects applying to Make in terms of draughtsmanship?

We like to see pencil drawings as well as drawings in other media. We really want to see the range of what someone can do. This also applies to the subject matter; of course we need to see drawings of buildings, but it shows creativity and inspiration if there’re other subjects included. Once we received an application that included pressed flowers which was a good way of communicating awareness and originality.

How do you support drawing at your practice and how should the profession support it?

We have life drawing classes at Make. They are a great way to encourage our architects to use drawing as a problem solving tool. When I can’t find a solution to a problem, I often start to draw, it helps to clear the mind and to focus. I think a lot of architects do this and it should be celebrated.

The Architecture Drawing Prize is a fantastic way to promote drawing in the profession and reflect on it as a form of presentation and in the context of masters like Soane, too. I think the profession overall should embrace drawing as a way of telling its story. It is about the process of designing rather than the final building. In the world of CGIs this often gets forgotten but can be far more interesting. Digital drawing and VR sketching will be amazing tools for the profession too, no one thing should outweigh another though, each has different uses, each has different benefits, all should be embraced.

Image © Ken Shuttleworth

How would you sum up the role of drawing for you as an architect?

Drawing has always been a part of my life and I basically see it as a way to explore. It’s about curiosity. I worked with Norman Foster for some thirty years. At his practice, drawing was a fundamental part of how we thought about buildings. It was equally as important to me as I set up Make and planned our future. I sketched on theatre programmes and napkins. I still do!

And clients always respond well to sketching. I draw a lot with clients in meetings, translating our discussions pictorially. It’s not as easy for people to type up the minutes but a picture paints a thousand words.

This interview forms part of our series on The Architecture Drawing Prize: an open drawing competition curated by Make, WAF and Sir John Soane’s Museum to highlight the importance of drawing in architecture. 

You can follow Ken on Twitter or Instagram.

Tagged ,

UK Employee Ownership Day 2016

Today Make is celebrating UK Employee Ownership Day. With numerous events running across the UK and the involvement of thousands of employee owners and other partners, EO Day is an integral part of the Employee Ownership Association (EOA) events calendar and was introduced to raise awareness of employee ownership as an economically strong and balanced business model.

Since our founding in 2004, the practice has been 100 percent employee-owned and held in an employee trust. The model has provided a robust and sustainable foundation for building – and maintaining – an incredibly successful practice.

Founder Ken Shuttleworth says, “When setting up Make, I knew I wanted something different. I envisioned a practice owned by everyone – and this was before we even knew there was something called ‘employee ownership’! That model had already proved to be a great success at John Lewis, and it went on to be a great success at Make, as well. For us, employee ownership creates a wonderful sense of belonging, of all working towards a shared goal. It’s a big part of what makes Make the great workplace it is today, and will continue to help us stand out in a competitive market as we grow.”

In only 12 years, we’ve grown from 1 to over 150 employees across studios in London, Hong Kong and Sydney. We currently rank 24th in the Architects’ Journal AJ100, a ranking of the UK’s top architectural practices, and have also been named AJ100 Employer of the Year 2016. As one of a small (but growing) number of employee-owned architectural practices in the UK, our structure provides a unique selling point in recruitment which enables us to secure the most talented professionals.

Employee ownership has always been in step with Make’s collaborative, non-hierarchical culture, which gives equal weight to everyone’s ideas and encourages equal participation in decision-making. Since every employee is a partner and receives an annual profit share, every ‘Maker’ is that much more invested in the success of the company. This level of dedication benefits Makers, of course, but especially clients, who can be sure that they’re always getting the best out of everyone.

Deb Oxley, CEO of the Employee Ownership Association, says: “When people have a stake in the place they work, the commitment to it and investment in it is much higher.”

More generally, the benefits of employee ownership have been proven in EOA-led research, and include improving employee health and wellbeing, increasing productivity and fostering creativity and innovation across an array of industry sectors. In addition:

  • UK employee owned companies contribute over £30 billion to the UK economy annually
  • Employee-owners have higher levels of job satisfaction, feel a greater sense of achievement and job security, and are more likely to recommend their workplace than employees in non-employee owned businesses
  • Employee owned businesses operate in a range of sectors including healthcare, social care, education, transport, manufacturing, retail and professional services

Oxley says:

“Companies such as Make Architects are great examples of the economic and social benefits that can be achieved in an employee owned environment. The EOA is proud to lead the sector-wide celebrations of employee ownership on EO Day 2016, as part of our activity to raise awareness and move employee ownership further into the mainstream of business structures.”

The Employee Ownership Association is a not-for-profit and politically independent organisation that represents businesses which are employee owned or transitioning to employee ownership across the UK.

Supporting a diverse network of more than three hundred companies, the EOA works in close partnership with its members to champion, promote and provide insight into the business case for employee ownership, and advocate the place of employee ownership within the UK economy.

Tagged , , ,

Designing for a Liveable City

Future Proofing London
By Ken Shuttleworth

Experience has shown us that prediction can be a bit hit and miss. So when planning for resilience and risk we have to consider what we do know versus what we don’t. For example, we don’t know exactly how climate change will affect us; but we know that it will.

And when we are unsure of what is to come, there is an instinct to play it safe and stick to what we do know. But if we never open our eyes or ears to other things, we stop exploring and discovering. We fail to take a risk. Excitement is lost and the benign wins.

Everything that gets built in a city reflects an ethos. Architecture always expresses a hope or a fear – an argument for an idea or a resistance to another. So as architects and designers aspiring to create long-term value, our future-proofing can only be based on what those ideas are.

Cities are centres of innovation and freedom, havens of tolerance and sophistication. They provide information, association, choice and security. But when you look at London how many of these functions were actually planned in terms of their future application? Or have they evolved through the vigour that the built environment has facilitated?

The essence of any city comes from a combination of its fabric – the spaces and buildings – its geography, and its people. But we also have to remember that a city’s identity is interwoven with its fabric of buildings and spaces.

And what should London’s identity be?

London skyline (c)Will Pryce

We know that London is recognised for its economic and political importance and its cultural diversity. We know that with the evolution of traditional office working practices, third spaces and public spaces are becoming the meeting places of choice. And we know that such factors have to be accommodated by the spaces and buildings we create – their typology, flexibility and adaptability.

Without accurate prediction of the future, we as architects can’t make any meaningful dictats in isolation – and I’d question whether it’s our job to do so anyway. We have to be part of the communal endeavour that ‘is’ the city. We have to join the conversation. Listen. Share. Explore. Discover.

To help create resilience and long-term value for the future, we have to support London’s evolution. We have to nurture public space as the glue between the city and its citizens. We have to ensure that London above all is a liveable city.

This post was adapted from Ken’s talk at the Base London conference.

Tagged , , , ,

Safer streets for all

In just one two-week period late last year, six people lost their lives while cycling through London’s streets. In addition to the inevitable questions about safety and the calls for quick, preventative action, there is also a need to ask how we plan to support moves towards more sustainable transport options in the long term.


The networks that connect communities underpin the work that we, as architects, do to create buildings, streets and spaces that are fit for tomorrow. People should feel as if they can move through a city with ease and comfort and an holistic approach to infrastructure planning is needed to bring this ambition to life.

Through good design we can remove the need for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians to jostle for position on our roads and make getting from A to B much less challenging that it often is now. After decades spent accommodating more and more motor vehicles, we’re now returning to a time of putting people first.

London’s complex mix of the old and the new gives us the ideal opportunity to achieve this. High streets that have been redesigned to force cars to move more slowly and allow pedestrians to move around safely attract shoppers and visitors and create places for people to meet. Oxford Circus, for example, has been transformed through the removal of clutter from the pavements and by introducing clear routes and crossings for people.

Regeneration schemes, such as the Heygate Estate at Elephant & Castle, promise wider reaching benefits. The scheme aims to reconnect communities that have suffered because of past errors which left them isolated from their surroundings, and shift the balance away from a dependence on vehicles. Instead, the focus is on the benefits that can be derived from having easy access to an integrated public transport network and open spaces that encourage social interaction. Walking and cycling are promoted through the provision of appropriate facilities and safe, family-friendly cycling lanes.

There are no easy answers to the challenges we face as we move towards more sustainable transport options and the infrastructure needed to support them. And of course, we’ll only find solutions if we work with local communities to understand the issues. However, I believe the one area that requires consistency is our collective commitment to high quality design. This is something that Sir Terry Farrell is looking into as part of his review of architecture and the built environment in England. His findings are expected shortly and I would welcome any recommendations that help us break down barriers in communities and connect people quickly, safely and sustainably.

Originally posted on Ken Shuttleworth's Building magazine column.




Images: Rebecca Morrison and David Hunter
Tagged , , , ,

Curious Sir Christopher Wren

Sir Christopher Wren portrait

Copyright Royal Society

Back when architecture was just a branch of applied maths, Newton rated Christopher Wren as one of the top three mathematicians alive. The scope of his talents was prodigious; he’d made groundbreaking contributions to optics, astronomy and anatomy before he was sixteen, and never stopped inventing things thereafter.

He was a curious boy in the age of curiosity, and curiosity underpins invention. It feeds the imagination and drives the quest for better solutions. Brits see inventiveness as our defining characteristic, the unifying thread of our national narrative. Spinning Jenny. Stephenson’s Rocket. Bouncing bombs. Jets. Cat’s eyes. Minis. From Brunel and Baird to Tim Berners Lee and Jonathan Ives, we think of ourselves as hot stuff at invention. If inventiveness is part of our mythology, we’re a curious bunch. Curiosity is certainly what drives us at Make.

It shows in Wren’s architecture, too. Where his peers generally applied formulaic design rules, Wren drew on intuition as well as rigour, and his theory was tempered by pragmatism. And he could certainly see the big picture. The plan for rebuilding London he submitted to Charles II after the Great Fire would have worked, as his cathedral does, because it was based on a coherent vision that took due note of time, place and context.

Those who only value the serendipitous and organic argue that any all-embracing vision is by nature authoritarian. Citing his 50-odd churches as focal points for London’s villages, they contend that Wren would have hated his unifying plan, had it been built. I disagree. Curiosity and thinking big are inseparable. And when you’re charged with rebuilding a capital city, big ideas come in handy.

So what’s our Big Idea? Because we face a challenge just as daunting, though less immediate, than the devastation of 1666: to tame the sun.

Managing the light of the sun necessarily entails shade, of course. In Junichiro Tanizaki’s 1930s essay ‘In Praise of Shadows’, he describes the West, in its pursuit of progress, as continuously seeking light and clarity – unlike the East, where shadow and subtlety are prized. It’s a hymn to delicacy, understatement and nuance, which concludes that these qualities engender an attitude of appreciation and mindfulness beauty that is central to life lived well.

These complementary themes – taming the sun and valuing shadow – echo Corb’s famous definition of architecture as “the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses bought together in light.”

All architecture is architecture of the sun; we must respect light and enjoy shade. Driven by curiosity, these imperatives are what underpin our quest for a new architecture that takes our responsibility for the future seriously.

Peter Rees once compared London to a kitchen garden, where the paths (the streets and squares) and specimen plants (the listed buildings) remain constant, but in between, all sorts of new crops are planted. In the bling years before the crash, these new crops took bolder forms. Shape ruled. Wren would have loved it. As the nation’s pre-eminent geometer, he wouldn’t even have needed computers. But austerity has ended the shape race, for now at least; most of us who are submerged in the reality of generating value have seen the welcome return of back-to-basics Euclidean geometries: a new age of reason.

Reason requires us to replace gas-guzzling glass boxes by a new generation of buildings with carbon savings at their heart. Resource and energy efficient. Responsibly procured. Community conscious. It may mean being curious enough to see what happens when you turn convention on its head: 5 Broadgate, for example, was inspired by seeing the building as a solid whole to be carved, rather than a structure to be built in increments.

Curiosity creates the diversity we treasure in our surroundings. Being curious means never being satisfied, forever questioning and searching for better outcomes, using fewer resources.

In his inaugural lecture when he took up the chair of astronomy at Oxford, Wren said, “A time will come when men will stretch out their eyes.”

More than ever before, that time is now.

Adapted from Ken Shuttleworth’s ‘Wren Talk’ in aid of St Bride’s Inspire! Appeal.

St Bride's Spire

Copyright Daniel Shearing

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: