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Ask an architect: Studio Bark

The Hackney-based eco-conscious design practice that is championing self-builds and the circular economy

studio bark sustainable self build homes
Jim Fitton

Founded in 2014, Studio Bark was catapulted into the limelight after designing a house featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs.Today, directors Wilf Meynell, Nick Newman and Stephane Chadwick are involved in a mix of projects, from social housing to structures used by protesters. They also developed U-Build, a modular flat-pack construction system used to easily self-build a bespoke home.

What kind of projects do you work on? ‘We’ve designed a few custom homes, but we’re now tailing off into other areas of exploration, like the circular economy,’ says Chadwick. ‘We want to set the benchmark for sustainable design and remove the stigma associated with it. We know there are possibilities to create architecture that is beautiful, high-performing and considerate.’

black barn studio bark sustainable architecture
Black Barn. Photo: Lenny Codd

Describe your design process ‘We are very collaborative,’ explains Chadwick. ‘We often have design charrettes (problem-solving sessions) to make sure we all agree a project is moving in the right direction. We do a lot of hand-drawing and model-making, and try to refrain from using the computer too much as it can be limiting.’

Are there any projects you are particularly proud of? ‘Probably some of the smaller ones where we worked with student groups,’says Meynell. ‘Holloway Lightbox and Warren Lodge were two great examples where we had incredibly engaged students who learnt lots about the realities of design and its relation to construction.’

studio bark sustainable architecture
The Holloway Lightbox in Leyton. Photo: John Holloway

Tell us about your recent work ‘We just completed a series of workshops with three north London schools, challenging them to build a structure that expressed their thoughts and feelings around the climate emergency,’ says Newman. ‘The resulting work was displayed in a gallery, painted with messages of their hopes, fears and calls to action. You just can’t have that kind of impact with a house extension, no matter how nice the finish is.’

Why did you develop the U-Build system? ‘Self-build is a term that gets bandied around, but we wanted to see if we could create something that was genuinely self-built, environmentally-friendly, high-performing and cost-effective,’ says Chadwick. ‘We’re still trying to simplify it, looking at how it can be used to empower communities, as well as individuals.’

studio bark box house sustainable architecture
Box house. Photo: Lenny Codd

How did you feel when Extinction Rebellion used the U-Build system to protest on and around? ‘It was great to see it used to make political things happen, not just for the purposes of building a space,’ says Chadwick. ‘It was testament to the simplicity of it.’

What makes a ‘good’ house design? ‘In many ways, it’s down to the occupant. I think it’s an attitude and a way of living,’ explains Chadwick. ‘We feel energised when we’re working with people who care about the environment and have a consideration about the impact they’re having. In technical terms, it should be a high-performing envelope, using materials that can be recycled easily but also built with longevity in mind. It’s going that extra mile with the details and double checking that things have been built properly.’

What’s next for Studio Bark? ‘We’re involved in some interesting social projects,’ says Chadwick. ‘We have a project in Bristol looking at how to create homes on micro sites at the bottom of people’s gardens and on the ends of terraces. We’re also looking at really interrogating the climate emergency and how architecture can respond to it.’ studiobark.co.uk

This article appeared in ELLE Decoration June 2020 issue

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