We work mainly with trade professionals, but welcome private homeowners ordering at least 10 sq m of tiles

An interview with Andrew Tam

 

We love our clients - and in the first of a series of profiles we speak to Andrew Tam, an architect at Gort Scott in London. He bought bespoke tiles from us for his own home, using design and pattern to maximise space in small yet perfectly formed Walthamstow maisonette.


1: How did you get into interior design/architecture - and when was that?
I was 16 and at school when I decided to get into architecture. A surprisingly rational decision about pursuing a creative discipline that had an inherently social mission to help people solve problems through design. 

2: What attracted you to a job in architecture/interior design?
Same as above! Plus the fact that architecture is the broadest design discipline I know - it is not uncommon to be working on something as small as a door handle and as large as the scale of a city at the same time. It forces you to keep an open and malleable mind.
 
3: Who or what have been your main influences?
It is inevitable that those you study under end up having a formative influence. For me, that would include my many excellent tutors at Cambridge - founders and directors of Mole, 6a, Tony Fretton, and Gort Scott architects. I struggle to single out a favourite architect, although a recent lecture by recent RIBA Royal Gold Medal winner Neave Brown at the Hackney Empire was just about the most inspiring I have heard - a real unsung hero who still has many lessons to teach emerging architects about delivering good housing today.
 
4: Do you have a special area of interest or expertise?
Tiles and patterning fall well within my interests. Essentially, they are about how to add rhythm and delight to surfaces, so for my flat this came in the form of very simple encaustic tiles, made more complex though colour and tessellation. I always want to find ingenious ways of achieving a big impact with simple things.



5: How have you seen trends change over recent years? What do you think of the ways things are going?
A midcentury revival with a Scandinavian bent has been going strong for a number of years now - proof that good design can be timeless. Promoting robust and long-lasting things as part of a more sustainable and less wasteful lifestyle can only be good in my eyes. All the better when it looks so beautiful!

6: What do you think the next big trend will be? Will you play a part in creating that?
Trends tend to be short term, which is traditionally at odds with architecture, with projects taking many years to complete and there to last a lifetime afterwards. However, architects in the current climate have had to evolve to be more diverse and flexible with our skills, increasingly creating meanwhile use and pop-up spaces. Sometimes these are strategic ways to make use of redundant places or experiments to inform larger or longer term developments, so if this could pass as a trend, I’m definitely a part of it!


7: Which have been your favourite/least favourite jobs - or are there any that stick out in the memory?
Standout jobs include projects won through competition at my current workplace - Gort Scott - including an incredible house growing out of a rocky outcrop currently nearing completion in Whistler, Canada and a new set of buildings defining St Hilda’s College at the University of Oxford. I also had the pleasure of developing and prototyping sets of profiled ceramic tiles for the facade of a multipurpose theatre building when I spent 6 months working in Zurich for EM2N Architects between degrees. 

8: You bought some tiles for yourself from Alhambra. Could you tell us what you enjoyed most about the experience of buying from us?
What I most enjoyed is also how I promote Alhambra to other designer friends - the ability to work closely with the company with great design flexibility and achieve a competitively priced result.
 
9: You were very clever with your design, using a simple pattern in an interesting way. Please tell us some more about that, and why you like that approach.
A set of 20cm square encaustic tiles cover the entire floor in the open-plan kitchen/dining/space in my flat, which was designed together with my mother Mabel, who is also a designer and shares the flat. Because the space itself is quite small, the decision to use a single bold pattern to cover an entire room, rather than define separate zones using different materials, helps to unify the open-plan areas and make the room feel bigger.


Cost was a helpful constraint to narrow down the choice of tiles as a starting point to the simplest forms. Our tile has an identical arrangement of three triangles, with the larger central triangle in an off-white tone, a grey triangle, and a final triangle in one of four colours - three complementary shades of green and a yellow. The tiles are then tessellated 180º to animate the surface and form a larger pattern of cubes. Finally, to add subtle differences between the two sides of the room, the south-facing kitchen and dining area have a larger proportion of dark greens, matching some very dark green stained plywood kitchen units, while the living area has more light greens. The darker and lighter parts of the floor blend seamlessly into one another in a gradient, punctuated with yellow hints. With these warm colours, the space always feels uplifting, even on dull days. 

10. What has been your favourite lesson learned during your career?
Testing to the point of failure is an effective and essential way to find successful design solutions.
 
11: What are you working on at the moment? If appropriate, tell us a bit more about your company
I have been working on a major regeneration masterplan for the London Borough of Harrow, which like many of Gort Scott’s projects draws on the practice’s research and experience of London’s development. Gort Scott’s beginnings in producing an important study on high streets as key elements of London’s urban fabric for the Greater London Authority has enabled a wide-ranging portfolio. Our completed work includes: a community space repurposing the yard next to a burnt out building in Tottenham following the 2011 riots, a golden public toilet in Wembley as a much-needed convenience en route for stadium goers, public realm improvements to Brixton’s Electric Avenue market street, a co-working space in Walthamstow revamping parts of a characterful council building, the London flagship store for Swedish fashion brand Acne, a couple of specialist cat clinics, and the greenest office building in Cambridge. Some of our most ambitious and exciting work is in the pipeline, like the projects in Oxford and Whistler I have already mentioned, as well as developing designs for Harrow’s new town hall and civic centre.
 

12: What are your plans for the future?
For the foreseeable future, to continue learning from and being an active part of the growth of the young, dynamic and increasingly accomplished practice that is Gort Scott! Eventually starting a studio of my own is a pipe dream too.

Andrew Tam MA (Cantab) | AADip | ARB is an architect at Gort Scott Architects in London. He also has his own website here: https://andrewtam.work

Photos of Andrew and Mabel's home by Dirk Lindner.

Rebecca Leathlean

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