5 Questions, 1 Designer: Charles Holland

Charles Holland is an architect and founder of his eponymous practice, Charles Holland Architects (CHA). Before founding CHA, Charles was one of the directors of FAT (Fashion, Architecture, Taste), where he led several projects, including A House for Essex with artist Grayson Perry. Charles is also a lecturer in MArch at the University of Brighton. 

Homerton College by Charles Holland Architects. Image by CHA

1. How do you define your work? 

My work ranges in scale and across a lot of areas: exhibitions, artworks, academic research and writing at one end and buildings and urban spaces at the other. Right now I am working on a book, an exhibition, a public artwork, a medium-sized building and a new public space. I’m very happy moving between these scales and try to use each to reflect on the others.

A House For Essex by FAT and Grayson Perry. Photo by Jack Hobhouse

2. Where/ how/ who do you get inspiration from?

History is a major source of inspiration. The studio’s work often draws on historical sources – taken from both the specifics of a project and from ongoing, recurring themes – but in a fairly free-ranging way. I am interested in classical and mannerist sources but our work doesn’t look overtly classical. We take a lot inspiration from precedents but these are then mixed with other sources, abstracted and used ‘incorrectly’. I am always very drawn to architecture that has unexpected qualities and that breaks rules, in big or small ways.

A House For Essex by FAT and Grayson Perry. Photo by Jack Hobhouse

3. Best career decision you have made to-date?

My best career decision? It was a very counter-intuitive career decision, but I think we stopped FAT at the right time. It allowed us all to move on and reinvent our work and it allowed FAT’s work to stay as a coherent, collective endeavour.

I left university and went straight to running FAT with friends. It allowed an almost seamless translation of our academic/education interests into practice work which was exhilarating. There was no sense of apprenticeship, of learning the ropes, of the slow grind of becoming familiar with office protocols etc. I have no regrets at all but sometimes I wonder what my career might have been like if I’d worked for more practices and learnt more from them. I was talking to a friend the other day, an architect who worked for four or five very well known practices before starting his own, and I was a bit jealous and also intrigued by that experience and how it had informed his approach.

House in Holland by Charles Holland Architect and Invisible Studio. Image by CHA

4. If you could have done something differently in your career to date, what would it be?

I think I’ve already answered this question in a way in the previous answer! But I think it’s always interesting to imagine an alternative version of oneself. At university and beyond I was always very interested in and drawn to the theoretical side of architecture and to quite conceptual approaches to designing. Over time, I have become more motivated by materials, by making things and by the ideas that evolve out of those processes rather than in overarching conceptual ideas. If anything I am now a bit suspicious of clear, conceptual ideas and much prefer the messy pragmatism of working things out. Sometimes it’s interesting to speculate on how I would have developed as an architect if I had done it the other way around and had a super-practical training and started with the basics!

House in East London, Proposed rear elevation by Charles Holland Architects. Image by CHA

5. Any advice for young designers / creatives?

My advice is very pragmatic really…I think ideas can look after themselves and having them is not the challenge. The real challenge is turning your talent and ideas into something that you get paid for and can keep doing. The things that underpin and enable a creative career are the things that don’t get taught much, things to do with running a small (or even a large business), of finding work, and the right kind of work, of relating to clients and managing relationships. So get some proper advice on those things, read and research that as much as you can. It will help you in being creative and inventive rather than the reverse!

Polly – A pavilion in the grounds of Fountains Abbey by Charles Holland Architects. Photo by CHA. 
House with a Catslide Roof by Charles Holland Architects. Image by CHA/Elia Loupasaki
House in East London, Proposed front elevation by Charles Holland Architects. Image by CHA
Tooley Street Triangle by Charles Holland Architects. Photo by Jim Stephenson and Luke Hayes

Follow Charles Holland Architects on Twitter @CharlesHollArch and Instagram @charleshollandarchitects.

Through our 5 Questions, 1 Designer series, we converse with creatives from different disciplines, getting to know more about them and their work. Click here to read more interviews from this series.