Tarek Merlin, architect and co-founder of Peckham-based studio Feix&Merlin, feels ‘there is a problem with how architecture and design is being represented in the media right now.’ While our attitudes to content consumption are changing, there is still little offering for the discerning viewer who wants something interesting and informative, but at the same time snappy and open, addressing design and accessibility. ‘If you have ever watched how kids view media content you will know what its like,’ he explains. ‘It’s all YouTube, double tapping forwards through content, and TikTok swiping at unimaginable speed through three second video clips. It’s all about individual control and speed.’ Diversity in architecture is another issue to be addressed, according to the architect. 

His response? Merlin has launched a new architecture film series and a video channel, guiding viewers into lesser known interiors and buildings that most of us don’t often get the chance to go into. He partnered up with filmmakers Fairholme Films and DGTL Concepts to bring his concept into life in a new YouTube channel, called Behind Closed Doors. Here, we caught up with him to find out more about his new project with moving image on design and accessibility. 

W*: Introduce us to Behind Closed Doors. What is it about?

Tarek Merlin: Behind Closed Doors is a new video channel – a series of short films, getting into buildings you can’t normally get into. We will be taking a look inside some of the most exciting private buildings in London, gaining special access and seeing what we find hidden behind closed doors. 

Tarek Merlin’s next films will include the Joiners Arms in Shoreditch, see here boarded up
Joiners’ Arms, Hackney. Photography: Tarek Merlin

W*: What prompted you to create the series?

TM: There is a problem with how architecture and design is being represented in the media right now. At one end of the spectrum there are those design programmes and makeover shows which can be a little prescriptive, with ‘story arcs’ and ‘journeys’ and ‘design challenges’. At the other end of the spectrum, its BBC Four documentaries with long-winded intellectual commentaries, using complicated archi-babble and industry jargon, which can end up feeling somehow impenetrable. And nothing really in the middle. Something simple and straightforward, fast and accessible.

We want to do something that can sit in the space in-between current design programmes; something that still seeks to talk about architecture in a meaningful and informative way, but also in an accessible, inclusive and straightforward way. There is a definitive shift in the way we absorb media content, both now and in our future.

Our films will be short form, no longer than 6/8 minutes, can be found on YouTube and also feature on social channels like TikTok and Insta, in micro-form 30 to 60 second clips, or less! We want to change the way people think about architects and architecture, and help in the efforts to diversify the profession. We want to show lots of different types of buildings, community led to developer led, at different scales and sizes. And most importantly we want to spotlight the work of lots of different kinds of architects, featuring work from black led practices, LGBT+ and female led practices and architects with disabilities, to celebrate the diversity in the profession. I think representation is a really powerful way to engage and show by example that there is a space for you in the profession.

W*: I know you are already working on a number of episodes. What sort of buildings are you planning to feature?

TM: So far we’ve featured The Light Bar, an old Victorian Power station in Shoreditch that I, like many, frequented when it was a bar in the 2000s. It was threatened with demolition but saved by community action. Closed for almost a decade, it has been refurbished by the new owners and has now finally reoponed. We’ve just finished filming The Bottle Factory, an old bottling warehouse in SE1, which also fell into disrepair over the years but has been brought back to life as a creative workspace by developers Fabrix. 

In the pipeline is the site of the old Joiners Arms, an iconic LGBT venue in Shoreditch. It was also threatened with demolition, but saved by community action, and it will be making a comeback as part of the development with BGY Architects and Regal London. Interestingly, the requirement of including the LGBT venue in the scheme was a condition of the planning approval which we think might be the first of its kind. No1 Poultry is in the pipeline as well as some other well-known and iconic pieces of architecture, all with very surprising spaces hidden inside. Hopefully that illustrates its going to be a mix of some high-end completed projects, some more community led projects and some projects that haven’t even been built yet!

The Light Bar in Shoreditch has recently reopened, seen here a hero exterior
Light Bar, Shoreditch. Photograhy: Tarek Merlin

W*: What makes this series different to other architecture shows?

TM: Hopefully everything! This isn’t just an architecture show. It’s much more about getting the idea of going into hidden spaces places that are usually private or reserved for privileged access. We will be hearing about the story behind them and understand what the future holds and we will just be talking about the basic elements of design; materials, texture, light and colour but in a fresh and simple way. We’re not going to be talking about architectural theory and no boring facts. Just the simple straightforward joyful stuff!

W*: What would be a dream list of buildings to include in the future?

TM: I’d love to do a big disused airport for example or a huge industrial space. Nothing is off the table. The overall idea is that we are getting into private spaces so I’m imagining that some of the buildings we’ll find we won’t know about yet -  if anyone out there wants us to come and feature your space, let us know! I actually canvassed opinion online and a surprisingly high number of people want me to break into the Houses of Parliament, and the MI5 building. I think some of them are actually trying to get me into trouble.

W*: What attracts you to a building, in the context of this show?

TM: All the buildings we’re featuring are different but they all share something in common I think. Great architecture, expressed in the simplest of ways, celebrating the diversity in the profession, and hopefully inspiring people who may not have even thought about architecture before. §