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Conversations in Creativity with John Puttick

Ahead of our next Conversations in Creativity with John Puttick (November 2nd - harris Museum), we caught up with the New York based architect to discuss his inspirartions.

Our next Conversations in Creativity with John Puttick, international architect behind the redevelopment of Preston's Grade II-listed bus station, is now just days away (Tickets & More information). Ahead of the event at the Harris Museum on 2 November we asked John about his creative inspirations.

"Architecture is something that all of us experience every day. Far from something remote or abstract it is a part of our lives in a very real way. How the room feels as we get out of bed, how easily we can get to the train, how young people engage with activities in a youth centre and how well art is displayed in a museum are all influenced by buildings.

I established our practice – John Puttick Associates – in 2014 having worked on buildings in the UK, Europe, China and the US. We began with a few small projects and entered a number of design competitions. In 2015 we were privileged to be selected the winners of the Preston Bus Station international competition.

The project involves three components – revitalising the existing bus station to make it work for the future; the construction of a new Youth Zone for the benefit of young people; the creation of a new public space as a place to gather and to connect those buildings to the city. As such it is a generous, public-spirited project with the potential to make an important contribution to Preston city centre. I have – together with my team – greatly enjoyed developing the designs over the past year to the point where we are beginning construction.

We are now working on a number of new projects, both in the UK and US. Throughout our work, we aim for simplicity and clarity in our buildings - combined with a gently sculptural nature enlivened through warmth in materials. In developing the projects we study the designs through many hand drawings and physical models. We also have a strong interest in the potential offered by engineering to improve the built environment, seeing architecture as an ‘art of construction’.

For any architect public works offer the greatest opportunity to improve the wider city. In this respect the project at Preston Bus Station has been of great importance to our practice and has a special place in the development of our work. I very much look forward to seeing the designs becoming reality over the months ahead."
John Puttick - October 2016

What was your first memory of creativity?

I’ve always enjoyed drawing – I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. Lots of my childhood memories are of drawing both from real life and my imagination. Both my parents were teachers and were very encouraging of all kinds of making activities. My father and grandfather both used their garages as workshops – particularly for woodwork – so I have a sense of being surrounded by a lot of inventiveness growing-up.

What impact have big name clients had on your career?
Working with clients who are excited by design and are open to collaboration is far more important in creating a good building than being a ‘big name’. Since I started the practice our clients have mostly been local authorities, community organisations and individuals – we’ve been fortunate that they have all been interested in exploring what can be achieved through architecture.

What was your creative journey to get to where you are?
Becoming an architect is a long process. After school I studied at the University of Nottingham and then the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. I gained most of my professional experience working for two practices – David Chipperfield Architects and Make Architects – working on a wide range of both public and private projects. I’ve been particularly fortunate to travel a great deal for work – I was based in Beijing for more than five years during a time of frantic construction which was an extraordinary experience. In 2014 I felt it was time to pursue my own work and opened our practice.

How do you establish your own style over a period of time and still stay relevant?
For the architects I most admire, ‘style’ is something that grows out of the way they approach certain issues – perhaps responses to the site, their interest in materials, resolving conflicted interests of groups involved and so on – rather than being something imposed. Over time their work becomes recognisable as a result of a considered working method which nonetheless is open to the particularities of each project. In that way they achieve an underlying consistency but continue to be relevant to new situations. I think it is a mistake to view creativity as something purely ‘artistic’ in a narrow sense – much of the best architecture has developed from very creative engineering.

Does your process develop thematically, or is it more distinctive and random?

Architecture necessarily involves tackling issues that can be complex and have many facets – social, technological, economic, environmental and so on. It requires a certain amount of discipline to consider and resolve these things – there is much more to architecture than image and for people to enjoy a building it has to work well. Having said that, we are always on the lookout for opportunities to bring out a sense of delight in each project and that can often emerge from unexpected sources.

What has been the biggest influence on your work?

The biggest influence has been direct experience of the cities I’ve lived in, how people enjoy them and how they change over time. Observation is a very important part of creativity and architects have the opportunity to observe buildings and cities every day. The three cities I’ve lived in for the longest periods – London, Beijing and New York – are all extraordinary, exciting places. There is an enormous amount to learn just walking around, whether it is from ‘high architecture’ or intimate moments of daily life.

What inspires you or provokes the motivation towards creativity within?

Motivation often comes from day-to-day things. Buildings are used by people every day and have an important effect on them. How can we bring light into an existing house so it opens up to the outside? How can we arrange a school to encourage young people to become interested in the lessons taking place? How can we keep the trees on a particular site and make our building sit comfortably with them? These are small things but if developed they can have a real impact on how people live.

Which artists or designers inspires you the most?

For architects, there are really too many to list – there are many that I admire and their work is often very different from one another. Perhaps most frequently I find myself coming back to Alvar Aalto when looking for inspiration. For artists, since living in New York I’ve become very interested in the painter Ellsworth Kelly. In fact there is something that I find compelling in the work of both – while their work is uncompromising in its modernism, each was able to bring something lyrical and human that can be quite moving.

What is it you love most about what you do?

Ultimately there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a building you have designed being taken over and enjoyed by people. To get there takes a long process – understanding all the parameters, thinking through initial ideas, developing models and detailed drawings, finally the construction itself. That whole journey – moving from the most intangible ideas to the most concrete reality – is something I absolutely love.