Michael, can you describe how Praxis Architecture began?
It began after my previous practice ended. I decided to start again and so became Praxis Architecture.
Why did you pick the name Praxis?
I suppose having both been in a firm that had the partners’ names and previously having a practice that was my own name, I wanted something that was a bit more anonymous. I wanted a practice that didn’t have to be about one person but could embrace a more collaborative approach. I started thinking of names and when Praxis came up as a possibility, it seemed to embody an ethos we aspired to; a research-based approach to architecture that might subsequently inform theory.
Can you describe your practice in three words?
Inclusive, research-based and design-focused.
Can you describe your work methods?
It’s a fluid process that comes from meeting the client first, then trying to research a project thoroughly before putting any pen to paper. Making sure the brief is well-established with the client is essential. Next, drawings and models are used to inform the brief, as well as further into detailed design. It is an ever-evolving process.
What made you enter the Emerging Practice Award?
Well, we had recently started a new practice and saw it as a way of showing our peers the work that we do.
You were highly commended for your project, ‘Twisted’. Is it representative of your work in general?
The project name refers to the geometry of the site; the boundary wall in this instance isn’t perpendicularly arranged between the two properties. Our aim was to design a situation whereby when the client is in their extension, they could look directly towards their back garden as opposed to looking obliquely across into their next door neighbour’s. That’s where the twist came into it.
That tends to happen to all our projects. We consider existing geometries and see if that might influence the building’s form. In some way, this project embodies a lot of what our work is about. It’s a similar exploration that comes from researching thoroughly. I’m not the kind of architect that goes to a house and suddenly starts sketching straight away. I like to digest the whole thing for a period first. The longer I can spend before starting to draw, the richer the results. The lines drawn are much more considered as opposed to being arbitrary.
What is architectural practice for you?
It’s 24/7 in some ways. You never really stop working when you’re an architect; you always have your eyes open to see things, to recognise things. It’s all encompassing in that it’s influenced by all aspects of your life, whether you are watching a film, reading a book or taking a walk. It all informs the work that you do.
How do you manage splitting your working week between Limerick and London?
It’s difficult in that your life becomes quite disjointed. I start in Limerick on Monday morning, then I fly to London Tuesday morning generally and back again Wednesday night; so my week starts three times. In terms of the practice, it’s good as it exposes you to both places. It has certainly been fruitful for the practice in terms of experiencing buildings and exhibitions in London that we wouldn’t have the chance to see if we were permanently based in Limerick. Last year, for example, I went to see the Smithsons’ Economist Building during a lunch hour, which I simply couldn’t have done were I in Limerick.
Do you think there are distinctions/comparisons between Limerick and London?
I was surprised from working in London as to how some systems operate. Things that I thought would be better there were actually better here in Ireland. Say, for example, the way the planning system works. In terms of construction, I think that what’s nice here is that most buildings are still built via traditional procurement, whereas in London, a lot of the work is done through design-build contracts. So the architect probably has a stronger role here than they do in London, particularly on the bigger projects.
How would you like to see your practice evolve?
I wouldn’t like to see our practice become a big practice. I would certainly like to have a stronger presence in London and a slightly larger practice here in Limerick, with both working in parallel. I suppose we’d like to, particularly in London, get involved a little bit more in design-oriented projects. In London, we tend to work on projects where we’ve been appointed later in the process, often at construction stage. In Ireland, I’d like to see more variety in building types, which is obviously difficult in the current climate. With the current procurement regime, it’s very hard to be appointed to larger building projects because small practices are automatically made ineligible. We’re currently working on a number of research projects to fill that void.
What’s next for Praxis?
At the moment, we have two extension projects in Limerick that will start on site in the early autumn and that we’re looking forward to doing. After that, we’re desiging an exhibition for a research project that we’ve been looking at over a number of years. It’s related to the Sarsfield House building beside Arthur’s Quay in Limerick City. We hope to exhibit and possibly publish this work in September or October this year.
In the Spring of 2013 Michael O’Connor founded Praxis Architecture. The practice operates from two locations, Limerick and London. The Limerick studio is based in Mary St. in the heart of the medieval city, adjacent to St. Mary’s Cathedral, while the London studio is off London Wall, a stone’s throw from the Bank of England.