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A@W Newsletter

What it means to be an architect

19 July 2023

Architects are all-rounders: creativity, comprehensive technical knowledge, and the ability to multitask are part and parcel of their professional toolbox. But what inspires them? What drives them? And how do they realise their visions? In this new newsletter article series, we dive into contemporary creative minds and talk about passions and challenges, beginning with Russell Potter, co-founder of SODA Studio who discusses the practice’s starting point, past and current projects plus the influence of different artistic disciplines. 


Originally written by Helen Parton


Architects Russell Potter and Laura Sanjuan co-founded SODA Studio in 2012 with a vision to eliminate hierarchy when it comes to the design process, “We wanted to have a platform where all voices in the studio were validated,” Potter says,” The other thing was we just wanted to work with people that we like. It’s important for us to have clients where we are going to get on.”


For Sessions Arts Club, SODA transformed a 18th century courthouse into a contemporary members club. © Beth Evans


Inspiration comes not just from the built environment, but other artistic disciplines be it music, fashion or painting Potter says. A case in point is Sessions Arts Club, a ‘hidden haven for creative minds’ set in the old judges’ dining room in what was an old courthouse dating back to the eighteenth century.  


Fast forward hundreds of years and SODA has given a light touch to this beautiful old building as well as sitting on Club’s music committee to ensure the perfect playlist and pieces of art accompany the architectural experience. For the typographic treatments, SODA paid homage to 19th century literature - after all the Old Sessions House building features in Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist – by using analogue techniques such as letterpress hot foil and hand-painted signage.


As part of the Walker’s Court project, the signage of Raymond Revuebar was reinstated. © Jack Hobhouse 


An appreciation of arts of a different kind, namely comedy and theatre, was at play at Walker’s Court in London’s Soho where SODA used the area’s local history as inspiration. The practice delivered a series of spaces including the Boulevard Theatre, shops, nightclubs and bars, residential apartments, and rooftop office space. A double-storey, glazed bridge connects the two sides of the project, creating a theatre box office and bar space and to the south, the signage of legendary nightspot Raymond Revuebar has been reinstated.


Outside space provides a reinvigorated public realm at the Sierra Quebec Bravo office project in the Isle of Dogs. © SODA Studio 


Over in the Isle of Dogs, east London, SODA worked on Sierra Quebec Bravo, a thirteen-storey office building for developer General Projects, “It’s like the raucous younger brother compared with the other office typologies in the area,” says Potter referencing the likes of nearby Canary Wharf and other more corporate buildings. For this retrofit, SODA chose a playful material and colour palette to bring a sense of warmth to the various spaces. As well as a contemporary coworking set up the project features a café on the ground floor and, in keeping with the emphasis on wellness, a purpose-built gym in the basement and a cycle ramp to enter the building. A large-scale mural runs the full height of the exterior, inspired by the ‘dazzle’ camouflage once used by the military to distract enemies using bold patterns. With cushions on the seating outside and a plethora of planting, this project reinvigorates the public realm too.


A 2021 installation in Belgium is the result of a collaboration with graphic designer Anthony Burrill. © Boumediene Belbachir


One of SODA's other projects that embodies the practice's spirit of collaboration is an installation of the graphic designer Anthony Burrill's work in 2021 at C-Mine in Genk, Belgium. Potter met Burrill during the latter's crowdfunding campaign for a book. A car journey to Burrill's studio in Kent later and the two clicked creatively which shows what can come about when two design minds meet.


What it means to be an architect
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