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What kind of spatial designer am I? #2 Ian Rudolph, Architect.

Studying Interior Design, Spatial Design, Interior Architecture – or any kind of design of the built environment – can lead to many different careers. In this series of blog posts we are looking at the experience and careers of different design professionals and finding out what inspired them to study in the first place.

i360 Brighton Image Flickr accessed 09/03/2021 https://www.flickr.com/photos/neilhooting/30518192685/

Our second candidate is Ian Rudolph, an architect who has worked for several different practices over the course of his career, and is now Practice Director at Marks Barfield Architects. Marks Barfield Architects are arguably best known for designing the London Eye and Brighton i360 experiences, but have a hugely diverse range of spatial projects of all scales – from the new Cambridge Mosque, via bridges and infrastructure, to smaller scale product design work.

Cambridge Mosque, prayer hall. Marks Barfield Architects 2019.

CB: What first inspired you to practice spatial design? 

IR: We moved around a lot with my fathers job, every 2-3 years, and I also enjoyed exploring each house, every nook and cranny as a child. I guess the variety of buildings we lived in made an impression. I had a desire to do sculpture at art school but then I suppose the rational side of me needed everything made in 3D to have a functional as well as emotional purpose. Then an exhibition at the Royal Academy, London, in the 1980s – of three British Architects James Stirling, Norman Foster, and Richard Rogers – showed me what was possible.

CB: What training and/or experience have you had? 

IR: I think it all started with pottery in the school art room. Using clay we had to make a model of our house, I think I was 11. I had no photographs to work from so relied on my memory. My Mum still has the sculpture! Also there was a disused builders yard of broken brick walls next door to our school. We were allowed to make dens at playtime using the bricks, plastic sheets and disused reinforcement bars. Absolutely no Health & Safety by the school and I doubt this would be allowed now!

Formally though: first an Art Foundation course, then Architecture School for my degree, diploma and Part 3. More importantly, working in practice from the first year of degree onwards. The best training has been whilst working, learning from my peers; architects, engineers, builders, manufacturers and specialist contractors. I was fortunate in that in my first 10-15 years of practice every project I worked on was built. Seeing an idea realised, the manufacture and construction process, and then the end result makes all the long hours worthwhile. You are always learning more.

CB: What is your favourite film?

IR: All the James Bond films. I love the gadgets, and the buildings really capture the moment on screen. By coincidence a project I was involved with, the Motorola HQ, Swindon 2000, by Sheppard Robson architects, ended up becoming a scene in a James Bond film – it was the bad guys’ oil refinery/HQ supposedly in Kazakhstan!

CB: What is the most exciting interior or exterior space you have created?

IR: Seeing any project being built fills me with excitement. I still recall my first house in Germany for two professors. I went back to see the built house with a winter garden. They loved it. Happy clients. I designed it whilst doing my Parts 1 & 2. The clients were shocked when they found out I was still a student studying in London.

There are so many I have been involved in. They have all been a team effort so I can’t be held responsible for them! But in terms of those that remain uplifting years later:

  • Outside – Kew Gardens TreeTop Walkway (completed 2007)
  • Inside – the New Cambridge Mosque (completed 2018)

CB: What is your favourite material to work with? 

IR: 30 years ago it was timber.  About 10 years ago it was glass and steel. Currently it has to be stone and timber, and anything recycled or up-cycled, anything sustainable.

CB: Sketching, doodling, modelling or research – where do you start? 

IR: Photography for capturing the essence of the site! Then a few sketches, followed by CAD modelling to optimise the ideas. Research and precedents happen in parallel. Making working models always helps to make scale tangible. The most critical drawings are those done on site under tight deadlines, sorting out unforeseen issues, when you need clarity and expedience.

CB: What is your go-to initial designing tool (pen, pencil, model making, digi visualisation)? 

IR: Felt or ink pens. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. We rarely use pencils.

CB: Do you have an all-time favourite building? 

IR: Destination building would have to be British Airways i360 for the uplifting experience and the constant reminder that great projects can become a seed for regeneration, and a happy mix of old and new.

Historic would be either Kings College Chapel, Cambridge; the use of structural stone makes it more about substance than style. Or the Pompidou Centre for its audacity of putting all the buildings workings on the outside and that it has been embraced by the city. They are both cathedral type buildings.

CB: What one thing would you say to yourself as a young spatial designer starting out? 

IR: Keep working at the detail; don’t stop thinking; challenge the brief; think of the environment. Aim for your buildings or products to help turn the tide of the climate crisis. And of course aim for a happy client.

CB: What would you have liked to have known before you started?

IR: Many clients don’t understand scale or drawings properly. Make it tangible with models and mock-ups and don’t worry about showing your work-in-progress. It does not have to be a final polished work of art every time.

Every choice we make as designers can affect the environment both in harmful ways, as well as for the good, for many years to come. Not just the spatial design but also the choice of materials.


You can find out more about the work of Marks Barfield Architects here:


Cambridge Mosque, garden. Marks Barfield Architects 2019.
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Posted by author: Catherine Byrne
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