Creatives In Residence #08: Eleanor Wood & Jill Cowgill - NWDC

02 June 2020 by Ed

Our next Creatives in Residence post arrives at a time when the UK, like much of Europe, considers how to navigate a new phase of reopening. Eleanor Wood & Jill Cowgill launched North West Design Collective (NWDC), just six months before the pandemic struck. Among the tragedy of the situation and uncertainty they've also found time to slow down, take stock and reflect.

Creatives In Residence #08: Eleanor Wood & Jill Cowgill - NWDC

"Lockdown got us thinking….."

"At the onset of the current pandemic, our business was just six months old and so in its infancy when everything changed. Our new practice not only faced the trials and tribulations of any new business, we also had a global pandemic and the uncertainty that that entailed to deal with.

We started our company in the autumn after our previous employer had gone into liquidation. This was the push that led us to fulfil our long held professional ambition: to lead our own practice. For what seemed like a long time both of us shared a deep seated frustration with the status quo of current exclusive and elitist practices in the architectural world with this equally fuelling our decision to go it alone and launched NWDC.

At NWDC, we want to challenge traditional practices and create a working environment that celebrates flexibility, revels in freedom of team creativity and have a company that actively seeks collaborations with interesting and dynamic people in the world of design. A strong focus on socially engaged projects is also at the heart of NWDC; an environment where traditionally there is a collective voice and where each individual member of the group is actively encouraged to contribute to this voice. In other disciplines and fields, this might not sound very ground breaking. In the architecture world, this way of working is quite at odds with typical working practices.

After the initial upheaval, worry and disruption of lockdown things have, in fact, been very good. We are fortunate that most of our projects are at the design stage so are ‘on the boards, so to speak, rather than on site in a socially distanced world . At the moment, we don’t need a huge amount of equipment, can get by with just a good computer and internet connect. For us, working from home hasn’t been too disruptive and in some ways enjoyable!

One thing that has been quite interesting is how we have been able to continue to work collaboratively. As we always design as a team, we have got into a rhythm of logging into ZOOM or Google hangouts early after which we simply stay on each others computers all day appearing as a little live icon in the corner of the screen. This has been brilliant. The wonders of modern technology have helped us to continue to work collaboratively just like we have always done in the studio. 

The first few months of a new business are always hectic and so we have actually welcomed this time to slow down, take stock and reflect on where we are now after the first initial six months of NWDC. 

So where are we and where do we want to go? We have got to thinking that we are not interested in being ‘starchitects. We sit quietly creating beautiful spaces and better places for beautiful humans who want to work with us. At our core is the notion that the way we design spaces shows how much we value the people that use them, we think good design is something everyone should’ve access to, to own and interact with. 

Collaboration is at the centre of what we do, whether this is internally within the core of our team or externally as we link with other creative people. Since everything changed in March, we have used the additional time to focus in on these collaborations. We are in the process of developing a series of joint projects, exploring the connection between architecture and other creative disciplines. We are working with some brilliant people who are also creating fascinating little pieces of beauty in this corner of the North.

Without giving too much away, here’s a little preview of some of the things we have been working on:

The built environment plays such a significant role in society and has the power to make or break a place. We have been looking at architectural Brutalism and how this period and style of design has had, and continues to have, a social impact in our region.  As well as looking at this locally in a series of recorded conversations, we have been collaborating with a ceramic artist, who takes inspiration from Brutalist architecture, to to explore the conceptual form of many of the Northwests iconic buildings.

Our other collaborative projects include;

The Thinking Cap. A project we are particularly excited about, working with a milliner to develop a conceptual head piece using our new digital cutter.

The Folly. We are working with a landscape designer to develop a show garden proposal, with the exciting prospect of an architectural folly.

We are also really enjoying working with Year Five and Six architecture students on a number of projects from gender within the built environment, heritage and conservation to our joint fascination with knitting, macrame and subversive cross stitching.

So that’s it from us, see you on the other side."

Eleanor & Jill (June 2020)

Illustration of Society 1 by NWDC
Illustration of Society 1 by NWDC

The North West Design Collective is a team of architects and designers working together to create beautiful spaces and better places for everyone. As a design led, RIBA chartered, architecture and conservation practice, we combine our approach to design and creative thinking with our extensive heritage and conservation experience to deliver innovative and sensitive solutions, grounded within the site context of each project.


Creatives in Residence
Look out for more features from those working across the spectrum of creative occupations over the forthcoming weeks including designers, artists, film makers and more to share tales and tips for how they are working and coping while we adapt to the conditions created by the Covid-19 crisis and consider readiness for times ahead.

Click on the names below to read the other Creative in Residence posts in this series:

If you want to share how you and those in your organisations or networks are navigating these unusual and unprecedented times please get in-touch:

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