'Working in a city I haven't known all my life has changed my perspective'
London-based Irish architect John Crowley works on projects in both the UK and Ireland
Architect John Crowley: ‘I was attracted to the challenge of trying to make a career in a city that was so much bigger than Dublin.’ Photograph: Florence Sharp Mitchell
Working Abroad Q&A: Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, architect John Crowley on setting up a practice in London and working on projects in the UK and Ireland.
Where are you from?
I grew up on an organic farm on the side of the Sugar Loaf mountain in Co Wicklow.
I studied architecture at UCD but took several years out along the way to travel and work in cities that I was interested in, including Copenhagen and London.
When did you leave Ireland?
I left for London in 2014. At the time, I was working as the creative director of another architecture practice. The opportunity arose for me to open an office for the company in London, so I jumped at the chance to try something new. Also, my partner, Sandi, had just been accepted into a Master’s in Fashion Footwear in the London College of Fashion, so that really helped to make it an exciting adventure for both of us.
I tend to be a very energetic and optimistic person, so the size and diversity of a city like London presents endless opportunity and excitement to me. I was attracted to the challenge of trying to make a career for myself in a city that was so much bigger than Dublin, where I didn’t know anybody and where there was less of a safety net to fall back on.
What do you do there?
I have a small architecture practice called Anthro Architecture, based in Soho in the heart of London. We are very client-focused; we concentrate our work around people and their lives. Our aim is to create buildings that are engaging on a personal level, that promote social interaction and set the stage for living. Currently we are working on a number of exciting projects in both the UK and Ireland, ranging from small residential projects to large-scale housing and commercial fit-outs.
What is your working day like?
The day-to-day running of a small practice can be very varied. I divide my time between designing in the studio, meetings with clients and inspecting our projects that are on site. You have to wear a lot of different hats, but I love the diversity of it all and look forward the excitement that each new day brings.
You take on projects in both London and in Ireland. How does this work, and are there any specific challenges you face this respect?
So far it has worked really well. The transport connections between Dublin and London are great, so it doesn’t feel that far to travel. For me, it is similar to having projects in Galway or Cork, in terms of the travel distances.
The industry is also evolving as the technology we use improves. As long as I have a pen, paper and a laptop, I can work from anywhere.
By working in two different cities, at varying scales, I get exposed to so many inspiring influences, which I hope I can feed back into my work. Working remotely has also meant that I need to be very organised, especially when projects are on site.
Is Brexit having an influence on how you work, and on how and where you see your future?
Yes. The majority of people in London voted to remain, so on a fundamental level, Brexit has put a tangible dampener on people’s general outlook. Prior to the vote, I felt a real positivity in the city. It appeared to be an energetic, progressive and innovative place. Now, there is a real sense of frustration and disbelief in the air because most people believe it to be a regressive and negative direction to take the country in.
I also think that it will inevitably damage Anglo-Irish relations, which prior to Brexit seemed to be at an all-time high.
From a business perspective, it has also had a telling effect. With the uncertainty over the country’s future, I find that clients are much more risk adverse and are keen to finance projects with readily available funds rather than on credit. We have had several large projects postponed as a result.
Also, as a young architecture practice, we are not tried-and-tested, we are the new kids on the block. As a result, we are relying on clients to take a leap of faith in us and in our abilities. With the climate of uncertainty that prevails, clients are less likely to feel this way inclined.
Do you think working abroad has offered you greater opportunities?
Yes I think so. London is a big city with a large population and therefore offers more opportunities to practice architecture. It’s also full of amazing buildings – they’re everywhere – learning from these great buildings and trying to understand what their architects were thinking is an opportunity in itself.
Working in a city that I haven’t known all my life – such as Dublin for example – means I need to learn how the city works, to look at it, to study its history. I think this “outsider” perspective adds an extra dimension to my work and has helped me develop as an architect.
Are there any other Irish people in your business/social circles in London?
There are not too many Irish people in my immediate working and social life. I think it is to do with the part of the city that I live and work in. However, I do have plenty of Irish friends living over here that I stay in contact with and meet with regularly.
What about life in London outside work?
We live in a tiny flat in north London, which by anyone’s standards is probably too small but we’re really happy with it. We love our area and are quite involved in our local community via sports clubs, street markets and so on, so we have plenty of social and cultural outlets to keep us entertained.
Where do you see your future?
With the current political climate as it is in the UK (and globally), it is hard to plan too far ahead, so it’s probably best to take things one day at a time. As it is, I am really enjoying the way things are going at the moment, so I can’t see myself doing anything too different in the near future.
If you work in an interesting job overseas and would like to share your experience, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a little information about you and what you do.