Q&A: Jacob Low

The co-founder of JaK Studio, who won the 2013 commission to design a bespoke mobile recording booth for the BBC/ British Library’s ‘Listening Project’, talks about why he enjoyed creating a space for talking

So how does it feel to see your mobile booth design completed?

I don’t want to gush, but it’s really nice to be involved with the Listening Project. It’s amazing to be connected with something that’ll travel the country recording people’s stories and experiences to be archived for future generations – and as a result we wanted it to be something iconic and individual. It spent a couple of days outside the BBC and the British Library before going to Glasgow. I think it’s going to the Shetlands next…

You said you designed it with a partner and based it on an Airstream caravan?

That was the starting point, yes, but it came as much from the shape of a speech bubble. We also wanted its interior to be domestic and familial rather than industrial in look. We’ve worked with design consultant SeymourPowell on previous projects and with its specialisations in the automotive industry its involvement seemed like a natural fit. We designed it quickly but it took nearly two years to finesse – and for that the help of the specialist fabricator Spectra, who’s done everything from trailers for Formula 1 to horse boxes, was invaluable.

Isn’t it just a souped-up caravan?

Far from it! There were a lot of technical demands. Beyond the desire for it to be really comfortable so interviewees would feel at home it had stringent, studio-like acoustic demands, with microphones installed next to the seating area. We even managed to get over Health and Safety and install a gas-fired stove for added ambience! The polycarbonate skin of the facade has coloured LED strips set behind it that work like a graphic equaliser, as we wanted to make the act of conversing within externally palpable.

Offices in London, Sarajevo and Dubai. You seem very international…

Actually there’s fewer than 10 of us, two partners and a small team here in the UK and our creative director and two others in Sarajevo – and Dubai as an outpost for our Middle East design work. We met via work collaborations over the years – I first met co-partner Kenan 18 years ago and we’re in our tenth year as JaK Studio.

So after building a mobile intimate space, what’s your idea of a permanent one?

Hmm…that’s a difficult question. It’s very rare for a public space to have the intimacy of a home. I’d have to say the Princess Victoria pub on Uxbridge Rd because it’s a good old London pub, it’s my local and they might give me a free pint if they get a heads-up!

The Listening Project, one of the station’s most listened-to shows, is a Radio 4 initiative launched in 2012 in partnership with BBC Local Radio and the Nations, in which people across the UK volunteer to record a conversation with someone close to them about a subject they’ve never discussed intimately before. The conversations are being archived by the British Library and used to build up a collection of voices capturing a portrait of the UK in the second decade of the millennium. JaK Studio’s design for the Listening Booth was selected as part of an international challenge by the RIBA in 2013. The brief was to create a warm, accessible environment where people would feel relaxed, uninhibited and comfortable opening their hearts up to the nation. The need to engender a ‘home from home’ feel was a fundamental part of the design brief.