An interview with Alan Dempsey founding director of Nex

Alan Dempsey is the founding director of innovative architecture practice Nex.

Brighton Photography Centre, University of Brighton

The company is progressive with studio design. If you work with Nex you will be creating something entirely new. Nex prides itself on challenging norms, it does this by incorporating technology into its designs and collaborating with clients from a range of industries. Previously the company has worked on projects such as the Brighton Photography Centre and the Royal Air Force Museum.

DesignCurial caught up with Alan Dempsey to find out more about the company and what is in store for the future.

How do you think advances in technology are changing architecture?

Technology is changing how we envision, understand and make our world.

In architecture, the creative use of code and algorithms has opened new possibilities for artistic expression. We can now gain a more detailed understanding of context and our environment through data capture and analysis. Simulation allows us to quickly test our proposals in context to better understand how proposed interventions might perform. And finally, we are increasingly making buildings in new ways – computer controlled routing, assembly and 3D printing are challenging our long-held ideas of craft as they become more quality focused, cost effective and user friendly.

 Duke of York Restaurant

How has your practice used technology and digital intervention in your own work?

With Nex, I wanted to start a studio that gave architects and designers a space to create buildings both inspired and enabled by new technologies. The opportunity this opens-up is that we use design modelling from first sketch to construction. Every model we produce is a digital or handcrafted prototype of our creative and technical approach. But modelling is also a communicative tool as much as a design one. For example, we regularly use VR on all our projects. It allows us to collaborate more effectively with our clients and collaborators. When it comes to making architecture, we are interested in integrating future technologies with established craft. We have been fully BIM enabled since 2012. More recently, we have gone mobile and use tablets to inspect our team’s models on site, which improves our communication and allows us to more rapidly respond to issues.

 How do you choose the projects that you want to work on?

We try to choose our clients as much as our projects, seeking out opportunities where we believe we can meaningfully transform an existing situation. We have a record of working across many sectors including culture, retail, commercial workspace, higher education and residential. These diverse projects share a common interest in the public realm as a way of connecting our buildings to the city. The fact that we’ve won about 70% of our work through design competition is in part a testament to this approach and shows how we can successfully unlock value for our clients by connecting people to place.

Sunderland Hall, RAF Museum

What has been some of the biggest design challenges when working on Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon?

Nearly every family in the UK has a RAF story that carries meaning for them and by extension many of the people we’ve met during this project have a keen sense of what the museum that celebrates the RAF should be. With the RAF Centenary approaching in 2018, the most humbling challenge has been to find a design approach and language that was sensitive to 100 years’ history of such a remarkable organisation, while also looking confidently towards the future.

As well as the history, the museum’s collection has been a rich source of inspiration for us. I particularly enjoyed days of research in the archives in London and Stafford.We have immensely enjoyed working with the client and a strong design team over the past three years to deliver the project, I hope it will live up to expectations when it opens in spring next year.

Can you tell me a little bit about the Nex documentary that is being sponsored by Samsung?

We were approached by Samsung recently, who asked us to work with some of their new products coming onto the market. They were interested in the way we embraced technology in our practice process and wanted to gain a better understanding of the issues that our profession encounters.They worked with us for a couple of weeks and filmed the experience. It led to some interesting discussions, they plan to release a short film and commercial later this year.

What is next for Nex?

In many ways, 2017 has been a pivotal year for us and we are confidently preparing for future growth. We have 4 significant projects under construction keeping us busy, also to ensure they are built well, delivered on time and within budget. We are in the early stages of design for a new 100m long pier on the Thames, which we expect to submit for planning before the end of this year, alongside a few more commercial and residential projects in the pipeline.

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