RISING STARS 2017 COHORT
Director, Architecture for London
Part 2: 2008 Part 3: 2011
Ben Ridley founded Architecture for London (AFL) in 2009 at a relatively early stage in his career, initially because the recession made finding decent employment in an established firm difficult. Yet, conscious of his limited experience after graduating from the Bartlett (with first class honours, distinctions and awards) he employed more senior architects to develop the knowledge in the practice as well as his own.
It was this move that particularly impressed the judges, showing a self-awareness that many young architects are not confident enough to admit. It also no doubt helped AFL find its feet. Like many practices, it initially focused on private residential work, and gained a reputation for considered, smaller scale projects, including the Polished House, an extension and refurbishment in Highbury, London. Since then AFL has remained consistently profitable and has grown to 10 people. It has expanded into other sectors and larger scale projects, for which it has won numerous awards including those run by New London Architecture.
The judges found it interesting that AFL focuses on London, which means its manifesto is defined by the built environment issues facing the city: how best to build homes for Londoners, what makes workplaces fit for the 21st century, and how to reinvigorate public spaces so that they engage and excite. This decision has refined its skills in challenging projects with constrained sites, complex stakeholder groups and heritage assets.
On top of this, Ridley has become a certified Passivhaus designer and developed a unique ‘healthy homes’ design process at AFL. This allows the Passivhaus skills to be disseminated to all members of the team, so that they inform more of AFL’s projects.
What would you most like to improve about the industry?
The risk-averse culture in the industry is not beneficial for nurturing young architectural talent and is something I’d like to see improved. As a smaller practice we find it difficult to meet the increasingly tough criteria for many expressions of interest and competitions in relation to turnover and previous experience. I have always found it fascinating and inspiring that the 1952 Barbican competition was won by Geoffry Powell in his 30s, when he was yet to even set up in practice with Peter Chamberlin and Christoph Bon.
What existing building or place would you most like to tackle?
I have a keen interest in the hidden potential of infrastructure in London. A recent proposal for Old Street roundabout seeks to improve the public realm, resolving issues arising from vehicle-dominated 1960s urban planning, and creating start-up workspaces for technology companies. I am also exploring ‘meanwhile’ uses of railway arches at Loughborough Junction as community workspaces.