The past three years have been challenging but productive for Nicky Thomson and Rowan Mackinnon-Pryde, as they successfully steered their fledgling architecture practice through the coronavirus pandemic, completing several important projects and picking up some exciting new commissions along the way. From their base at Custom Lane, the duo are currently involved in a diverse array of projects, each of which is carefully crafted in response to the client’s unique requirements.
Rowan and Nicky met while working for Edinburgh firm Reiach and Hall Architects and founded STUDIO NIRO in 2018. From the outset the duo wanted to engage in projects that vary in scale and typology. Their early work included branding and interiors for The Little Chartroom’s original restaurant at Albert Place, as well as a feasibility study for the Scottish Sculpture Workshop. They also created a competition-winning design for British Council Scotland for a shared drinking cup given as an emblematic gift by Scottish ambassadors to partner countries.
Each project starts with a strong idea and the design evolves based on that idea and the various constraints that come from the brief
According to Rowan and Nicky, working on such diverse projects presents different challenges and sees them offer a holistic service, sometimes designing products for their interiors and even working on the client’s branding. “We love the breadth of the work we’re able to take on as it makes the day-to-day running of our practice far more interesting,” Rowan explains. “Our process when working on these different kinds of projects remains the same but they happen at different scales and with different parameters in terms of funding or timeframes.”
More recently Rowan and Nicky have been focusing on several residential projects including Rowan’s own apartment in Edinburgh, as well as completing the interiors for The Little Chartroom’s new restaurant and the refurbishment of the original site, which has reopened as an eatery called Eleanore. They are also in the early stages of a project for a school in England and are collaborating with a London-based practice on a community hub in the Scottish Borders.
Looking across all of these projects it is possible to identify recurring themes and motifs that offer an insight into STUDIO NIRO’s creative approach. Great care and attention is paid to ensuring renovation projects respond to the original building’s context and materiality, while new interventions are clearly distinguishable from the older elements. There is also a tendency to employ a reduced material palette and to use colour or materials to delineate spaces, as well as continuing a particular datum throughout a building’s interior. “Each project starts with a strong idea and the design evolves based on that idea and the various constraints that come from the brief,” says Nicky.
Currently the pair are putting the finishing touches to an artist residency space for the Pier Arts Centrein Orkney, which is scheduled to open in the spring or summer. They are also working with a schools trust that has invited them to produce feasibility studies for new buildings, as well as revitalising existing spaces. The organisation keeps coming back to STUDIO NIRO because of the holistic way Nicky and Rowan tackle the problems they are posed, designing everything from the buildings to the posters. This diligent, user-driven approach is the reason for their success thus far, and why they expect to be kept busy again in 2022.