Biba Dow: ‘I’m a frustrated dress-maker’

‘Biba Dow: ‘I’m a frustrated dress-maker’’, in: Biba Dow, Building Design (London, UK: 3 October 2013)

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What got you started?

Somewhere between Vermeer’s paintings and the description of Maria’s bedroom in a book called ‘A Little White Horse’ by Elizabeth Goudge - I discovered them when I was about 10, and love them still.

Who was your most inspiring tutor?

Dalibor Vesely and Peter Carl for their teaching, and Eric Parry for connecting it to work in practice.

Which architect have you learnt the most from?

Le Corbusier.

Which living architect do you most admire?

I love the work of Siza and Zumthor; also, Paulo Providencia for the wonderful public washhouse in Porto, and Gigon and Guyer for their Kirchner Museum in Davos.

What “great” architecture leaves you cold?

High Tech.

What is your best project?

We’ve been very lucky with many of our projects, but I’m especially enjoying working on our Maggie’s centre at the moment, making a building which helps people who are going through something miserable.

What project do you most regret losing?

It can feel very woeful to lose out on a project, but I do think clients and architects find each other - you can’t force it.

What part of the design process do you most enjoy?

All of it - from teasing out the questions with clients, to the making of it.

What is your Achilles’ heel?

Balancing the need to reflect with the pace of delivering projects.

Which house would you most like to live in?

Le Corbusier’s Atelier Ozenfant.

What is your favourite city?

Rome; I first went there as a first-year architecture student. We were each given a booklet of plans and maps of the city and the buildings we were visiting, and walked all day. I loved learning how to understand its architecture as a way into a city.

What building would you most like to see demolished?

The building I wished HADN’T been demolished was the Nine Elms Cold Store on the riverside at Vauxhall.

You can work in whichever city you want at any point in history - where and when would you choose?

London with the LCC in the 1950s, when architecture was still a public cultural project.

What is the most important relationship of your working life?

My partner Alun Jones. I love what we have in common but especially the differences. He has a very physical understanding of architecture, from the lay of the land to materials.

Who is your favourite client?

We’ve had some amazing clients, many of whom have become friends.

What would be your dream commission?

A lido - I love swimming.

What one piece of legislation would you introduce?

Not turning urban front gardens into car parks, and having a more substantial approach to cycle paths than paint on the road.

What is your favourite architectural book?

‘The Poetics of Space’ by Gaston Bachelard.

What is your favourite novel?

Lots of favourites; I’m currently reading Martin Gayford’s book on Hockney, ‘A Bigger Message’, and Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Cromwell, both fantastic. The writers I read most are Jane Austen and Seamus Heaney.

What are you listening to?

The Magnetic North at the moment. Schubert songs are what I go back to.

Complete the sentence: At heart I am a frustrated…

Dressmaker. I love making things.

What have you sacrificed for your career?

Just nights with no small-hour awakenings, worrying about this or that….!

What does your family think of your work?

They’re very interested - they feel involved.

Your child tells you they want to be an architect. What do you tell them?

I hope I’d say the same thing whatever they wanted to be: ‘work hard; be happy.’

Is it getting easier?

It’s getting clearer.

Dow Jones Architects
10 Station Parade
Balham High Road
London SW12 9AZ
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