My studio life: Piers Gough RA

Published 12 August 2015

As Piers Gough RA guides us round his practice in Clerkenwell, he tells us what it was like to work with Paul Smith, and what it really takes to be an architect.

  • Piers Gough is RA is a partner at Campbell Zogolovitch Wilkinson and Gough (CZWG), an architectural practice which was set up while the partners were still at college. Early clients included Allen Jones RA, who was drawn to the mischievous playfulness of the firm’s architectural style.

    But Gough’s work still engages with sophisticated social and intellectual agendas. His projects – which include The Circle in Bermondsey, Cascades (one of the most successful early Docklands buildings) and a major masterplan development around the Arsenal Stadium – reveal a controlled and witty response to post-modernism, with deep roots in tradition and functionality. He has also designed houses for his friends, including Janet Street Porter, and has collaborated with Paul Smith on a Maggie’s Centre in Nottingham.

    During our studio visit, he told us what kind of atmosphere he aims to create in his working environment, and how aspiring architects need understanding, creativity and imagination to find success in their work.

  • Campbell Zogolovitch Wilkinson and Gough

    Campbell Zogolovitch Wilkinson and Gough

    “We bought this building in 1980, and we’ve been here ever since. This part of Clerkenwell was a printing area and this building was originally owned by the London Evening Standard. This is where the newspaper started – it’s where they printed the paper and where the horses that delivered it were stabled”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • In the morning there's too much light

    In the morning there's too much light

    “When the sun comes into the building in the morning, there’s rather too much light to see a screen. In the olden days when we all drew at drawing boards, we didn’t mind the light. But since getting computers, we don’t like the reflections and so we put up these sails”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • We're not about a macho image

    We're not about a macho image

    “We have an unusual approach here. We have a bit of a rule that you stop work at 6pm, when the ping pong table starts making a noise and people start to play. One of the problems with architecture is that there tends to be a macho image. Because it’s difficult and it takes a long time, people feel obliged to work all night and it’s supposed to be an all-consuming art.

    But we’re very family-oriented. You will seldom find anyone here during a weekend. People should be able to see and enjoy their partners and families. And that’s what makes them a good architect: having empathy for other people, not just for buildings”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • A project in the heart of Islington

    A project in the heart of Islington

    “This is a very dusty model for a fantastic scheme which has taken a very long time to come to fruition. It’s the conversion of a huge red brick Edwardian Post Office sorting house on Upper Street in the heart of Islington. We’re creating a new shopping arcade, and more rehearsal and dance spaces for the Almeida. We’ve had some hiccups, partly because of the recession, and partly because the Post Office had to move out, which took longer than expected”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • Architecture is based on trust

    Architecture is based on trust

    “We employ about 60 people at the firm; it’s a medium-sized practice, and all the partners work here every day. We’re very much a one-office place; we like being all together. We interact well and bounce ideas off each other. We like the team spirit of the place. This is really important in architecture because some projects go on for ten years and people will be in a team together for a long time.

    We don’t try too hard to create an atmosphere in the office: we just try to be agreeable human beings. The management arrangement of the office is basically very laissez-faire. Architecture has to be based on trust. It’s far too complicated to be looking over people’s shoulders”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • It's about imagination

    It's about imagination

    “Lots of people like to think architecture is about process. It isn’t – it’s about ideas. It’s not about how you do it, but how you dream, what you think of. To me, whether you have a 3D-printer is neither here nor there. It’s just a tool. Architecture is about imagination; understanding how things are built, having a knowledge of construction and knowing what is sustainable”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • Lots of people like to think architecture is about process. It isn’t – it’s about ideas and imagination; understanding how things are built, having a knowledge of construction and knowing what is sustainable

    Piers Gough RA

  • This suit has great buttons

    This suit has great buttons

    “I feel an obligation to wear bright clothes, not to draw attention to myself but because there are people out there who are making things and I ought to wear them. This one is unusual because I chose the fabric myself, from Joel, the famous fabric suppliers in West London. I had it made into a suit by a tailor, G. Antoniou, in Gray’s Inn Road. It’s got great buttons”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • On working with Paul Smith

    On working with Paul Smith

    “Paul Smith and I worked together on a Maggie’s Centre in Nottingham. I’ve known him for years and years. The firm worked on the building and Paul did the interiors. This green ceramic model of the building was exhibited at the Summer Exhibition in 2011 when I co-ordinated the Architecture Room”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • On being an Academician

    On being an Academician

    “Academicians are privileged to have inherited an independent institution free of government influence. And that to me is the most vital aspect of our culture, that we don’t all become dependent on government money to do everything. That’s what the RA is about: it’s is a place where ideas can flourish and we can be free to be unusual. We can give freedom to curators to do things they couldn’t otherwise do.

    The other pleasure of being an Academician is having other Academicians to communicate with. It’s humbling to be part of it. We’re in a very happy and privileged place”

  • A gift from Deyan Sudjic

    A gift from Deyan Sudjic

    “This lovely boom box was given to me by Deyan Sudjic for my 50th birthday. He’s the director of the Design Museum and a writer of many books on architecture. It’s been decorated by the artist Leslie Perkins and it’s just great”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • On gadgets

    On gadgets

    “This is proper, isn’t it? This is how you really want to be. My partner, Nick (Campbell, of CZWG), gave me this for my birthday. It plugs into your mobile phone so that you can talk golden talk. And next to it is my circle drawer, which I still use. It’s very important”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • The long game

    The long game

    “As architects, often we feel very old-fashioned, beavering away on long-term projects while the rest of the world is tweeting. But building a building that you can go past every day for the next 50 years, even if it took ten years to build, is really lovely”

    © Eamonn McCabe