Dezeen Magazine

"The architect-midwife should be brilliant at listening" - Gurmeet Sian

In the next movie we filmed at our Designed in Hackney Day, Gurmeet Sian of Office Sian explains how an emphasis on building relationships with his clients makes him more like a midwife than an architect.

Office Sian at Designed in Hackney

Above: inside the Hackney Shed

In the movie, Gurmeet Sian introduces his projects by noting that his sister had made a comparison between his job and that of a midwife. "It wasn't just because I go on about delivering projects and nurturing ideas," he explains. "It was because she had noticed that when I spoke to her about design, I mentioned a lot about building relationships with other people and getting the best out of others."

Office Sian at Designed in Hackney

Above: an Office Sian client

"Before delivering any baby, the architect-midwife should be brilliant at listening," he adds. "We should all be great at allowing the client space to express themselves."

Office Sian at Designed in Hackney

Above: a builder who regularly works with Office Sian

One slide shows one of Office Sian's first clients. "The client-architect relationship is especially important to me," says Sian. "This relationship is built on trust and needs to be nurtured."

Office Sian at Designed in Hackney

Above: a kitchen extension with irregular windows and brick patterns

"I ask all my clients to write a wishlist," he continues. "Instead of a list of what they want in the space, I ask them how they see themselves using the space. I then take this list, reinterpret it into a set of goals and formulate this into a concept."

Office Sian at Designed in Hackney

Above: Thai restaurant Kin in Clerkenwell, London

Another slide shows a builder Sian has worked with a number of times. "I enjoy how a design can change after chatting to builders, who’ve pretty much seen it all before," he says.

Office Sian at Designed in Hackney

Above: the new staircase at Kin crosses over the pattern left by the previous staircase

He then introduces the Hackney Shed, a low-budget garden office for a filmmaker and artist. "The design was developed to use many standard sizes of panels and timber as possible, in order to reduce cutting and wastage of materials," he explains.

Office Sian at Designed in Hackney

Above: the "singing wall" of the Jack Hobbs Community Centre in London

Next he shows a Thai canteen in Clerkenwell created in collaboration with Kai Design. Original architectural elements can be seen in the space's industrial aesthetic, such as the line of the previous staircase, which travels in the opposite direction to the new steps.

Office Sian at Designed in Hackney

Above: Jack Hobbs Community Centre

He also introduces a home refurbishment where the client needed to separate meat and milk dishes in the kitchen. "The concept of static and movement was developed, which resulted in this irregular window arrangement and brick pattern," he explains.

Office Sian at Designed in Hackney

Above: a workshop with children at Jack Hobbs Community Centre

A community centre project saw the architect design a zig-zagging wall for children to paint on. "This wall is split into segments [so] a whole linear wall mural can be composed out of children’s paintings and joined together."

Office Sian at Designed in Hackney

Above: model for a gazebo on a roof terrace

Finally he introduces two small projects currently underway: a steel gazebo for a roof terrace in south London and the renovation of an end-of-terrace house belonging to an artist. "The image describes perhaps the world’s smallest art gallery running along the boundary wall, with square windows popping up," says Sian.

Office Sian at Designed in Hackney

Above: the existing facade of the artist's end-of-terrace house

"It’s very satisfying to complete projects but at the end I certainly don’t want to be the one holding the baby – it’s not really my baby," he concludes. "I’m not trying to produce spaces that reveal me. Instead I’m trying to produce spaces in which the client reveals not just themselves, but the best of themselves."

Office Sian at Designed in Hackney

Above: drawing for the renovated artist's house

Sian was speaking as part of Designed in Hackney Day's Pecha Kucha talks, a format that invites speakers to show 20 slides for 20 seconds each.

Designed in Hackney is a Dezeen initiative to highlight the best design and architecture produced in the borough, which was one of the five host boroughs for the London 2012 Olympic Games as well as being home to Dezeen’s offices.

Watch more movies from our Designed in Hackney Day or see more stories about design and architecture from Hackney.