In 2013 Oxford-based Architect, Gary Collins, sought a space to enable occasional work away from his London office as well as giving his daughters room to study in. We met up with Gary to see how his Modular garden room and studio has performed over the years, and to hear more about his love of modern architecture and design.
What early influences set you on a path toward architecture?
My dad was a bricklayer in his early career and when growing up he used to fascinate me showing and talking about the different buildings he worked on. I enjoyed art and technical drawing at school so it seemed like the right thing to aim for. I developed an interest in modernist architects at a time when Post Modern was all the rage and I have stuck to it. Mies Van Der Rohe and the Case Study architects in America continue to be a big influence. Simple ways of building appeal. I worked at Aldington Craig and Collinge on my year out (for two years) and I believe it is there that I actually learned architecture. I am now a trustee of the Turn End Trust, that promotes the garden and Three Houses of Peter Aldington. Seeing a couple of slides in a lecture at university in Dundee made me travel down to Oxford in the first place. I then worked at Hopkins Architects for six years and still appreciate the crafted nature of their work.
Classic modern furniture and design
What do you think you would be if not an architect?
Probably an art teacher. My Mother and three brothers have all gone into education in one way or another and I guess I am sort of wired that way too. However, now I find it difficult to imagine a career outside design. I am fascinated with product design and have fitted out my studio with Vitsoe Shelving designed by Dieter Rams – another influence! I think working in product design would be fascinating.
Looking ahead how do you see the industry changing?
There is already a lot of change happening. In my career we have moved from 2D drawing to 3D computer modelling. Buildings are now responsive and responsible within their environments, and developments in material technology have seen entirely new ways of building. It’s all happening and I can’t change that, but I still see great value in sitting with a pencil and paper and talking through a design problem or detail. I am also fascinated by offsite construction. A recent visit to a mobile home manufacturer demonstrated how advances in their industry could transfer to mainstream architecture.
Thinking on the page
Where in the world do you think is an exciting place to currently work as an architect?
Asia and the Far East are still growing rapidly and producing incredibly exciting buildings. I’ve always been fascinated by Japan creatively and culturally. They build with confidence and despite having an incredible history, continue to look forward. I also think that Spain and Portugal are places that have been repressed economically but despite this have some wonderful projects that weave into their context (often in the heart of a medieval city) yet remain singularly contemporary. RCR architects are an example of a practice that grew from humble roots in Olot in northern Spain to become Pritzker prize winners for their sensitive work.
What appeals to you about living in Oxford?
It is a beautiful city and Sally and I try to spend time each weekend enjoying Oxford. It is small at heart and everything is within walking distance yet you can just feel the history all around you. We tried living in London but returned to living in Oxford as it suited us much better. We have brought up our two daughters here and now that they are at University, they have both said how lucky they feel to have grown up in Oxford. They really like to come home here.
Gary outside his garden room and studio
When considering a new space for the garden what appealed to you about 3rdSpace?
I am interested in modular construction and 3rdSpace offered a modular off-site solution. As an architect, I was keen to have a studio space that was contemporary and functional. I had already sketched out my ideas for the space but when I came across 3rdSpace, it matched the concept perfectly. Through discussions with them, I was able to introduce a modification to the design to incorporate a slot of glass louvres for ventilation. They design and install the studio too so that removed a further headache of having to find a builder who could build the studio to the level of quality I wanted. It literally went from a patch of garden to a studio in two days thanks to its prefabrication, despite having to manoeuvre completed panels through our tiny terraced house!
Simple technology, Naco glass louvres
Does the space get used exactly as intended, or has it changed over time?
It was always meant as a garden room and studio. We knew that as our daughters grew up, they would want to use it as a space to study and to hang out. And they did – for a year or so it was entirely taken over by them. We now have it back and I choose to work here – it is my favourite place to work. It is the shortest commute I have ever had and I can look out at our garden and really feel part of it. Separation from the rest of the house is good to allow space to focus whilst undistracted by the the normal family hubbub. But I just have to lift my head and I can see back through the house from where I sit in the studio. In the summer, it really comes alive with the door wide open and a barbecue on the go.
Connection to house and garden
Gary is a practising architect and a trustee for Turn End Trust, which promotes and preserves the garden and Three Houses by Modernist architect Peter Aldington.
Gary’s garden room is a 3rdSpace 1.5 Bay Modular design, with a custom-made glass Naco louvre panel.
Photography: Beth Davis