Beyond the Boundary, UK

Vivacious and ever-smiling Elle Packham comes across as a passionate architect of the future. Being the first in her families to become an architect, Elle reveals her family background, “I am lucky to have lived in London growing up and experiencing how interesting and diverse the city is. My mum was born in Ireland, but her family moved to Central London when she was young. My dad is from South London. So, I know the city fairly well and it will always be one of my favourite places. I think being so exposed to the city was definitely a driving factor for me to enter into architectural career. I am actually the first in my family to go into the architectural field.”

The Cost of Living Crisis

At Oxford Brookes University, we interacted with Elle Packham, a May 2023 graduated B A (Hons) Architecture student-architect. Having graduated, she joined as Part I Architectural Assistant at Palmer and Partners Architects Ltd.’s Thame, Oxfordshire office. She enthuses, “My works during my graduation was typically focused around sustainability and creating emergence within an area. I also have an interest in emergency architecture, specifically how well houses in natural disaster prone countries are designed to live up to the prolific and demanding challenges caused by disasters. This was what I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on. I am keen to see how the architectural profession/education will develop in order to better cater for these demands.”

Photographic Site Survey

Johnny D interacts at great length with Elle Packham to explore her quest in the field of architecture and her thesis ‘Beyond the Boundary’.

What was your childhood ambition? Did you always wanted to become an architect? 

As a child, I was always doing something artistic and had the ambition of becoming an artist. I was constantly drawing or making something, which typically ended up pinned on my grandfather’s fridge (smiles). I also fondly remember always trying to recreate the projects from the TV show ‘Art-Attack’. However, only when I had an interview with the Head Teacher for the Secondary School, I was exposed to the word ‘architect’. I found myself curious about what architecture was all about and how I could become one (smiles). Since I was 12, I have always insisted to become an architect. Now that I have graduated, I am on the right track and ready for the future.  

Plan – Ground Floor

How has architecture influenced your life as a student? 

Architecture has made me realise how to be impactful by being able to show something, whether that be a drawing, 3D model or a presentation, is on being able to successfully explain a project to someone, no matter how small it may be. It has also certainly tested my patience a few times and challenged me in ways I would have never thought it could. I have learned that criticism can be good and constructive. Now, I am a more resilient person for it. Architecture has also definitely made me more curious. There are so many different styles, constructions and materials that it is now difficult not to wonder why something was built / designed that way, when that question has been at the forefront of everything we have looked at in architecture school.

Design Development

What role do you perform as Part I Architectural Assistant at Palmer and Partners Architects Ltd? 

From the start, it has always been very hands on. I started working at Palmer and Partners Architects Ltd soon after my graduation. So far, I have been responsible for designing feasibility options for a project, putting together a planning application, building regulations packages, creating 3D models on software I had never used before, and I help to manage the social media. Every day, I am learning new things.

Analysis of the Sites

Briefly tell us about your University and the Course. 

I graduated with a BA (Hons) Architecture degree from Oxford Brookes University in May 2023. I was taught by an abundance of lecturers, who have all influenced me and helped me to find what in architecture is that I love, and what I want to pursue further. In my Second year, I had a tutor who was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about sustainability within architecture, not only in the UK, but also all around the world. She has definitely played a key part in encouraging me in this field of work.

Residential Floor Plan

Briefly describe the significance of your project. 

‘Beyond the Boundary’ was created as a response to local calls for affordable housing in Shoreditch. However, this scheme developed in a way that could be adapted for use in other parts of the country / world in light of the cost-of-living crisis. It is a mixed-use off-grid housing scheme tailored towards single mothers, as this is a demographic that is particularly struggling in the area. The building incorporates a gym, residential units, co-working and green space.

Adaptive Reuse of the Site

These spaces cater for live-work communities, which have had a strong presence in Shoreditch for many years, but often done so illegally. There is a strong energy production and harvesting system in place through the implementation of a water tower, piezoelectric floor tiles, biogas and a heat distribution system. Waste energy created around the building is captured and redistributed to reduce operational costs for inhabitants.

Social Implications of the Crisis

Which National or International architect has inspired / influenced you? Please specify as to why?

Thomas Heatherwick and in general Heatherwick Studios have been particularly inspiring for me. It is known that experimentation is a key part of their design process, which can be realised when looking at their projects and design development. An initial idea of something one would not necessarily relate to architecture in the first place suddenly becomes this incredibly interesting and sculptural design. The Maggie’s Centre in Leeds was a leading precedent in my own project, due to its sculptural nature.

Long Section

As an Intern, what is the most important lesson(s) you have learnt from senior architects, while being a part of a project? 

Currently, I believe the most important lesson I have learned from senior architects is to not restrict myself when initially designing, because of what the client thinks they want. Often in an initial meeting, when a client comes with a list of things they want, it is not always the case that all the things they want will work successfully together. So, the importance of feasibility designs to show a variety of different things, even if it does not exactly cater for their initial wants. This typically leads to a better final design, as the clients can see the project in a different light.

Energy Generation in Plan

Will the younger generation of architects make innovative changes to mitigate the catastrophic effects of Climate Crisis? Elucidate your perspectives.  

I would like to think so. With the climate crisis becoming more present and spoken about, I think it is becoming far harder to ignore. Given that people are beginning to understand the implications of an ever-increasing crisis, because we are seeing it all for ourselves with the likes of how many natural disasters are occurring and the increase of temperatures for example.

Interior of Shared Living Space

It is the younger generations and generations yet to come whose futures are more at risk here. And this has been spoken about a lot at architecture school, especially with thanks to responses like ‘Architects Declare’. So, I do think younger generations will be trying to make innovative changes, as we realise there is a dire need for them.

Co-working Floor Plan

Which significant aspects of the global platform ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ did you liked the most, and why?

What I like the most is the overall aim of the global platform ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ The content it provides is informative and very relevant. I realize that there are very limited platforms like ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ for architecture. I think the platform is encouraging and a great opportunity for architecture graduates to be involved with.

Isometric Section with Material Build-up

Local charm of cities has diminished due to Modern Architecture as every city looks alike and similar. How should architects / urban planners / landscape architects modernize cities, while maintaining the local charm intact? 

One attribute that I think would help to allow cities to modernise whilst maintaining local charm, is to always understand the site context. By this, I mean both the physical site context and the social. An understanding of culture and social wants can often only be truly understood by talking to the local community. Through a grasp of this, I believe designs would naturally come together and fit the context far better, as well as be appreciated and used by the local community more. Which I think should be a, if not the, main end goal of design anyway.

Structural Design Development

Looking at the past in the current present, what are the futuristic architectural changes you would like to see in your home city / town? Elucidate the reasons for your vision. 

I would love to see more passivhaus principles driving projects in London. I think with the uncertainty of rising costs with energy and overall affordability of homes, having these principles as an integral part of the design development would benefit homeowners, particularly from an economic point of view.

Adjacencies of Energy Transfers

Saying this, I would also love to see how passivhaus designs could be challenged, because typically a passivhaus building is not designed in the most exciting way due to the standards creating restrictions. But I would like to see how far these design restrictions could be pushed whilst still being effective.

Moment of Pride

Image Courtesy: Elle Packham

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