In 2015, we joined forces with Architecture 00. Together, we enjoy collaborating in a shared environment where strategic, urban and social designers, architects, programmers and economists practice design beyond its traditional borders. 00 work with individuals, governments, corporations and communities to solve problems and anticipate change, and to design successful platforms and places. As a studio it aims to reach beyond the design of objects themselves to the social, economic and environmental systems behind them.

Delfina Foundation

Working with writer and journalist Ayman Farag, we developed a concept for the new Delfina Foundation building in west London based around the idea of a home away from home. Our collaboration has explored three interconnected threads: the exciting but often disorientating experience of creating a home for yourself in a new place; the potential for creating a spatial organisation within a London townhouse inspired by traditional courtyard house typologies; and as a metaphor for both these threads, the trait of dreams to place elements from our past into strange yet familiar settings.

In order to design this warm, nurturing environment that is welcoming to residents from other places, in particular the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) as requested by the brief, we have investigated how key aspects of the region’s housing typologies (particularly concerning privacy and shared space) can be brought into this development of an archetypal London building.

As well as plans and photographs, we explored our ideas through writing a piece of fiction: Laila Climbing (see right). By its very nature, fiction is free to explore the bizarre and extreme alongside the subtle and honest and in its interpretation, it is, in itself, able to design an atmosphere.

The drawings presented here might be thought of as a cardboard model, to be translated into a real building through the lens of the narrative. Bold gestures such as Ahmed’s conjuring a hole in the wall translate to important spatial moves such as opening the social space out to the exterior. Subtle elements such as gold dropping through a space translate to the use of brass for a spiralling handrail.

The use of courtyards offers privacy but at the same time encourages social interaction and collaboration between residents. The courtyards also offer a change of scenery and different environment in which to work and develop ideas. All these elements come together to create a rich, warm, home away from home.

Laila looked up from the newspaper and watched the ducks drift on the pond. Another article telling her that Karim was still working and still sliding pieces of truth through the slippery lines of censorship. He would keep doing so, she knew. And she would continue to take comfort in these flashes from home. A man sat down on the other end of her bench and brought out a sandwich from a paper bag. Even the sandwiches here took some getting used to, but now she had cast her thoughts out on the line of Karim’s words as the shimmering sun on the pond surface gave her an excuse to drop her eyelids.

“But everyone will soon be here and I haven’t learned how to sail yet,” said Laila’s mother. “They’ll think we’re savages.”

Laila looked around and saw chairs laid out in expectant rows, her mother sitting at the far end of the first one and talking to that corner of the room. A shadow shrank from the dying sunlight that dropped gold onto the floor. Baba must have gone to pray, she thought. It is sunset. Beyond that corner footsteps scratched like mice trapped in the wall. “They’re coming,” she told her mother.

“I knew it,” her mother said looking up at Laila. “But why, when your father isn’t here?”

The sound of footsteps continued crawling up and down the wall, even as people walked into the room through a door on the opposite side. “Let’s see the vessel,” Laila’s friend Ahmed said. He threw his hands up in the air and raised the golden shafts that entered through slits in the shutters, opening a hole in the wall. He stepped through the hole, taking care not to rub his white suit against the edges, and people started to follow. As she watched them walk excitedly towards this vessel, Laila struggled to think of a way to prevent her mother’s inevitable humiliation once they discovered she couldn’t take them anywhere on the boat.

“It’s pretty,” a voice in the crowd said.

“Pretty small,” said a disappointed Ahmed.

Laila stepped outside and saw a paper boat floating on the surface of the fountain she used to pass everyday on her way to school.

“The one in Trafalgar Square is much bigger, I saw it yesterday, ”Ahmed said. “And people throw coins in it so that they return.”

“In that case, here’s a pocketful,” and Laila emptied the front pockets of her jeans into the fountain, each coin glistening before it splashed through the surface and sank. The boat rocked.

“Save some for a beer,” a dishevelled looking Karim warned. “We’re all going out tonight before Ramadan starts.”

“I read your latest article,” Laila told Karim. “Here’s a beer for it.” She passed him a cold green bottle and thanked Sayed the barman who replied by telling her in English that his wrist was now healed so it must be safe to come back. “But that’s not why I left,” she said and turned to look at the adjacent wall where shadows acted out the motion of the footsteps behind it. Those look like Karim’s feet, she thought. Where is he going now? She assumed they must be reflections from the opposite wall out of which everyone had come. Making sure no one was looking, she kicked a corner in the floor to raise the pattern off it and make steps for her to climb. Up after Karim.