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Framing Serendipity

By David West
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The notion of 'serendipity' as a fortunate discovery that appears by accident or happenstance is put into everyday practce in the work we do at Studio Egret West.


First coined as a word by Horace Walpole in the eighteenth century, serendipity as a mode of discovery has many examples in the history of scientific invention. As yet, serendipity has not been established as a crucial ingredient in the process of architectural or urban innovation. However, it is clear that the serendipitous can play an important role in the search for making better cities that are more in tune with the continuously evolving needs of their citizens. Without due care, its potency as a formula for place making might easily be ignored, because traditional architectural thinking is so often based on logic and predictability, repetition and rhythm.

Through our Studio's fundamental mindset, we show that the serendipitous is in itself a valid form of research and design development.

Since early 2005, Studio Egret West has delivered high-quality design through the symbiosis of memorable architecture, strategic urban design and ecology-driven landscape. At around ten years old we charged ourselves with the question of what drives the practice, intellectually and from a research perspective. This was quite a challenge for a practice openly driven by instinct, intuition and day-to-day relationships with clients and collaborators.

While necessarily not logical or predictable, serendipity is a method that can form valuable ideas in ways that traditional practice cannot. Over the years we have nurtured a truly responsive environment and culture in the Studio. Here, serendipity is achieved by means of a 'critical mass' of multidisciplinary designers, developers and wider stakeholders working together in an environment that fosters open communication. Through this process, the interest of each actor can be shared with others, who may in turn find an application for new knowledge.

Since its inception, the Studio has offered a 50/50 balance of urban design and architecture, operating in a non-hierarchical environment where the best idea wins. After five years, we expanded our practice into integrated landscape architecture. In doing so, we acknowledge that the public realm is the DNA of place. Taking this a step further, we are now expanding into graphic design and branding, interior design, product design and film making. The physical presence of our Studio and showroom is a crucial part of the way we practise. It is a grounded, transparent, multidisciplinary environment that blurs the boundaries between outside and inside, between public and private. The space itself functions as a collaborative platform, somewhere between a shop, a gallery, a café and an office.

The work we do in the Studio defines urban strategies -identifying key principles that help frame conversations differently, looking beyond boundaries and leading to flexible frameworks, rather than fixed 'master' plans. It is work that is full of ambition and enthusiasm, yet humble in recognising that we are simply playing a curatorial role at a particular point in time.

This approach allows us to link together apparently unrelated facts in order to come to valuable conclusions for clients and communities. When approaching any new project we find that, while the clues are all around us, we still have to open our eyes and have the vision to stitch those clues together. This leads us to see bridges where others see holes, and to connect events creatively, based on the perception of potentially significant links. As a result, we often inherit projects where people have failed to make these connections. 'Our plan is boring', 'Our solution is laborious...' or 'Our architect is stuck' are commonplace introductions to the Studio. We find that there is always more than one way to evolve a place. There is always the potential for more than one architectural solution. We believe that there is no reason to get stuck, and that there is every reason to collaborate..


There is always the potential for more than one architectural solution. We believe that there is no reason to get stuck, and that there is every reason to collaborate..”
David West Founder & Director at Studio Egret West

We are prepared to harness luck in order to discover innovative solutions. This approach means forging relationships between as many people as possible and across many different scenarios - whether it be the decision-maker you meet while cycling up a mountain who shapes new policy that allows a long-term landlord to cater for alternative lifestyles, or the university property director who can reconsider their inefficient space in the context of an adjacent station transformation. The serendipitous becomes manifest when a charitable arts organisation is looking for an affordable home just when a building becomes vacant, or during a Friday afternoon conversation that strikes the right chord with a mayor who wants to promote decentralisation just when Parliament needs a makeover...

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Framing Serendipity

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