Architecture review: School of Food's design reflects 'exciting' project

Hackney School of Food by Surman Weston. Copyright Jim Stephenson 2020

Hackney School of Food by architects Surman Weston. - Credit: Jim Stephenson

Architect Gordon Shrigley looks at the "hot topic" of honesty as the best policy when it comes to the design of buildings.

Since the time the profession of architect was invented, architects have been obsessed with the question of how to make buildings as honest as possible.

For architects, the question of honesty revolves principally around the question of how to design buildings that remain true to what they are made of and how they are used.

For instance, a brick building primarily constructed from brick and that expresses its 'brickiness' on the buildings façade and interior is thought to be more honest than a brick building that is covered in thermoplastic cladding so as to look like a large aquatic duck.

A good local example of an honest building that clearly communicates what the building is made of would be Stoke Newington School and Sixth Form on Clissold Road, designed in an expressive Brutalist brick and insitu concrete style by architects Stillman and Eastwick-Field in 1967, and which leaves no doubt of what it is constructed from.


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Throughout the history of architecture, however, the question of what is an honest or dishonest building has really never been resolved and remains a hot topic within the profession today.

My statements on this subject should therefore be considered as highly partial, as a building that looks like a duck may be considered by some a more honest reflection of contemporary capitalism than a simple dour expression of say, brick materiality.

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It is within this context that architects Surman Weston has approached the design of the newly-opened Hackney School of Food at Mandeville Primary School in Clapton, as they state: “To exemplify the process of learning by looking, the building has been designed so all architectural elements are clearly expressed, such as lintols, insulation and roof rafters, so as to allow an easy understanding of how the building has come to form.”

To achieve these aims, Surman Weston has gutted an existing two-storey brick school caretaker's house to create a large double-height kitchen with expansive new windows and with all architectural elements exposed, thereby making it easy to understand how the building has been retro-fitted and remodelled.

The question of honesty is relevant here in a wider sense too, as the Hackney School of Food will use the building, through workshops and cookery classes, to help us see past the seductive visual culture of fast-food by developing a passion for simple unadulterated freshly cooked dishes, that we can all, with little expertise, easily make.

Hackney School of Food by Surman Weston. Copyright Jim Stephenson 2020

Hackney School of Food by architects Surman Weston. - Credit: Jim Stephenson

Hackney School of Food by Surman Weston. Copyright Jim Stephenson 2020

Hackney School of Food by architects Surman Weston. - Credit: Jim Stephenson

It is in this sense that Surman Weston’s intention to make the building more openly express its constituent parts mirrors how Hackney School of Food asks us all to rethink the food we eat, not as a highly camouflaged and perhaps obesity inducing convenience, but as one of the fundamental ingredients to a healthy and happy life.

Hackney School of Food by Surman Weston. Copyright Jim Stephenson 2020

An honest design in the Hackney School of Food by architects Surman Weston. - Credit: Jim Stephenson

Hackney School of Food by Surman Weston. Copyright Jim Stephenson 2020

Hackney School of Food by architects Surman Weston. - Credit: Jim Stephenson

The Hackney School of Food is then a radical and exciting project and building, run by the charity Chefs in Schools and LEAP, to help engender a passion for freshly cooked, nutritious and homemade food.

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