Design Guru | Eric Parry

EC1- based architect Eric Parry established his award-winning practice in 1983. He has since been President of the Architectural Association and is renowned for his empathy for London’s dense urban fabric. Ahead of his talk at September’s 100% Design, he talks to Yvonne Courtney about craft, ceramics and a special community project right in the heart of Clerkenwell…

Is Clerkenwell a good place for an architect to be?
It’s spectacular. Not because it’s rarefied, but more because of the St Luke’s Church and Barbican axis, and Whitecross Street and its street market running between the two. It gets better every day.

When and why did you move your firm towards Old St?
We were in Saffron Hill before moving to Banner Street nine years ago. As the rents went up, we went with the rental flow. We’re deeply embedded in the area.

What do you like most about Clerkenwell – do you have a favourite building?
I have a love/hate relationship with the Barbican towers [Parry lives in the adjacent Golden Lane Estate] which are rather like a Max Ernst petrified forest. My favourite building has to be St Luke’s and its Hawksmoor obelisk.

What project are you most proud of?
Our community and social project at The Charterhouse. In partnership with the Museum of London and with funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund, this will see parts of the site opened to visitors and schoolchildren for the first time in its 642-year history. It’s a living museum and a privilege to work on. The project involves the redesign of Charterhouse Square, creating a new entrance and museum facilities and refurbishing some of the existing rooms. [For the history of The Charterhouse see Post, issue 13.]

Are events like 100% Design important to the industry?
There was a big gap before 100% Design was launched. 100% Design reflects London’s growing creativity – it stands for something important. It has gathered pace and gives impetus and focus to the showrooms. It’s so exciting seeing all the new products.

What is your involvement with 100% Design?
I will be giving a talk exploring the ceramic buildings in Iran and the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, and exploring the relationship between colour and texture through the crafting of artificial surfaces as seen in our projects such as the silk-screened transfer technique at Eagle Place in Piccadilly and the over-glazes at the Holburne Museum of Art in Bath.

Architecture is in a strong period – fresh and innovative
Do you think architecture and design is going through a strong period? Does the industry need more support?

Architecture is in a strong period – fresh and innovative. I’m preoccupied with what can lift architecture above building. There’s a sense that industry dominates building. We need to get architecture embedded into industry.

You have designed a bench – do you have any more furniture design plans or collaborations in the pipeline?
That was shown at Clerkenwell Design Week and yes, it marks a focus on product design and the start of a series including fabrics and ironmongery. Getting involved with traditions that are all but dead which, as a designer, I can help resuscitate by showing how materials can be used in a contemporary way. Craft matters.

Eric Parry’s talk Ceramics – The Crafting of Artifice in association with Turkishceramics takes place at 100% Design, Earls Court on 18 September. 100% Design is officially the UK’s largest design trade event with over 25,000 visitors including architects, interior designers, retailers and designers. The event is held from 18-21
September and is the biggest event during the London Design Festival.

Eric Parry Architects celebrates its 30th anniversary this autumn with the third volume of its Eric Parry Architects monograph series (Artifice, £24.95)