Young architects in action #2: Practice Architecture

Domus

"It's funny to think of the works we've done as being the story of an office," laughs Lettice Drake of Practice Architecture somewhat incredulously. "It didn't resemble anything like an architecture firm at the beginning," she adds. We are stepping over the wooden framework of what will soon be the fourth Frank's Cafe, the temporary summer Campari Bar on the roof of a Peckham car park that has been making a name for the studio with the past three editions.

Drake and her partner Paloma Gormley began their collaboration as undergraduate students at Cambridge, organising economically questionable but otherwise triumphant parties for the architecture department. While Gormley was still in her final year, she received a call from Hannah Barry, the curator and future patron of the studio, asking her to help make a temporary cafe for Bold Tendencies, her sculpture gallery in a Peckham car park. "I said I'd love to," smiles Gormley, "and then I begged Lettice to help me!"

The cafe was built by the students. Gormley explains it didn't occur to them to built it any other way: "We both helped out on EXYZT's Southwark Lido project and we didn't see contractors — that whole world seemed so remote. There was never a question that we'd get anyone else to do it. It was just assumed and we thought it would be fun."

In the three years since, Practice have learned to build, weld and use power tools with increasing dexterity. With the help of their new partner Henry Stringer, apart from making the three editions of the self-made Frank's Cafes, they have cast lead weights to operate giant steel sash windows, assembled a glorious haystack auditorium for Hannah Barry, initiated and built The Yard Theatre, and founded a workspace for designers and local community projects with the Architecture Foundation in South Kilburn.

Their approach to architecture is certainly influenced by EXYZT's chaotic self-build, make-do, create, dismantle and make again attitude. Frank's Cafe and its materials are remarkably simple — featuring scaffold boards slotted together — and rightly so given the the volunteers' modest skill level. But their work is evolving. There is an earnestness and a social, civic consciousness about Practice that reflects the concerns of their peers and aligns them with the start-up, selfter mini initiated practice that is being nurtured in London.

"Since we've been building the Frank's Cafes, we've been worried about how the project sits in Peckham," explains Drake, alluding to the cooler-than- thou art crowd that the restaurant and bar attracts despite the area's destitution. Also inspired by the work of 00:/ and the success of their own project to create social and creative workspaces in South Kilburn, they are now reaching a stage where they can decide the office's direction.

Practice Architecture are making plans for a permanent reading room with desks, Wi-Fi, talks, events and a publication series somewhere in South London. "As much as possible, we want to get people to use it and study and read," Gormley explains. "The reading room is the beginning of us moving in a direction that we want, towards a type of practice we're interested in pursuing," she concludes.