Justin Northrop, director at Techne, founded the Techne studio with Nick Travers in 2002.
Northrop believes architecture must have a sense of equilibrium – compositional and proportional, budgetary and functional balance. It is his philosophy that every space be well designed, fit for purpose, and enjoyed by the people who inhabit it.
Architecture and Design spoke to him about the firm’s new focus on hotels, bespoke design, and his earlier aspirations to be a chef.
Techne has a new focus on hotels. Why has the firm decided to head in this direction?
Hotel design has been of interest to us for some time. It is a field that neatly combines our areas of experience – hospitality, residential and commercial. We are enjoying our current hotel projects and the possibility of working in new and possibly unexpected locations is exciting.
What is it about hotel design that interests you?
It is perhaps the ultimate expression of hospitality design. The opportunity to create spaces that are welcoming and enriching for guests, spaces that cater for all the daily rituals of life – sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, relaxing and working. On top of that, a good hotel design must be very commercial, both practical and efficient in terms of construction and operation.
What is your favourite hotel?
The Maritime Hotel in Chelsea, NYC, is housed in a re-purposed 1960s office tower built for the Maritime Union of America. Opened in 2003, it is neither particularly luxurious nor polished, but it is charming and very charismatic. The well lived in food and beverage venues in its podium are a drawcard. They have good ambience and buzz and are well used by locals and guests alike.
'Bespoke' is a word that is often used nowadays, with Techne specialising in bespoke design. What does the word mean to you and how is it represented in your work?
For Techne, the use of the word is a reminder to us that we are striving to approach every design with fresh vigour, always approaching it from first principles to ensure that the outcome is appropriate for the client, the site, the brand, the customer, and any number of other factors that may be exerting influence. Even ongoing fitout work for established brands are allowed the breathing space to evolve from instance to instance.
You originally wanted to be a chef. How was your interest in architecture sparked?
When I was a child, ‘architect’ was how I would answer that question about what I was going to be. I have always also enjoyed cooking for people, and for a time I entertained the idea of perusing that as a career. Cooking appeals to me because it is a creative act that has no permanent legacy. The food exists for a moment and then it is gone. It has been enjoyable to be involved in the restaurant industry as an architect as it connects two passions of mine.
Your father is a structural engineer. What are some key things your father has taught you about design?
Being exposed to the industry showed me there is great satisfaction to be had in conceiving of and then seeing a design being built. He did also instil me a good sense of the importance of rational and buildable design.
What's the best lesson you've learnt from making a mistake?
There are many. What I have learned is poor communication will definitely amplify those mistakes. What starts as a minor issue can become a major problem by not raising it and dealing with promptly.