Mark Smyth is an architect, interior designer and one third of Studio Bua, a young, multi-disciplinary architectural practice offering a different point of view.
Since starting out in 2015, the trio has seen a number of ambitious projects through from concept to completion, including the renovation of a farmhouse and cultural centre nestled in Iceland’s rugged wilderness to the extension of a beautiful townhouse in the sophisticated London district of Chelsea.
Teas in hand, we caught up with Mark in his bay at Creative Works to discover more about the fascinating projects he’s worked on to date, and to find out what the ‘Bua’ means in Studio Bua…
Hi Mark! Give us a bit of an insight into Studio Bua – what makes it different?
Well unlike other practices, we cover everything from the initial concept to when the client moves in, including furniture design sometimes. We’ve got an office here and one in Oslo and mainly work on residential projects.
We’re actually working on a few non-residential shared projects in Iceland at the moment. One of our partners – Sigrún Sumarliðadóttir – is Icelandic and her parents have a guest house in the middle of nowhere so we’ve been refurbishing that over the last five years.
The plan is to grow the business slowly, which is why I’ve got two desks at Creative Works. I’m hoping to have hired someone by the end of the year.
How did Studio Bua start?
It began as a side project back in 2015. I was actually working for a big architectural firm based in West London at the time and was putting in the hours there then coming home and working on my own projects – it was pretty hectic!
Our first project was the renovation of a townhouse in Chelsea – we worked on it throughout the three phases and competed it recently.
How did you get into architecture – is it something you always wanted to do?
I was always good at art at school and also enjoyed Maths and Physics, so architecture seemed like the natural way to go. I’m probably one of the only people who uses trigonometry at work! I do actually use all of those things from Maths that you never think you’re going to need.
I went to Glasgow School of Art to do my bachelors degree in architecture and as soon as I started I knew it was what I wanted to do. After Glasgow I came to London and worked at The Manser Practice for a couple of years where I became an Associate. I spent some time in Holland to complete my Masters, which is where I met the people who I’d go on to form Studio Bua with.
We’ve been doing competitions together ever since uni. In the early days we did a bit of writing for the an Icelandic magazine around the architectural and design exhibitions at the Venice Biennale – they wanted architects to go over and cover it. We had such fun while we were there and it dawned on us that we should be working together.
The original plan was for me to move to Oslo but I met my partner and bought a house so we’ve ended up with a hybrid set up.
How do you go about finding clients?
I have quite a large network of contacts in London so we’re managing to get work at the moment without having to do very much press-wise. The majority of our work comes through the network and the guys in Oslo are also getting projects off the back of it.
Being based in different cities actually works very well from a collaborative perspective. For instance, they are doing most of the work on the Icelandic project because they’re closer but I’ll critique it and go to site, and vice versa when it comes to London-based projects. It’s all split quite evenly: we’ve got around five projects in each location at the moment.
Have you had any unusual design requests from clients?
…Quite a few, actually!
I can’t go into them all, but one client requested refrigerated room to keep her collection of furs and leathers in. It was like a huge, chilled walk-in wardrobe.
How did you come up with name ‘Studio Bua’?
Bua is actually an Icelandic word that means ‘inhabit’. We decided pretty early on that we weren’t going to attempt an amalgamation of our names – we’ve got Sigrún Sumarliðadóttir, Giambattista Zaccariotto and Mark Smyth, so it’d have been a bizarre combination to say the least!
We’re interested in spaces for living and artwork so we wanted a name that would reflect that. Once we’d come up with a few options we polled a group of our friends and Studio Bua was by far the most popular.
Above all the other coworking options, why did you choose Creative Works?
Initially I was renting a workspace in Leyton and it was just slightly too far away from the station. I moved in when I started the business full-time so Creative Works wasn’t open at that point.
I’d looked around a few other options but they were either in cafes that were either super loud and not conducive to work or there was no storage space. Although there was a lot of space, my Leyton office wasn’t set up like Creative Works – there was no reception or dedicated areas for coworking.
When I first visited Creative Works I was really impressed with the security – there’s someone on the front desk throughout the day and 27/4 CCTV. Another great thing for me is that it’s so close to the station. Most of my projects are in West London and Hackney, and I can get to both of those places really quickly from Blackhorse Road Station.
And finally, if you weren’t an architect what would be your plan B?
I grew up on a plant nursery and I’m completely obsessed with garden design so I’d probably be a landscape architect or landscaper!