Designers in Residence 2016
Q&A with Clementine Blakemore
Coinciding with International Women's Day, Wednesday 8 March 2017, the Design Museum speaks to the current designer in residence, Clementine Blakemore about her latest project 'The Tent in the Park', her career so far and her design inspirations.
About the resident
Clementine Blakemore is an architectural designer, interested in the relationship between design, production and place. Her practice is focused on small-scale design/build projects, and she will continue to explore the potential in collaborative construction processes during the residency.
How did you first become interested in design?
My mother is a stage designer for theatre and opera and had a studio at home, so I was always surrounded by design. Our dolls house was incredibly well kitted-out with beautiful, intricately detailed period furniture stolen from her models! We lived in London and I was lucky enough to be taken to galleries and exhibitions on a regular basis. Two occasions stick out in my memory from when I was around 10 years old: a trip to the Imagination building on Store Street as part of Open House weekend, and a trip to the Design Museum where I spotted an alarm clock in the shop that I fell in love with and then bought after months of saving up. I don’t have it anymore and wish I knew who designed it!
How has your design education and background in architecture influenced your career?
I would say that my design education is on-going, and hopefully will remain so throughout my career. I’ve studied both sculpture and architecture at four different institutions: the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford University, the Rural Studio at Auburn University in the US, the Architectural Association & the Royal College of Art. Each continues to influence me enormously in various ways - both in terms of what I learnt and who I met. Studying at a range of different places, both in the UK and internationally, has led to an amazing network of friends and colleagues who continue to inspire.
What inspires you the most about design?
The way it has the potential to marry the imaginative and the pragmatic.
Where do you draw inspiration for your work and how has your approach to design evolved over the years?
I studied with the sculptor Richard Wentworth when I was at the Ruskin, who taught me how to notice over-looked moments of design in everyday life. Over time, this led to an interest in vernacular buildings; the wisdom and beauty embedded in architecture which has evolved over centuries in response to the culture, climate and landscape of a place is something I aspire to in my work.
What makes good design?
Design which succeeds in marrying the imaginative and the pragmatic…and is beautiful.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
The project I still feel most proud of is version 9 of the Rural Studio’s $20,000 House, which I and two other students designed and built in 2009 for an elderly man in Faunsdale, West Alabama. It’s modest, efficient, dignified, and has the potential to transform housing conditions in one of the poorest states in America. I learnt a huge amount during the process, and have never had such a strong sense of purpose – or as much fun!
What’s your goal as a designer?
To create beautiful spaces that can contribute to public life in positive ways; to be inventive and original; to design and build in ways that enhance the environmental well-being of a place rather than harm it; to learn and to teach. And to make a decent living out of it!
What makes a good architect?
Someone who is creative and disciplined, who enjoys collaboration and negotiation, who can think about a project at the scale of a piece of timber one moment, and at the scale of a city the next, who has an ability to jump between many different roles on a daily basis. Someone with patience and persistence, who is comfortable being a little out of their depth most of the time!
What’s your favourite structural build?
Such a hard one, but Centre Pompidou is one of my favourites. Whilst I often argue that architecture should be contextual, occasionally buildings are great enough to stand in stark contrast to their surroundings. The boldness and clarity of concept in the Pompidou is extraordinary – the legacy of a great collaboration between architects and engineers. It was also a brave and visionary commission on behalf of the French government… and all great buildings have great clients behind them.
Tell the Design Museum about 'The Tent in the Park' - how does it respond to the architectural language of the new Design Museum building?
Given the brief was for a temporary structure with a loosely defined purpose (to provide shelter), the project was an interesting opportunity to do something bold and playful. Like many visitors to the new Design Museum building, I was struck by the elegance and complexity of the roof. By borrowing the same structural system of a ‘hyperbolic parabola’, but scaling it down, the pavilion became a way to experience the double curved form in a more intimate way.
Can you explain more about the process of constructing the pavilion at the Design Museum and how this process has helped inform your future practice?
Like many of my previous projects, the pavilion was built as part of a collaborative workshop with a group of students, on this occasion from the Royal College of Art. I was keen to engage with a local institution, which also happens to be my alma mater, and it was fantastic to work with students from a range of different design disciplines – from fashion, to design products, and fine art. In this way, the construction site became a platform for the exchange of ideas and peer-to-peer learning.
What aspect of the Residency programme has been most informative, how will this experience help you in your career moving forward?
Working with the engineer Peter Laidler and his team at Structure Workshop, who very generously provided their services in-kind, was a great experience. The time scale for the project, just three months from the initial design meeting to commencing on site, was incredibly tight. Nevertheless, rather than feeling pressured or compromised, the design process was exploratory and lively. It was equally fulfilling to work with the highly skilled carpenter Jan Ciechanowicz during the construction process, who led the students with great generosity.
It’s International Women’s Day (8 March); do you have a message for young women considering a career in design and architecture?
I would give the same advice to both young men and women: that architecture can be very rewarding, but that it requires commitment and passion. The education process is expensive, the working hours are long, and the pay is low. For it to be fulfilling, you have to approach it as a way of life as much as a career. Women are paid less than men at every stage of their careers in architecture and this disparity is increasing rather than improving, which is an outrage. But the real challenge comes when women decide to have children, evidenced by how many leave the profession and by how few are Directors of practices. Parenthood, rather than gender, is the issue. My feeling is that until we give men proper paternity leave, and encourage them to work part-time after having had children, we can never achieve equality.
Do you think there are enough women in design and architecture? What should be done to encourage more women to get into the profession?
Although there are clearly very few female role models around, I’m surrounded by women in design and architecture of my generation – so I think it has already changed in regards to attracting women to profession. The challenge lies in retaining them, and allowing them to excel, once they decide to have children.
Finally, it’s International Day of Happiness this month, which design makes you happy?
Bicycles. My own (a beautiful model from Freddie Grubb) makes me feel free and joyful, keeps me fit, and gets me around. The only downside is having to share London’s congested roads with polluting and dangerous vehicles… but let’s hope Sadiq Khan manages to do something about that.
The Designers in Residence programme is a core part of the museum's activity, and exists to provide emerging designers, across any discipline, with time and space away from their regular environment to reflect, research and consider new ways of developing their practice.