Next-gen thinking: Designing for the future

1 Jun 2023

‘Next-gen thinking – designing for the future’ was a talk offered as part of Havwoods’ 2023 Clerkenwell Design Week programme, brought to you by Editor of Hotel Designs, Hamish Kilburn, and Architect & Sustainability Coordinator at Orms, Rachel Hoolahan.

Hamish: Tell us about your journey in architecture? Where did it all start?

Rachel: I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I did some work experience at an architecture firm when I was 16 and fell in love with it. From there, I went on to study architecture in Dublin and went on to work at Weston Williamson in London on the Paddington Crossrail station in my work year, before returning to Ireland for my first full-time role. 

I’ve always been curious about space. When walking into a room, it's all about the ‘wow’ moment – where great design makes you feel truly comfortable. It's that sense and feeling that you get, without being able to pinpoint exactly what it is, which is why I do it.

Hamish: How did your sustainability role come into play when at Orms? Did you carve the role out for yourself?

Rachel: We love a challenge at Orms, so rather than thinking about sustainability as an add on, we think about it from within – it's our ethos. I’ve always been curious and conscious of sustainability within the industry, so I carved out this position by learning and educating myself. I’d allocate time in my week to read and research interesting people and brands, listen to podcasts and read articles. As you learn and become more knowledgeable in this sector, you are then in that position to ask the right questions with both clients and suppliers.

Hamish: How important is the circular economy in future design? Where do you see it going?

Rachel: As an architect, we have so much power and influencer from the start, so we can think consciously about everything we’re doing at every stage. The circular economy is a necessity, not a choice. There are so many materials already in existence, so we need to start thinking about how they can be re-used and re-purposed - but as part of this process, we need to do our due diligence to find out where it came from and how it has been made. Material Passports are a great way to do this and offer an opportunity to gather and organise data about materials contained within a building. An initiative like this has already received great funding from all over the world - it shows that you don't have to compromise on design, but instead, you can add to it with materials already in circulation. 

Hamish: What about the hospitality industry? How do you work with your client to understand the importance of circular economy in future design?

Rachel: Hospitality is one of the most exciting industries to work in as people are more open-minded and experimental. When working on a new project, we give both a budget and a carbon budget. For example, if a client loves a certain material, we help them understand the decision they’re making and what impact that material has on the environment. Whilst we want to ensure the brief is met and matches their specifications, we can then advise from there and offer alternatives if we need to.

Hamish: What is the answer to being sustainable?

Rachel: Persistence and education. The design needs to be prevalent and impactful beyond the finished result. We guide both clients and suppliers about how they can be sustainable and meaningful in the long term. 

Hamish: What about the next generation of designers and architects?

Rachel: This generation are the first generation that know nothing other than sustainability. Being environmentally conscious is woven through the narrative from the beginning. It's really refreshing working this way as this generation are empathetic and really care. We always try and include junior designers from the start and support them as much as we can. It's vital to prep your team and give them that time, and that nudge – however most of the younger team I work with are very confident anyway!