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Teaching design at the LSA — Matthew Whittaker

We spoke to the Design Tutors delivering our programme at the LSA and asked about their design methodology and ethos as professional designers and architects. Matthew Whittaker is a Second Year Design Tutor at the LSA and co-founder of architecture studio Whittaker Parsons. Here’s what he had to say.

Matthew (left) and fellow co-founder of Whittaker Parsons, Camilla Parsons (right).

Design a big question. Design is first and foremost a collaboration with the site, the city, a client, each other, the climate emergency and architectural history — the list is long, varied and always changing. The choice of relevant collaborators and one’s ability to understand their constraints has a direct impact on the outcome of a project. Design is a constant negotiation between collaborators and their constraints but often the most important constraints are the ones that we imposed ourselves.

By understanding the constraints surrounding a project we can begin to see where the possibilities lie and suddenly the project begins to take shape, driven by its own internal logic. The designer’s role is to guide the project to a form of completion. This approach creates a consistent methodology that can be used across a range of different projects types. It does not rely on ego or preconceived ideas and as a result it creates projects that are bespoke, unique and often have unexpected outcomes.


Project 1 — The Library of Exile

Whittaker Parsons worked with the artist Edmund de Waal, to design a temporary pavilion for his major new exhibition Psalm, opened to coincide with the Venice Biennale 2019. The library of exile is a temporary pavilion housed at Ateneo Veneto, a magnificent sixteenth-century building which has been a meeting place for cultural events and a forum for critical debate in Venice for over two centuries. Located in the San Marco district of Venice, near the Venice Opera House,  the pavilion holds almost 2000 books by exiled writers along with four of de Waal’s vitrines. Books housed inside the pavilion are in many languages or are a translation, reflecting the culture of translation within Venice.

The proportion and detailed design of the pavilion is a response to the Aula Magna room, creating an intimate space to sit, read and contemplate, within the great hall, while references to marble panelling lining the walls have been made, leaving the ceiling open to enable the ornate lacunar ceiling to be admired. The Library of Exile was constructed using external panelling composed of plywood cladding painted with a porcelain slip, gold leaf and inscribed with names of lost libraries in graphite.


Project 2 — Gentle Monster

Ground Floor Axo
Lower Ground Axo
Staircase model


Whittaker Parsons was appointed by Korean sunglasses brand Gentle Monster to realise their first European Flagship Store and offices, located in central London, a minutes’ walk from Oxford Circus. The store sits on the corner of Argyll and Little Argyll Street, in the former Dickins and Jones department store, a Grade II Listed building.

The project combines two retail units spanning three floors, creating a gallery to showcase Gentle Monster’s sculptures and sunglasses. Inside, grand interior volumes and historical cornices were reinstated by developing a new perimeter service strategy which enable the existing suspended ceilings to be removed. The new interventions, such as the precast concrete, oak and bronze staircase to the rear of the plan, references the existing materiality of the building but also seeks to unify the bold materials selected across two retail floors in the sculptures and display stands.