Young architect Benni Allan’s practice merges art, wellbeing and space
Architecture is adapting, and a new wave of young practices in London emerges. They are armed with bold ideas, digital tools, new studio set ups and innovative designs. In our new series, join us in hailing this nexus of exciting studios from the UK capital through an ongoing series of weekly profiles. Emerging studio EBBA and its founder, Benni Allan, artfully infuse architecture with an interdisciplinary attitude and notions of wellbeing.
With his studio established just three years ago, Benni Allan’s EBBA Architects is one of the ‘youngest’ additions to our inspiring London architectural creatives line-up; but what the emerging practice lacks in years, it makes up in style, enthusiasm and a refreshing attitude towards interdisciplinary and innovation. As a result, working at the juncture of architecture, wellbeing and the visual arts, the four-people strong studio already has an international offering and a wealth of ideas within its expanding portfolio.
The practice has a knack for a cross-disciplinary approach and for this, research plays a key role in each project’s design development. ‘At the forefront of the studio’s work is a focus on making spaces that reflect a particular poetic and material ambition that can carry meaning and can have a direct emotional effect on the user. We are driven by a desire to transform experiences in a meaningful way,’ says Allan, who prior to founding his independent office was an architect with Niall McLaughlin.
Launching a virtual art space together with curator Jenn Ellis during the UK’s first pandemic wave lockdown in the summer of 2020 is indicative of the bold plans this small but fast-growing set up has for the future. ‘We are not afraid of trying different things and use the process of making to help generate something that is least expected,’ says Allan. ‘More recently we have explored the potential of virtual reality as a way of testing the design process. The result of this research has helped to establish a new online platform called AORA, bringing art, architecture, food and wellbeing together, centred around a virtual gallery.’
AORA was conceived as a digital space to promote mental serenity and wellbeing through the curated intersection of design, sound and art. Drawing on research conducted during the design of a children’s nursery, Allan and his team developed an understanding of the value of discovery in architecture. This led to ideas of spaces that support ‘meditative practices and improve wellbeing’. Notions such as this were explored further and put to the test in AORA’s design. The gallery is composed of three rooms – The Hall, The Place, The Path – and each display works and can feature bespoke sounds pieces.
‘Art, architecture and music have proven health benefits from alleviating pain, improving wellbeing and shortening recovery periods,’ say Allan and Ellis of their project, highlighting the relevance of such a space during the pandemic – and beyond. Their joint effort’s second exhibition, A Hurrian Meditation, focuses on traditions of storytelling and includes ancient and contemporary works from Rome and the Cyclads, to Singapore and India. Launched this month, the show runs through to the end of the year.
Architecture practice is infused with learnings from cultural and education environments at this young studio in more ways than one – Allan teaches at the University of Greenwich since 2015, runs workshops as a RIBA Ambassador for schools in east London and is co-chair of the Young Trustees for the Architecture Foundation. These experiences, product design and furniture projects, and AORA, alongside more ‘traditional’ architectural commissions help Allan lead an energetic and multi-layered practice that enjoys a challenge.
‘We believe agency and diversity in architecture needs to be supported in order to create a more fair and sustainable future,’ he says. ‘These issues are at the top of our agenda and we believe design can be a solution, through better housing, more accessible and safe public spaces, inspiring and enlightening schools; all of which need to address issues of quality and environmental impact.’
And there’s plenty more to come in the near future from EBBA. Work is starting on site with its first public commission, a construction skills centre, for the London Legacy Development Corporation; private residential and warehouse renovations are ongoing; and a number of larger mixed-use housing schemes are currently in development; making 2021 a year to look forward to at this fast-emerging architecture firm. §