Scholarly biography and interests
Duncan Baker-Brown's work interrogates the potential of sustainable housing development, looking to whether it is possible to develop contemporary buildings in an environmentally benign manner and whether this challenges notions of economic and aesthetic viability. With projects such as the Brighton Waste House, Duncan creates examples of community practice that, through the use of local materials and skills, can form the beginnings of a new local architectural identity.
A primary feature of Duncan Baker-Brown's design work is the reduced dependence on fosil fuels. Architectural projects have been delivered using locally sourced, non-toxic, organic materials to ensure healthy buildings with small ‘carbon/ ecological footprints’. A number of the materials specified by BBM, such as Sweet Chestnut Glue-Lam beams and cladding were used for the first time in the construction industry.
Baker-Brown is particularly interested in developing an new architectural language borne out of an aspiration towards sustainable development, merging with issues of how we live our lives today. He believes architects should engage with the ‘nature’ of the place they are sited as well as to a brief and programme. Through his practice Baker-Brown has focused on projects that demonstrate ways of translating the local, natural supply chain of materials from the landscape into architectural form. This research focus manifests itself in built architectural projects, writings, supervision of MAs at The Universities of Brighton and East London, as well as a touring exhibition of the work of BBM entitled ‘Built Ecologies: Translating landscape into architecture’.
Duncan Baker-Brown has taught at the University of Brighton since 1994, where he and his BBM colleagues run a postgraduate design studio. The relationship between teaching, research and architectural practice is an important one, testing emerging ideas through both office-based and student design projects.
His work in education informs his interest in the devleopment of collaborative and community working methods. BBM Architects have delivered over 40 workshops in primary and secondary schools considering issues around three dimensional design, the relationship between art and architecture (in partnership with Artists from Tate Modern’s Education Dept.), and sustainable design.
This work has profoundly affected the working methods of his practice and the Waste House project at Brighton was a testament to the potential of a building project to fully engage the local community. School pupils, students and apprentices were onsite working as builders and documentary-makers. There was also an active community collection of household and industrial "waste" to be tested as building materials in the development.
In practice since 1983, Baker-Brown studied part-time while working for architectural practices in London. From 1991 - 1993 he worked in London for Rick Mather Architects on award winning ‘low energy’ student accommodation blocks for the University of East Anglia and Keble College, Oxford.
While working for RMA, Baker-Brown collaborated with Ian McKay on the winning scheme for the RIBA ‘House of the Future’ competition. He was responsible for delivering the built project in 1994. This unique experience involved the specification and design of a building that adhered to an extremely low energy sustainable brief. The experience gained with Futurehouse and at RMA ensured that BBM had the means and ability to deliver genuinely sustainable buildings such as the award-winning Priory Neighbourhood Centre in Hastings and Romney Warren Visitors Centre. He has successfully negotiated Technology Strategy Board (TSB)-sponsored 'Retrofit the Future projects' in partnership with Professor Andrew Miller and Mischa Hewitt of the Low Carbon Trust. He lectures widely on issues relating to sustainable development in the construction industry and is a design adviser to the West Sussex Design Commission.