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Negroni Talks. 1 part architecture, 1 part provocation, 1 part negroni
A conversation with the creative design studio Fourth_space on their series of talks.

Developed by the creative design studio Fourth_space, the 1 part architecture / 1 part provocation / 1 part negroni, Negroni talks successfully challenge the conventional architectural presentation based format offering a more inclusive “freewheeling, and provocative debate series.” Physically hosted within the informal context of the venetian bar/cafè Ombra in Bethnal Green, London, and available online, the series is focused on removing Architecture from its footnote status and rendering the practice exciting, accessible and of interest to a wider public of individuals. In preparation to the launch of the 2023 programme, which will be premiering with the talk “Estate of Mind” on the 31st of January, we caught up with Fourth_space to discuss their ambitions for the project, from the necessity of making the architectural discourse more accessible, to the importance of empowering new generations of designers to reconsidering the role of the architect beyond merely that of the designer of buildings.

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KOOZ Negroni talks are "1 part architecture / 1 part provocation / 1 part negroni", a novel and provocative format that challenges the boundaries of architectural discourse. What prompted this project and what are the limits of the current architectural debate?

FOURTH_SPACE The Negroni Talks were born out of a frustration with the mannerisms of much architectural debate today. They are a direct response to a way of talking, the self-referential language used, earnest delivery, cliquish nature and insularity of architects talking to an audience predominantly made up of other architects. The talks prioritize thematic conversations above presentations. They shift away from the classic format and its focus on the specifics of architectural projects, or individual bodies of work to create an informal, freewheeling, and provocative debate series with a cafe-culture vibe that anyone can attend. The format specifically addresses the accessibility of these events which are frequently tucked away behind closed institutional doors. Putting on a talk in a bar/restaurant and it being behind ‘shopfront’ glazing, was a way of getting an architectural event back into the street, where the coming and goings of the outside world is an ever-present backdrop and reference point.

The Negroni Talks are a direct response to a way of talking, the self-referential language used, earnest delivery, cliquish nature and insularity of architects talking to an audience predominantly made up of other architects.

KOOZ What is the relationship between the fourth-space and the Negroni talks format? What role has your professional practice played in the inception and later development of the Talks and to what extent do they feed into your design choices or agenda?

FS The architecture practice Fourth_space is both the founder and host of the Negroni Talks, an idea that was born out of conversations over food and drinks with Rob Fiehn at Ombra, a venetian bar/restaurant situated on the corner of the street a few doors from the studio. Conceived as a project beyond the conventional architectural project, the talks directly stem from our desire to do more than just provide a design service but to engage in an endeavor which could have its own cultural significance for the architectural community at large.

As practicing architects, we daily deal with the whole gamut of issues of the building industry. As a sector that just seems to keep on giving, new things come up all the time and because our experiences frequently suggest themselves as potential topics for discussion, we always have a list of possible future talks. Architecture is the site, a material manifestation of so many issues found in society be it politics, finance, impact on the environment, demographics, social justice and artistic concerns.

The talks directly stem from our desire to do more than just provide a design service but to engage in an endeavor which could have its own cultural significance for the architectural community at large.

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KOOZ To go back to the standard, architectural "debate" or "conference" or even "symposium" format, what are their limitations? How did you address them in the Negroni talks and what role does "irreverence" play in the unfolding of your Talks? Also, do you see your format as being more democratic, inclusive than existing ones?

FS In terms of ‘irreverence’, we like the idea of being serious but not taking oneself too seriously. Architecture is a serious subject that has significant ramifications, but to discuss it openly you have to leave the ego at the door. Negroni Talks have an edge to them and are about breaking formalism, challenging authority, questioning reputations. Beyond the talks themselves, we were interested in the tone and the atmosphere created around these. We looked to try and capture the spirit of the lively and opinion driven exchanges that took place in the European café culture of the fin de siècle, an atmosphere which we found in Ombra as a 'campo', a place of social/cultural exchange.

Architecture often feels like a secondary subject or a footnote.

KOOZ An egalitarian and horizontal intellectual and creative exchange seems to characterise the work of current architecture collectives, that increasingly seek to involve professionals and ordinary people with no architectural training in their own design processes. Do you see Negroni Talks as being part of this larger paradigmatic shift that is taking place in architecture?

FS We hope so.

If you look at the Art & Culture sections of newspapers here in the UK, or the topics covered in mainstream magazines, Architecture often feels like a secondary subject or a footnote. Behind the Negroni Talks there is a real desire to be disruptive of the status quo and popularise ‘architecture’ as a subject. It’s about making Architecture exciting, accessible and of interest and how you can give people the confidence and agency to talk about it in the first place. Architecture has a history of being seen as something you can attain if you have money, but it can and should serve everyone. Indeed, the design & delivery of our built environment affects too many people and is too important to be in the outer orbit of the nations culture.

Inclusivity is something to both explore with ambition and be vigilant about. We started off trying to establish a talk series ‘with a difference’ and relying on an audience that we knew. In the future, we seek to continue to encompass thediverse audience we have engaged with over the past 4.5 years, and involve peoplefrom a wider range of occupations, backgrounds, and demographic.Whilst on the one hand we are looking to fellow creatives from other fields to get a different ‘creative perspective’, on the other we are looking to non creatives/ordinary people who have direct experience of the talk theme who can give a ‘perspective from reality’.

The design & delivery of our built environment affects too many people and is too important to be in the outer orbit of the nations culture.

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KOOZ We would like to know more about the aims of the project, which you would like to be an "agent of change". Can you explain how, precisely, you intend to foster change but also what do you mean by it?

FS As it stands, we are prodding away at the subject of Architecture asking questions, however, we also need to act and help toward providing some of the answers. There is so much that needs to be improved on, and it feels like we have gone through the first quarter of the C21st continuing with C20th practices, methods and ideology. With what’s going on in the world today, there are serious questions about how we did things in the past. There is a desperate need to do things differently, and especially with architecture where the process of building buildings is such a huge factor in society. Generationally there is a whole other set of realities and concerns, some old, but some new and very urgent. What kind of architecture we Need and Want, needs to be discussed more and more to ensure that it happens for the future.

As architects we recognise it’s not good enough to just Talk about architecture, and it’s what you Do in a practical building sense that ultimately has an impact. The trick then for us is how to convert the commitment and intention behind the talk series into better architecture as a practice, and to walk the talk. In our opinion, the first step toward any change, is discussing the necessity for change and a recognition that certain ‘problems’ do exist. The Talks therefore can be seen as a means ofpromoting and raising awareness.

In this spirit, we are working on a parallel series of talks where we invite students over and offer them a venue and any assistance they may need toward them shaping talks upon topics that are concerns or interest of their own. This in turn assists us by helping to ensure that the Negroni Talks are relevant looking forward. We hope that we can help emerging generations feel empowered enough to force the change that they want to see, rather than fall in line within the existing processes and system that's in place.

The primary aim that we have with the Negroni Talks is to target challenging topics, which we feel are being avoided, ignored or overlooked.

KOOZ You have been tackling several topics in your Talks, from the Metaverse to Reuse, Vernacular architecture, ecology, design... what are the criteria or processes of selection of a Talk's topics and how do you ensure that different representatives, knowledgeable designers and even "non-expert" stakeholders participate in the conversation? What role does representation of different viewpoints have played or will play in this project?

FS The primary aim that we have with the Negroni Talks is to target challenging topics, which we feel are being avoided, ignored or overlooked. Talk themes can come from things we have read in the news, the architectural press, what we see in the street, work experiences, anything we may come across and causes us to think.

Above all else we strive to be open-minded and maintain the view that because everyone has experience of architecture, buildings and the built environment, then by definition everyone is qualified to talk about it in the some way. Having said that, to help get each talk conversation started, we carefully think about those we can invite who have some connection to the theme and hopefully someone who has strong opinions that they are willing to share. What is of significance is ensuring that the talks have gender parity, ethnic diversity and as a variety of interests represented for every talk. We are always tweaking things, learning and making improvements as we go.

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What is of significance is ensuring that the talks have gender parity, ethnic diversity and as a variety of interests represented for every talk.

KOOZ You are based in London so what role has the city played in the development of this project? Do you intend to expand the format to other contexts?

FS Architecturally speaking, London and the UK are conservative and commercially driven places where progressive, truly avant-garde architecture is hard to come by. Politics, Finance and Law seem to be the dominant criteria driving the building process and defining what architecture is in reality. This inevitably leaves very little room for experimental design around which there tends to be an overriding suspicion in our culture. Architects as a result, more often than not become bag carriers in the world of property development, rather than being pioneering opportunity providers through Design.

During the pandemic, when we continued the talks on zoom, we quickly realised that we could take advantage of the online format to get contributors involved from other countries whilst connecting with a national and international audience. This year we are looking to establish a proper live stream broadcast for future events.

Running parallel to this, is an interest in doing talks away from Ombra. Last year we set out to establish a process of outreach with the talks, by taking them out on the road to discover how the Politics Of Architecture plays out in other parts of the UK. Additionally, we undertook a string of events as part of other peoples talk programmes across a variety of central london venues. We already have some interesting opprotunities pencilled in for this year which will foster more collaborations with people and organisations.

We are always looking for opportunities to take the Negroni Talks out from East London and explore architectural issues in different places at home or abroad. This is something we are genuinely excited about and will certainly do more of in the future.

Bio

Fourth_space is a small creative design studio of architects & interior designers based in Hackney, East London that works across all stages of architectural design from site feasibility studies, to turn key interiors. Through its projects it looks to rescue space to make places, imagine new buildings where there are voids and recycle bits of left-over architecture. It believes that design should be fun, ambitious and above all else empathetic. Parallel to its day to day architect-ing, the practice is creator and host of “The Negroni Talks…!” an informal, freewheeling and provocative debate series in Ombra, a venetian bar/restaurant set up by the directors which is situated a few doors down from the studio space.

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Published
25 Jan 2023
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