June 25, 2019

Talks at the Lane was delighted to invite Thomas Bryans of IF_DO to join us and the Architecture Fringe 2019 to share the practice's approach and thoughts on architecture as a social art.

Listen to the talk here:


IF_DO was founded in 2014 and the practice name reflects how it all began and where it is headed. What if? We do. Thomas Bryans and his fellow founding Directors, Sarah Castle & Al Scott, all studied at University of Edinburgh and were excited to return to speak in the city where it all began. The practice has an interest in the wider repercussions of architecture which provides a catalyst towards creating sustainable and healthy environments in which to live, learn, work and play.

Thomas began by questioning the physical, social and psychological impact of the spaces we design. IF_DO’s strong desire to create spaces and places for meaningful connections stems in part from the problem of loneliness in our cities. Thomas touched upon the temporary installations and builds that they have completed that aim to create a spectacle in the way that they engage people – creating an experience that is out of peoples day-to-day to get them to engage with the place, space and each other in new ways.

One of these temporary structures was their design for the Dulwich Picture Gallery Pavilion, which was the winning entry in London Festival of Architecture’s open design competition. The overall design is one of simplicity – a repeating truss, mirrored panels and solid plinth. All other elements were moveable to allow for different configurations for a variety of needs. Thomas expressed the idea of having purity of concept, with the final design almost unchanged from the initial visualisations. It mirrors its classical context through the layering of landscape and building, whilst completing Soane’s original plan for the courtyard, albeit in a very different way.

Dulwich Pavilion - roof, mirror & plinth

Dulwich Pavilion - a seamless landscape

Not only to meet the needs of the gallery in terms of events, the pavilion design was intended to reach beyond the gallery’s usual demographic to its immediate context and community. Its social legacy is ongoing, being donated to a local school to become a permanent play shelter. It prompts the question of how we shape spaces to support and encourage community connections, and how even something temporary can be the catalyst for growth by just being different from the everyday.


Moving to permanent buildings, the focus isn’t always on creating a spectacle, but more about creating spaces that work for our human needs on a more permanent basis. This could be through a reconnection with nature to alleviate stress, as showcased by the design of St Teresa’s Sixth Form Centre. Materiality and colour are simple ways in which a building can reflect its context and the surrounding history, providing some familiarity for existing communities, or by acting as signage or a beacon in areas that lack a community focal point. Within these sites and buildings we can create moments where communities can engage in different ways, from the large scale of a building axis and path-making, to a space for small scale moments of sitting and waiting.


St Teresa's Sixth Form College - timber, ground & nature

The evening concluded with a long time of discussion and conversation related to the social and psychological impact of architecture. Although our cities do offer a level of anonymity that is important to many groups, both now and throughout history, that can also create isolation and loneliness. Thomas concludes that to find that balance between freedom and community, we must consider the nature of buildings and cities and the subsequent impact on communities in the long term. We want to thank Thomas for being such an excellent speaker and for facilitating such a rich discussion time, and we want to extend our thanks to all who attended and added their voice to the conversation.


This talk was the seventh in the current season of Talks at the Lane. Please do come and share a drink and some thoughts with us for the remainder of the season. More information can be found here.