Social Togetherness: Alex Mowat

Architect Alex Mowat talks to twentytwentyone about readjusting to a new way of working from home, creative pursuits and learning new skills during the pandemic.

Social Togetherness: Alex Mowat

Where is home for you?

Camberwell, South London. A timber house that was built in 1970, the year I was born. I think of it as my “architectural twin”.

What are the highlights of your home working day?

Everyone in our architect’s practice joins a 9 am “sign-in” and 6 pm “sign-out” video call every day. We swap experiences about eggs, baby blankets, Eccles cakes and good songs. These small things and the routine are keeping us going.

What creative pursuits are you doing now that you ordinarily wouldn’t manage if the world were at its normal place?

Whist trying to keep a regular routine, I have found the time to help the charity,  Woodland Heritage. We are re-designing the sawmill at Whitney-on-wye in Herefordshire. We want to be able to increase our capacity for milling timber from Britain’s great estates for beams, boats, furniture and door handles. The mill will also extend its base for training, learning and sharing.

Are you learning a new skill?

The super-fast spread of the Corona virus shows us how easy it is to spread animal and plant disease un-naturally across the world. Many people are rightly reconnecting with food and farming. For the furniture, design and construction industry it will mean a bigger focus on local materials.

With my morning coffee in a beautiful Standard Ware Mug by Leach Pottery, I am reading my collection of old books on indigenous timber, learning each tree’s Latin name and their traditional uses and qualities. (Full Disclosure: not huge success on the Latin so far).

What positive change might come from Covid-19?

We might learn to value our parents and elders more in society. Their wisdom, stories and experience are the relay race baton they pass on. They tell us how to run the race when it gets hard. I am lucky to have generous and fun parents as well as many wise industry contacts and mentors in design, construction and forestry.

Interesting projects for later this year?

We are currently working on a social housing building and 12 individual homes for rent, both starting construction when the lockdown is eased. A new infill office building in the small lanes near Covent Garden, the “up-cycling” of an old institutional building in South London and a new way of using a collection of old barns in North London.

What would be your wish for a new piece of furniture or lighting?

Newness is not always something I strive for but my wish list starts with:

Something grown locally, something made locally, something that will get better with age, something beautiful and strokable. Something made by one of our great manufacturers like Ercol, Very Good and Proper, Benchmark, Gaze Burvill, Young and Norgate, Another Country or Sebastian Cox…

Many thanks to Alex for taking the time to talk to us. Join us next week for the next instalment of Social Togetherness.

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