Life after the LSA: Studio 8Fold
Studio 8Fold is the first new practice to emerge from the LSA. Established by Alexander Frehse and Aleksandar Stojakovic soon after they graduated in the summer of 2017, Vicky Richardson spoke to the pair about their first six months.
Where does the name of the practice come from?
Alex & Aleks: We were discussing what we wanted to do as a practice. We were interested in the idea of taking a brief, breaking it down and seeing it in a completely different way. There’s a myth that you can only fold a piece of paper in half seven times – until recently it was thought that physics simply doesn’t allow it. But we heard about a group in Japan which was the first to figure out that if you have a different shape of paper you can go beyond even eight folds. The name Studio 8Fold encapsulates our idea that if you reassess the framework within which you’re working, you can achieve things that no one thinks are possible: debunking myths is what we want to do in our practice.
How did you meet?
A&A: We met in Cape Town in 2010 at the registration office for undergraduates. We were both standing in the queue!
Aleks: After my degree I came to London and worked at PDP before starting at the LSA and Grimshaw.
Alex: I went down a different route and initially we parted ways. I first went to Santiago in Chile where I worked for Alejandro Aravena, which was a remarkable experience. Then I went back to South Africa and did a one year honours as a prelude to masters. But I soon got itchy feet again and wanted to go to Europe so I applied to PDP and ended up working with Aleks again.
A&A: There were 20 Part One students at PDP, all in the process of applying to typical schools. A debate about architectural education came up among us and a few students were interested in the LSA, but said they didn’t have the guts to apply.
Why did it take guts to apply – did you see it as a risk?
A&A: It was a calculated risk. We weren’t so worried about the lack of RIBA/ARB accreditation – we knew that with the calibre of staff and experience (people like Peter Buchanan and James Soane), it was only a matter of time before the LSA gained accreditation.
The risk was the model of education, which was completely new, although coming from South Africa – where you walk the earth and design for the people – it seemed more familiar. The LSA seemed to have a similar hands-on approach but with more rigorous theoretical teaching. We were also encouraged by the fact that we knew there would be like-minded people with us taking this leap.
So how did you find it?
A&A: We felt fully engaged with the LSA as a new project – you had to be engaged just to know where you were meant to be! Education is becoming a kind of service-based industry, but it definitely didn’t feel like that at the LSA. We were helping to make decisions about the future of the school. There were platforms where the whole class was engaged in discussion, and equally we were able to have informal conversations with teachers and staff.
Have ideas from the LSA carried through into practice?
A&A: The idea of agency is still really important to us, that as an architect you bring people together from different industries rather than working in a vacuum. Among other projects, we’re continuing to work on Aleks’s thesis project, Wasteminster, which dealt with the food crisis in London and proposed a new type of small-scale infrastructure, community based that provides education, living, research and energy in the form of biomass. For the thesis project it was sited at Brewer Street car park in Soho. At this stage we know there’s a lot still to be done to turn a thesis into a real world project, but we’re in early discussions with the GLA and feel optimistic.
What else are you working on?
A&A: Mostly residential projects, getting experience of building on a small scale. We also have an interesting project in Sri Lanka – a children’s library in a rural school – which aligns with our interest in socially-driven projects.
Our first completed project was the conversion of a maisonette in Notting Hill. Aleks and I started designing this during our final year and two days after we graduated we were on site! It’s a typical 1960s maisonette, where our Australian client who is a sculptor, gave us the freedom to expose the concrete slab of the structure and to create a new L-shaped staircase as the focal point.
What’s next for Studio 8Fold?
A&A: Our ambition is to be operating in the UK and across Africa. The idea is to join up with a colleague in South Africa and create a link between Europe and African cities where we see most of the future development of the world happening.
Before doing that we have a plan to drive home to Cape Town: we’ll travel through the north west via Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, across to Ethiopia, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. During the journey we’ll do research, meet people and from that create a springboard for a larger practice.