New London Quarterly | Coffee Break with Helen Berresford

10th November 2017

NLQ: What is your proudest achievement and why?

HB: Rather than being a project, I would have to say my proudest achievement is the culture that has established itself over the last 10 years at ID:SR Sheppard Robson. The energy and diversity is akin to a university campus. People are challenged but also given space to develop their own interests. To see the practice’s Green Week – a series of in-house sustainability events – take shape and be totally led by the team, not partners, is particularly enjoyable and motivating for me. It’s why I moved here to set up a creative team.

NLQ: What would you have been if you hadn’t chosen the path you did?

HB: I think I would be in a studio, painting. I have always been fascinated by colour and texture and this has passed from my time as a student at the RCA, to my training as an architect, and very much informs my current interior architecture work. I don’t doubt though that my current path was the right one. I wouldn’t have coped well with the solitude of painting – I enjoy working alongside so many other talented people. Also, having briefs and clients means that my creative energy has boundaries and working within practical and commercial edges gives me a huge amount of satisfaction.

NLQ: What is your favourite restaurant?

HB: Petersham Nursery in Richmond. I spend a lot of time designing commercial office space, pushing places to be more diverse, so there’s something comforting about sitting in a garden with sand on the floor. Interestingly, this closeness to nature is having a greater impact on how we design our offices and the rise of the wellness agenda.

NLQ: Which is the worst building in London?

HB: What frustrates me is when you see 60s tower blocks left to slowly decay. They were often built with optimistic visions of vertical, high-density urban living but that vision has been lost and often unfulfilled. These forgotten blocks act as a timely reminder that our buildings and spaces require more than the initial vision; they need custodians as well.

NLQ: Which is the best?

HB: As a BCO judge, I get to see many, many projects – inside and out. I’m interested in buildings that last the test of time and I think that the Festival Hall is a fine example of that. It has a clear cultural and civic vision which still works today. It’s an informal and civic place in which to be entertained, educated and inspired.

NLQ: What or who has been the biggest influence on your career thus far?

HB: My mother was a potter, and from a young age I used to watch her through some really beautiful pieces of ceramic. There was an immediacy and kind of magic about the objects being made with her hands. Her pieces would be beautiful in an ordinary way, a powerful manifestation of form and function.

NLQ: What would your advise be to those starting out in your profession?

HB: Be passion-driven. I trained as an architect and now mainly work in interior architecture and I have always followed the work that has really engaged me. I have not taken a linear career path and always believed that there are many directions to take, so think about your career laterally.

NLQ: What is the biggest trend in offices right now?

HB: It has to be agile working, although it’s more than just a trend; it’s the very fabric of our office environment as we thread the digital world into our daily lives. The agility is reflected in creation of numerous different working styles that cater for everything from focused work to collaborating side-by-side with clients. There is a shift towards variety and informality in offices, yet this is not going to be catered for by a few bean bags, but by rigorous, activity-driven understanding of how people use space.

NLQ: What single thing would improve the development process?

HB: More effective communication between tenants and developers would lead to a better product. There is a mutually supportive relationship between tenant and developer both parties bound by the idea of attraction: developers are looking to attract tenants, while tenants are looking to attract talent. We can always do more to understand these laws of attraction.

NLQ: How optimistic are you for the year ahead (and why)?

HB: There is obviously potential volatility as a result of political change. However, we are upbeat about the year ahead. The social and cultural context of London will enviably push us harder to do more with less. How do you make assets work harder? How do you retain the best talent? What measures can I take to future-proof my office? We feel well placed to help clients answer these questions.

Helen Berresford RIBA

Partner, Head of ID:SR