Bold, innovative and boundary-pushing with his designs, Robert Jamison certainly knows how to make a statement with his architecture.Living and practicing in Belfast he shares his passion for design and creative thinking.
Is colour important to you in a home?
Of course. We experience our environment through our senses, and the eye – the organ of sight – is principally concerned with light, colour and form.Colour and material induce sensation/ feeling in collusion with proportion, scale, light and shadow et cetera, and all are equally fundamental to the creation and feeling of space. We need and want our homes to be a refuge, a sanctuary, a place of retreat, and as architects, designers and creators we are in essence influencing how the space is felt and ultimately impacting on the health and wellbeing of self and other, intended or otherwise. We have a mammoth responsibility.
My approach to colour is about honouring the natural material medium and allowing Nature’s intrinsic properties to be expressed and displayed.Material and finish are carefully considered relative to the space inhabited and the characteristics sought from feeling Self, and each project is exploratory and experimental.
While our home is understood to be a series of interconnecting rooms with windows to permit natural light to enter, I see home as shelter to the enjoyment of the natural (and manmade) world, which we can manifest more easily in warmer climates and rural settings. I invite my students not to place windows within walls but create transparent edges and put back solid material as desired or required to percolate or control the light.
Further,architecture ultimately should become background to our relationship to Self and other, and with that, the darker the material (or colour) the further the building fabric recedes into the background. The warm and potentially deep hues of timber render it the material of choice, evidenced in the most sublime residential properties.
Hallways, do you like them?
I prefer the vestibule to the hallway. Typically in our Northern European building stock the pervasive notion is of entrance door to hallway occupied by staircase to upper private sleeping spaces.In terraced, semi-detached pre- or post-war or indeed more current suburban housing developments, hallways over time have become smaller, thus reducing potential for pause, de-robing and transitioning to dwelling spaces from the outside world.
The vestibule is not a route but a room. Fair of proportion, offering a functional space affording opportunity to pause, to sit, de-robe, and hang clothes, with requisite storage for umbrellas and shoes, coats and jackets. A most memorable vestibule experience included a wash hand basin. The act of cleaning and cleansing before entering the home proper was sublime. Further the invitation to the remove footwear is imperative, if only to illustrate reverence towards our own or others hallowed dwelling spaces.
We love the concept you have that as we age we need to adjust our living styles? Can you elaborate on this?
Let’s assume– as India’s holistic medical system of Ayurveda does – that we have three stages of life.Our growth/anabolic phase from birth to mid-twenties; our maintaining/metabolic phase until our seventies; our declining/catabolic age until our body withers and dies.Of course, we continue along or within the ever-present now, but as we evolve and as wisdom blossoms we favour alternative ways of inhabiting space. I feel it is absolutely necessary – and a recurring theme in my residential practice ideas and works – that rooms should not be prescribed, but rather hyper-flexible in dedicated function. Of course the surviving elements of wash, waste and cooking would be prescribed, unless we take this notion to its very essence and offer living without dedicated spaces.
Fundamentally I am not interested in creating bed-rooms, bath-rooms, dining rooms, or indeed living rooms.Rather I suggest creating spaces to be appropriated and offering unique and contrasting characteristics relative to both internal and external conditions and environment, with the potential for patterns to emerge as we evolve through our stages of life, all supported within a simple and reduced spatial organisation.
A traditional architecture design practice aims to expand their portfolio of works by shifting from small scale residential to larger mixed use developments and towards public architecture through competition and invitation.This was my journey up to 2009.Since then I have come to realise the ever-present flaws, perhaps so obvious yet not appreciated, within what I call ‘the apparatus of living’.I felt a pull towards these objects of everyday life before beginning the journey once more through residential architecture and towards alternative building typologies and opportunities. The home is indeed our most sacred building, but our natural rhythms and patterns of (co)habitation must be understood, and gifted the backdrop to our lives in these sacred spaces.
I feel it is rather odd how we celebrate buildings and gift accolades to architects, when the ‘apparatus of living’ within these structures is fundamentally unsupportive of our basic needs. The obvious example is the (throne) toilet. Unhygienic and flawed in its design. Its history is so bizarre it’s fascinating. I see the history of some of this apparatus as kinks in our natural evolutionary trajectory.
As architects I feel we need to first and foremost understand our bio-mechanical needs. ARCHITECTURE and the education thereof is the looking and understanding of the universe, from the galactic and global to the molecular. Architecture need not only shelter, but can and must inspire, nourish and sustain. Buildings can and must heal our energetic beings. This is all possible, but we must understand Self before we learn how to create these spaces.
We have been distracted from our journey and pulled from our connection to the natural world and I see the errors of Western civilisation as complicit in this distraction.So many paradigm shifts and leaps in progress have been brought about by greed or selfish desire, to overcome, overthrow, control and tame.Through a drive for more efficient modes of living and standardised structures to shelter, we have lost our connection to the natural, drifting through an existence lacking meaning and potential. However, I feel we can – and must – begin to unlock and reveal the elemental and natural and come back to and provide for the essence of who we are as a species.
It was only by travelling and observing other cultures that it become obvious to me that all is not what it appears to be in our world and that the western paradigm I existed within would seem and feel less advanced than indigenous cultures and nomadic tribes.
Now, I position my practice as a creative endeavour in search of understanding the inner experience with Self, and collectively with other, revealing perhaps new but more reverent modes of living and dwelling.
Where did you study?
I studied at Queens University Belfast at undergraduate, post-graduate and as a part-time studio tutor for almost 15 years.Most recently I ran a Masters unit entitled “Without Precedent” with my great colleague and friend Professor Ruth Morrow.The unit’s focus was on material experimentation, a teaching studio on the edge of the syllabus, and periphery of the traditional.
Mark Twain said, “Never let schooling get in the way of your education”.I was determined to understand my world as I moved thought stages of existence, and university presented an opportunity to explore Self. I indulged, was not academic, but enjoyed the architects’ studio and whilst I worked hard, I played hard, exploring other dimensions, expanding my impressions, experiences and potentialities.
If you weren’t an architect what would you be?
I don’t think I am an architect as currently defined. I have the title struck out on my website. What is an architect anyway? Way back architects didn’t exist and yet there we found beauty and delight in the natural. The etymological root of architect is ‘master builder’ and therein lies the clue. The master builder no longer exists, and the title architect can be attained without setting foot on a building site. So I’m a little confused. I feel the title has lost its truth.
However, I feel architecture is the study of the world we live in, and that study should begin at primary level education. We don’t realise the impact our built environment has on our health and yet we have an illness called ‘sick building syndrome.’ It is a global phenomenabut less common if evident at all in the Antipodes where the natural world is more respected and understood for the most part. I have looked at and continue to study the worlds I inhabit, and have a love for creating shelter. If I wasn’t doing that, I would still be creating.Deep down I feel a folk singer songwriter is waiting to blossom in another life or the next. My lifestyle would always be in the Arts and in service to others. Ultimately, we are all creators.
After closing my London studio in 2009 I would journey with purpose for 6 years. In 2010 I would serendipitously find myself gazing at the stars from a Japanese bath at Lovett Bay, North of Sydney in the home of Ric Le Plastrier. This was a building I had studied and would reference to my students over the years, and here I am in the twilight, on the edge of Ku-rin-gai National Park.Ric is a master boat builder and craftsman.The architect’s architect.I would wake at dawn and study the details of his plywood construct, a single room, swags on the floor, kitchen and bathing outside under a deep overhang, with utility structure adjacent. Simple and beautiful. In a word, architecture.
A property I would like to explore is Frank Gehry’s L.A. residence. A remodelling of an existing detached suburban house, Gehry has wrapped the existing and unleashed a fascinating spatial organisation and elemental material simplicity.
Your favourite architect?
I enjoy the work of Chilean architect Smiljan Radic, Japanese architect Go Hasegawa, and the monumental works of the Spanish practice Ensamble Studio. In each there’s a sensibility transcending the ordinary, exploring ideas, experimentation and expressing potential in experience.
What is your favourite style of architecture?
I suspect you would enjoy the architecture in Bali?
Indeed. In a climate where you can get closer to the five elements the building begins to dissolve, and materials employed are only to provide shelter while allowing the outside to enter. Very different in Northern Europe where hermetically sealed boxes are the norm, with small window openings and artificial lighting complicit in and contributing to the dis-ease of the population.
Homes in the UK are mainly brick and concrete, have you designed a stunning home with timber?
Yes. My first commission was for a house in the rural setting of County Antrim. I created a timber frame structure on a polished concrete plinth, external skin, walls and roof, clad in tight wrap of western red cedar shingles. It received an international award back in 2008.
We have ‘villas’ in NZ which were designed by the English, but not for our weather. To allow the sun to come streaming into these villas, the back of the house is ‘blown out’, do you create a lot of this in the UK?
We get tacked on polycarbonate conservatories/glass boxes to the rear of suburban homes. Unfit for use, they are too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. We are animals of nature and we crave the light. We create these boxes and the room leading to the box typically becomes a dark wide corridor, destroying the existing room. Furthermore, suburban living is ultimate designed by developers, with cookie-cutter house-types peppered across the landscape. Orientation is ill-considered and layout is ill-conceived such that we find conservatories on north-facing elevations. It’s odd. It simply expresses an inherent disconnect from our natural rhythms, and a lack of compassion for Self.
Favourite architecture in which country?
I have travelled extensively in the Indian sub-continent and I delight in the undesigned. Architecture without architects that reveals much about spirit, instinct, intuition and our creative energies.
Holiday homes, do you design many of these?
No, we don’t really have holiday homes here as you would in NZ. We have static-caravans. A sub-culture of the population who frequent semi permanent structures in orderly rows typically across fields in coastal locations. It’s a typology no architect has challenged, and one I have been contemplating for some time.
Tell our readers what your favourite architecture job would be?
I want to create a pre-school building exemplar. The first public building a child will experience for a period of time outside the home. An education space. I have given this much time and thought and I feel it should be a biosphere. A transparent,non orthogonal shelter and backdrop to a natural environment both internally and externally. Indeed. I feel the holy grail of architecture to be a fully transparent fabric with built in tech to modulate light, capture solar energy and moisture.The fabric then draped over the existing or erected structure – demountable, mobile or permanent – affording a more intimate relationship with the natural world. I am interested in thinking about material at one level, and the creation of new models or building types at another, but all relative to the feeling Self and to spirit.
How has life been for you these past few months?
I cannot complain. Life has been good. A slower pace, more focused but busier. The weather has been kind and homeschooling has been outside exploring the landscape.
There has been a transformative shift from vibrant studio to online consultation, a form of practice that has been so rewarding. Through iPad screen share with sketch software, drawings and images have been analysed and ideas presented over Zoom. An offering of four to six unique ideas per week, unlocking, and bringing joy to new or troubled projects. Following the initial consultation further levels of collaboration are offered and explored. Over these past weeks I have engaged with individuals and families throughout Europe, US, South Africa and NZ. I feel blessed to be given the opportunity to help others in their quest to find ease and stillness in the spaces they live and dwell.
Favourite design inspiration on Instagram?
The works of Pablo Palazuelo, Jean Petitpas or those artist and architects guided by spirit self, uncorrupted by fashion or taste. I also enjoy landscapes, engineering, tools, and those exploring the same. I love invention, new ways and methods and the natural world.
Magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I don’t read magazines. If I have time I continue with the numerous books I have on the go. Currently Flea’s (of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers) memoir. It’s a divine read.I love the works of Joseph Campbell. Always the ancient texts are with me and there can always be deeper explorations of the Yoga Sutras, Ayurveda or Vaastu Shastra.
Architectural and design books you treasure?
Essays written by Balkrishna Doshi on Corb and Kahn, the acrobat and yogi. I picked these up whilst visiting Sangath a stop on my solo motorcycle grand tour of India and environs covering some 20k km. Doshi invited me to visit and on arrival requested a lecture to his staff and students on my experiences traveling his homeland. I spent many days in Ahmedabad and before my departure received these works.
Downtime, how do you like to spend this?
I have a woodland. 7 acres and much to do. I am creating external rooms and planning internal spaces. The cave and the canopy. When I enter the woodland environment my spirit is held, caressed and nourished. The natural environment is downtime for all. Unbuilt, and pure. I have a 3 year old son Forester, and a 9 year old stepson Mack. We love the forest.I am married to Kate, Ayurvedic consultant and yoga teacher. The woodland is our refuge, our retreat, our meditation room. Our practice space. It’s home. Natural and divine. Om Namah Shivaya.