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THE FOXLEY DOCKET: What drew you to the architecture industry? Where were you taught and how did you hone your craft?
RICHY ALMOND: By trade, I’m an architect, that’s what I trained to do. I studied initially at Northumbria University – I’m from Newcastle originally – so I studied first at Northumbria University, then I spent two years in London (at the University of Westminster) working and studying. I did the second part of my course up in Glasgow (at the School of Art). Since then, I’ve been back down in London. When I graduated, it was right at the height of the recession, about six years ago now, and there was very little work around in architecture. However, the one area I did have was in the high end more interiors space - the kind of luxury residential and hospitality and private residences. So through a friend of a friend, I fell into that, which is never what I expected, but I really enjoyed it. That’s the professional side of my experience, the other side of it is my dad and his family business.
He set up a sheet metal fabrication about 25 years ago, which was based up in the North East in Washington. That area has a lot of heritage in terms of industrial fabrication; all the ship building and mining that happened. Of course that all ground to a halt twenty or thirty years ago, and a few quite opportunistic, forward thinking manufacturers like Nissan and Caterpillar saw that there was an abundance of labour in the area. They came and set up big plants there – Nissan have got a huge plant, it’s one of the biggest in Europe actually – and lots of little businesses were set up to feed into Nissan. One of these was my dad’s. He trained as a shipbuilder, but started doing general metalwork fabrication for Nissan. I’ve grown up around my family business, so I’ve always had a bit of an interest in metalwork. My two brothers and my sister are also involved in various ways.
I was always wondering how I could combine my professional training and my interest in architecture and interiors and product design with what my family businesses was, and the heritage of what I’d grown up around. Three years ago, we thought we’d try and make things from metal in the factory. That’s where Novocastrian started. We developed a few pieces and shared them with my friends and fellow designers and architects, who gave us a really positive response. It was then that realised that there was probably a chance we could sell a few of these pieces and make a little business out of it, so that's what we did.
TFD: Architecture, in a sense, is an art form. Were you artistic as a child?
RA: I was very interested in art. I did GCSE Art and A Level art, and I was always very interested in my dad’s business – he loved to paint when he was younger, he doesn’t so much now. Growing up, he would get these magazines delivered once a week, and each one would focus on a famous artist, like Van Gogh and Monet. I definitely had a strong interest in art going into University, and I’m also very interested in the building side of things and how things fit together in construction, how to build things etc. That’s why, for me, architecture was a very good match, because it had a balance of both of those things. Combining these two in practice is easier said than done, depending on the project and the budget, you can’t quite usually have the budget side or the construction side that you want, but you can fight to keep the artistic part of the project there.
TFD: What inspires your personal approach to architecture?
RA: It’s such a difficult question to answer, because it comes in so many forms for me, personally. I’m very much a contextualist. The first thing I do is to talk to the client, and look at their vision. I try to take as much as I can from the context. I tend to work mostly with existing buildings, I very rarely work on a new building.
I work in London and I’m working on a project over in Copenhagen at the moment. With big city projects like London and Copenhagen, new builds are very few and far between as I'm sure you can imagine, so we tend to start off with an existing building. For me, it’s really a case of walking around the city and taking in the context, and then immersing in what is appropriate, and what might reduce any clashes with the context – it has to fit in and embed, like it’s been there forever. I want something to feel very grounded, very appropriate for the surroundings. I totally understand my challenge as an architect is that clients will always want something that, in their eyes, is a bit different. What they consider to be a bit different will be a much more toned down version of what myself, as a professional architect, considers to be very different. Normally, it’s very in-keeping with the context, but has a few little quirks to it which makes it stand out.
For the more interior based projects, that definitely would be the way I would generally deal with it. Unfortunately, I’ve only ever worked on very few new builds, but hopefully at one point or another, I will be commissioned to another new building that’ll be a lot more architectural and conceptual. I guess you could push a conceptual idea, whether it’s about the space or the light or what the building does for the city, or whether it’s about how it draws people to it in a certain way. When you’re working on more interiors projects, you have to remember this to an extent, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You have to work within the existing context, and take into account the atmosphere of the building or how it makes you feel when you’re in there – these kind of things become more of a priority.
TFD: The name 'Novocastrian' certainly sounds exotic – where was this conceived?
RA: We get asked this quite a lot! There’s actually nothing exotic about it. The word ‘Novocastrian’ literally means Newcastle. Before the word ‘geordie’ came along a couple of hundred years ago, people from Newcastle were referred to as ‘Novocastrians’. It’s actually a Latin phrase – ‘novus’, means new, and ‘castrian’ means castle – it directly translates as ‘new castle’. I think it’s quite an evocative word – I don’t know if it’s a bit of post rationalization, but it’s got a sound that’s indicative of what we do, and in the way it looks graphically on a page. It was just one of those things where it was such a good fit with our work and the style that we design in. It means something to us, but it also means something that a lot of people from Newcastle don’t actually know! There’s another Newcastle in Australia actually that’s named after Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and they call themselves ‘Novocastrians’. In the UK, it’s been lost and forgotten and totally surpassed by the word ‘geordie’, but it might be a bit tacky if we call our business ‘Geordies’!
TFD: Your career in architecture has seen you work with a number of brands, including Dixon Jones Architects and former Bond girl-turned-hotelier, Anouska Hempel Design. What did you create with these firms and what did you take away from these experiences?
RA: Dixon Jones was my very first job in architecture. It was great, actually. They’re a very professional company. The guys, Dixon Jones - they’re the two principals - they’ve achieved everything there is to achieve. They’re two old boys who have been there and done it. They’re so cool, calm and collected; nothing is a problem, nothing is a stress, nothing’s worrying. They just know how to deal with every situation. They gave me a lot of inspiration. The style of their work was beautiful, it was very humble, very understated, but it just worked very well. They did a lot of public buildings, and they just knew by heart how to do things. A lot of it was to do with how to hold yourself as an architect and as a professional, and how to stay calm under pressure; to be humble about what you’re doing but to engage with people. They just had a really fantastic aura about them; they’re really personable people who just listened.
I remember the first interview I went to for them. They were the founders of the practice, they were in their sixties and they’d done everything there was to do. I was 21 and straight out of University. They both sat in my interview and listened to every single word I said, which was was a very humbling experience. At the time, I didn’t even realise what a great thing that was - now I do ten years later. I appreciate and respect that, it’s a truly fantastic practice.
Anouska Hempel was a completely different kettle of fish altogether. It was manic, it was hectic, it was really full on and intense. It was a really high pressure environment, but she was producing really interesting, more interior based projects to such a high standard. Everything was very much thinking outside the box and doing things differently. There was no space to breathe or no time to think. Personally, it wasn’t for me. I was there for about three years, and then after that, I decided I wanted to go in a slightly different direction. But I did learn a lot from her, especially the aesthetic she has - the understated, luxurious aesthetic of how to detail products and furniture and buildings with trimmings and stone and brass and steel, and all these things and how it all comes together. I learnt how to layer things without it looking messy, I took a lot of that kind of thing from her.
TFD: What are your thoughts on the current British architecture industry? As someone with knowledge and experience in the industry, what trends and patterns are you noticing?
RA: I feel at the moment that there’s a huge variation in trends. It’s really dispersing in terms of, there’s lots of different paths which people are going down. One of the main ones is that people are definitely moving away from mass production, and moving towards buildings and products and pieces which have a real underlining story behind them. That’s becoming very important - people want to know where things are from, where they’re made, where they’re sourced. I think things such as the new Nordic and Scandi style of interiors and buildings, for me, are over the crèche now and it’s fading away. I think people want things that are a bit more timeless and have a bit more longevity and last, so that’s what I’m feeling at the minute.
TFD: This week sees Novocastrian exhibit at the Luxury Made Show in Central London. Can you tell us a bit about this? How did Novocastrian come to be a part of this show and what are you preparing in honour of the event?
RA: Last year was our first year exhibiting at London. We had a bit of a bad year, because we were very naïve and chose the wrong show. We chose a show that just didn’t suit us. There’s more high end shows such as Masterpiece which we thought were a little bit inaccessible for people, but the rest of the shows such as 100% Design were a bit more mass marketed and commercial and a little more student focused. Ideally, we were looking for something sitting in between those. To be honest, this year we were debating whether to exhibit at all, until we saw Luxury Made pop up. It looked really interesting, and the exact gap in the market that we were looking for! I got in touch with them, and they were really excited about having us on board, and we’re providing a couple of pieces to their show. It’s the first show they’re doing, and it’s in a really cool venue in Olympia. It’s in Pillar Halls, a part of the venue which has never been used before, for years and years and years, so we’re really excited about this one. It’s all about the luxurious element of design and craft which suits us really well, so we’re really looking forward to it.
TFD: What’s for the future of Novocastrian beyond the Luxury Made Show?
RA: We’re still quite a small business, but we are currently going through a process of expansion. We’re putting more hours into it and bringing a few people onboard to really drive the business forward. The primary thing we want to do is really expand our product range because we have so many ideas, we haven’t got the hours in the day to develop so we’re really going to build our product portfolio over the next year. We’ve got some exciting ideas in the pipeline.
TFD: Is it all hush hush at the moment?
RA: Not really - we’re going to start working a lot more with brass, and we’re going to start trying to tap into the real higher price points. Not purely because of the price point of selling at a high price; but in terms of producing things that are a lot more expensive to make, but the result of that is they’re a lot more eye-catching and a lot more beautiful. We're also working with more materials that are considered a little bit more luxurious, which as a smaller company when we’ve just started off without a little bit of assurance and a bit of a reputation for the brand that we know people are going to be interested in buying things from us, it’s difficult to allocate fairly large amounts of money to develop new pieces. Now we’re starting to build a little bit of a reputation in the industry, we’ve got a steady flow of sales that feels that we can start letting ourselves loose a little bit more in terms of more conceptual pieces that we hope will meet the higher price point and will be a bit of a market that we can tap into. So that’s what we’re looking forward to doing over the next year.
TFD: Anything you’d like to add?
RA: Come and see us, come and see what we do – that’s the most important thing. We’re trying to get in front of as many people as we can. Come meet us!
Luxury Made 2016 takes place between the 21st and the 24th September 2016 at Olympia, London.
Find out about Novocastrian at: