Small Studio Snapshots is a new, weekly series in which we investigate the ins and outs of running a small architecture practice.
This week, we're talking with Kirkwood McCarthy, a London-based architecture and design studio established in 2013 by Fiona Kirkwood and Sophie McCarthy. Known for working on constrained and often overlooked sites, the two discuss how opportunity and creativity can arise during even the most trying times.
How many people are in your practice?
There are currently two in our studio.
Why were you originally motivated to start your own practice?
Sophie and I met while working at a large multi-national practice. We were both working hard on large scale projects in foreign countries, which was exciting and interesting though we were both feeling the craving to work locally and have a more tactile, client based experience.
Around this time Fiona found a tiny patch of land in London to build a home on, and so we would get together over lunch or dinner to discuss the design of this project. That experience enabled us to get a sense of working together and the motivation to start our practice snowballed from that. Soon we found that potential projects were coming our way and it was the actuality of having real clients that was the final deciding factor to take the plunge and formally launch Kirkwood McCarthy.
What hurdles have you come across?
We launched in 2013 with the global financial crises bearing impact on the construction industry—so it wasn't necessarily a great time to start a new practice. [That being said,] in these times comes lateral thinking and for us it was realizing the opportunity of awkward gap sites which led to a specialization that may have been overlooked in better times. We are seeing similar uncertainty with Brexit though once again there is opportunity in this. Specializing in the residential sector, we are finding clients are approaching us to enlarge or improve their current property or to redevelop a garage or outbuilding they already own, and so once again political and economic uncertainty has lead us down a more creative, lateral path.political and economic uncertainty has lead us down a more creative, lateral path
We have been lucky to have had a steady stream of clients and construction projects basically from day one. That said, we have always had to be careful with cash flow and project pipe lines to ensure the studio's survival. Every day brings an unexpected phone call or interesting new project, you never know what is around the corner and as we grow we become more robust and wise!
Is scaling up a goal or would you like to maintain the size of your practice?
Scaling the studio is absolutely a goal. It would be great to have a studio bustling with creative minds, through we need to grow organically and make sure the growth is sustainable. Having your own small practice makes the sense of responsibility for someone else's income and livelihood very real. It is important to us that our team is well looked after and secure in their job—so scaling up will be a longer term goal that will come over time as we secure larger projects.
What are the benefits of having your own practice and staying small?
The ultimate benefit we enjoy is the pleasure of control in your day-to-day life. We work regular hours and work as hard as others in this industry, yet knowing we have the flexibility of being our own boss makes the sense of going to work each day much more relaxing! In staying small we have a comprehensive engagement with all facets of a project and its broader team. We get to steer an idea from conception to construction and that tangible process is very satisfying. We also have lower overheads and so have the freedom to choose projects that are the right fit for the studio.
Ellen Hancock studied Fine Art and History of Art at The University of Leeds and Sculpture at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul.Now based in London she has a keen interest in travel, literature, interactive art and social architecture.