|But first, a little factual background on this
most dynamic of duos. Both joined Will
Alsop’s studio in Battersea in 2001. Tarek
went on to work on some high profile
projects with Will, including the ‘Palestra’
office building and Queen Mary University’s
‘Blizard Building’, later moving on to work as
Senior Architect at yoo, a high-end interior
design studio co-founded by John Hitchcox
and Philippe Starck.
|Julia worked with Will’s ‘BIG Architecture’
team on major regeneration projects such as
the Bradford Masterplan, then going on to
work at Buckley Gray Yeoman as Senior
Architect. And all the time, in the
background, Will was helping to facilitate
their future success…more on that later.
|And, of course, we’re extremely pleased to
have Tarek onboard as a judge on our
exciting Emerging Interior Practice of the
Year category in this year’s WIN Awards. He
explains what will impress him…
|Tarek, what appealed to you about this
category, and what will you be looking
for in the submissions?
|Tarek: Thank you, I’m delighted to be
involved actually - we love to see new work
and it’s hugely rewarding to help celebrate
|I think what’s important is that the work has
a strong attitude, something with guts and a
sense of individuality. A clarity of vision is
always something I look for. I love it when
there’s a strong single idea, but, it has to be
well executed, and taken through the project
at a detailed level.
|Equally, we like to see that the designer has
worked with their client in a meaningful,
collaborative way, and really understood their
needs, desires and wants.
|At the current time, what do you think
are some of the greatest challenges to
smaller practices gaining the
recognition they deserve?
|Julia: The vicious circle probably every
small/young practice finds itself entangled in
is the lack of confidence a client has in you
due to the lack of funds in your account. And
without a client willing to give you a project in
a higher fee category, you won’t ever be able
to aquire those funds and therefore your
account history won’t pass the minimum
threshold required by most PQQs
[pre-qualification questionnaires]. This is, and
has been, the hardest challenge to crack.
|Tarek: Yes, convincing clients to take that
leap with you, is one of the key issues a small
practice faces. We have been very lucky with
our clients, and had lots of amazing
|And Julia, cutting straight to the chase,
you’ve been quoted as saying: “Balls of
steel should be available as free issue
from the RIBA.” We’d love to know what
prompted that particular comment?
|Architecture is a difficult business to be in.
Not only as a small business and as a
woman, but also from a professional angle.
There is a lot of risk involved, especially when
you try and wander off the beaten track.
Introducing the use of new techniques or new
materials is not always met with the same
amount of enthusiasm as the “safe pair of
hands”, “tried and tested” approach… So
don’t get me wrong – the balls of steel are
meant for our clients – mine were set up,
installed and activated a long time ago!
|As a practice, you have said that you
pride yourselves on being able to look
backwards and forwards simultaneously
when considering a project. This must
be a real selling point for you when you
come to do sensitive refurbishments
such as at the Peacock Theatre – a
space shared by the London School of
Economics and Sadler’s Wells - and at
the famous Garrick Club in London.
Taking these historically significant
institutions, how has this ability
contributed to the success of the
|Tarek: Yes, we always look for clues in the
background of any project, to see how these
might echo back into the work. There’s
always something interesting in the site’s
history, the back-story of the clients
themselves, that can be woven in - even in a
very subtle way. The idea is to create
something that is distinctly contemporary yet
at the same time somehow strangely familiar.
|You’ve also been involved in a number of
projects relating to the transformation
of London’s Kings Cross. Can you tell us
a little about them and the impact they
had when they were unveiled?
|Julia: Our Gasholder #8 project, a design for
a competition to come up with a playful idea
for one of the remaining gasholders in the
King’s Cross masterplan, was the beginning
of our relationship with the developer, Argent.
They loved our presentation and thought our
idea was brilliant, if a little bonkers. We didn’t
win the commission, but parted with a
promise that we’d work together on
something else in the future.
|We stayed in touch and Argent then
approached us some time later to come up
with an idea to activate one of the spaces
around the corner from the now very
successful, Granary Square. So we came up
with the idea of a temporary ‘pop-up’ roller
rink, combined with music events and street
food. It was the perfect people magnet for
the summer. The project was a complete
success – it generated over £200,000 in PR
value and, thanks to a brilliant PR and social
media campaign, reached over 330 million
|Tarek: Yes, the amazing thing was taking this
beautiful but forgotten industrial space and
watching it come to life. It sounds cheesy but
there was a huge joy in watching people
flooding into the space, laughing and
enjoying themselves roller skating around
this thing we had created.
|And now, for something completely
different (far from the hustle and bustle
of central London) you’ve created a
state-of-the-art beach hut in the small
seaside town of Mablethorpe on the UK’s
east coast. Can either or both of you
explain a little about what makes ‘Eyes
Wide sHut’ at once modern, surreal and
sleek but still cheeky enough to give a
‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ to a little
traditional seaside naughtiness?
|Tarek: The beach hut in Mablethorpe will
always be close to our heart as it was our
first built project. Such a beautiful location.
We definitely wanted to invoke that sense of
nostalgia of a typical British seaside holiday,
which was the thinking behind the big
|At the same time, we aimed to create a
touch of the surreal - that idea of privacy in
puclic - the two-way mirrored film on the
glass lets you see out, but poeple can’t see
|Someone actually said at the opening “Ooh,
you could get up to all sorts in there!” which
really made us chuckle.
|Moving on to your studios…you
relocated to The Sunday Painter –
an art gallery – in Peckham in south
London in February earlier this year.
Why did you choose to base your
London studio there?
|Julia: We both live pretty close and, as a
creative studio, Peckham feels like a good
place to be at the moment. We also liked the
space, and the fact that it’s combined with an
art gallery only adds to the fun. The
exhibitions usually run between 2 and 4
weeks and inbetween shows we sometimes
rent the space for special occasions. We are
planning to have a summer party there this
year – to celebrate our 10th anniversary.
|Tarek: I love the connection to the art
gallery. It’s so interesting to see the new
exhbitions going up before they’re open to
the public. It’s a wonderful distraction, and
often really inspiring to our work. Yes, you
have to come to our summer party!
|And in 2013, you opened a satellite
office in São Paulo, Brazil, now headed
up by you, Julia. What was the
motivation behind that, and how did you
come to speak Portuguese as well as
Spanish, English and German?
|Julia: I was born and raised in Germany. As
part of my degree I spent a year studying
and working in Madrid and I learned to
speak Spanish then. I came to London 15
years ago. In 2013 my partner was offered a
3-year assignment in São Paulo and so it
made sense for F&M to set up the little
satellite office over there. We spent that time
in Brazil, and over there you won’t get
anywhere fast without Portuguese…so I did a
crash course and developed it further with a
teacher over there. My Spanish helped a lot,
and I love learning new languages.
|What’s next in the pipeline for Feix &
|Julia: We’re working on a number of interiors
projects - high-end hotel and residential
projects - as well as a boxing gym start-up
and a chiropractor’s clinic. We’re building a
1,500 sq ft visitor centre/café in the Olympic
park in Stratford, and we’re working with
Hackney Walk on the fit out of a stretch of
railway arches in Hackney. A busy summer…
|Tarek: we’ve just started on a new member’s
club in Soho as well which is going to be
amazing. Yes, a very exciting summer!
|Winding back the clock to 2001 when
you both went to work for Will Alsop,
was that the first time you had met?
|Tarek: Yes, that was a wonderful period for
both of us. Will is an incredibly inspiring and
charming man, and we learnt a lot from our
experience working with him. He always
taught us to enjoy our work, and remind
ourselves of the joy and delight in what we
|Julia: Yes, he’s been one of our biggest
supporters and we are still very close friends.
|You both moved on to other practices,
so how did your paths cross again,
ultimately leading to the setting up of
Feix & Merlin in 2006, and what made
you go into practice together?
|Julia: Actually, we set up F&M whilst still
working at Alsop. Will was always very
supportive of us doing our own thing on the
side and even let us work from his office. He
trusted us to not abuse his generosity and we
never did. I always loved his approach of
trying to include young, progressive practices
in bigger frameworks and projects.
Architecture is a very competitive industry,
sometimes unnecessarily so… it’s refreshing
to have a more inclusive approach.
|Tarek: Yes we have had a wonderful
adventure so far, working for some incredibly
inspiring and talented people along the way.
All these working relationships we’ve had,
they have all helped inform who we are, and
our approach to design.
|As well as architecture and interiors,
the practice now incorporates F&M
Products and F&M Branding. Who gets
to dream up the wonderful names in
these ranges, like Le Chateau Gateaux
(a coffee table based on traditional
plaster ceiling cornices) and the Mr
Darcy Sofa (speaks for itself)? How
would a typical brainstorming session
work to arrive at these ideas – if there
is such a thing as typical?
|Julia: Brainstorming at F&M is always fun.
Especially if we need a name, we sometimes
involve friends. We once named a project
after a dream my partner had. It was called
“The MysTREE of Leadenhall” – it still makes
me laugh. I’ll leave it to your imagination as
to what that was all about!
|We have always felt that your experience of a
space is holistic, and it starts with brand
identity. It all started when we had the
opportunity to develop brand identity with
one of our clients, alongside the interior
architecture, and found it hugely satisfying to
begin with that approach. The two are so
intrinsically linked for us, it makes the whole
project that much more engaging and
|Tarek: We love working at different scales,
from larger scale masterplans to individual
buildings, to interiors, brand indentity design,
and now product design. There’s something
hugely satisfying about resolving design
issues at the smaller scale, like a chair or a
|The products can sometimes name
themselves; the pendants for example –
the Wentworth – it has this shape about it
that reminded us of a kind of well-fed English
gent – slightly portly but quite charming all
|Thank you, but Julia, you can’t tell us
half of the MysTREE of Leadenhall story
and not solve it? Anything to do with
some famous skyscrapers?
|You actually pretty much nailed it on the
MysTREE mystery. It was a competition to
come up with an intermediate use for a site
in Leadenhall, the one that is now occupied
by the ‘Cheesegrater’ building. The credit
crunch caused a bit of a delay but the
building works were well under way and the
multiple basements were already excavated,
leaving a massive hole in the ground. The
developers thought maybe there could be a
fun, cool intermediate use making sense of
the big hole whilst they sorted out the
reasons for the delay.
|We submitted a proposal for an enchanted
forest, with trees and a little cabin, basically
a beautiful pop-up garden with a little
commercial unit in it, amidst the skyscrapers.
From the pavement you would have been
walking amidst the tree tops - that's how
deep the hole was. Mysterious, no?
|Understood now, thank you. You’ve also
taken a basic material like concrete and
turned it into something that wouldn’t
look out of place in a stately home.
Please tell us a bit about your fabulous
|Tarek: The idea was to take something very
familiar, like traditional Georgian timber
panelling, and re-invent it in an entirely
|We’re working with an amazing company,
Graphic Relief, who were able to recreate the
3D effect of the panelling as a 2D trompe
l’oeil effect in concrete. Its amazingly smooth
to the touch, almost silky, and then you can
feel the tiny dots that create the 3D effect.
|The whole system is modular, a series of
panels that all fit together like a kit of parts,
so you can create your own arrangement to
fit a wall of any size. It can go internally,
including wet spaces, and could even be used
externally as cladding. You can also have
them with artwork embedded into the
concrete, and you can actually use your own
images - a favourite family photo for
example, forever immortalised in concrete.
|Do you ever argue at work? And do you
crave space from each other outside the
studio - or might we find you hanging
out together at the weekends, mulling
over new ideas?
|Tarek: Ha ha yes! We love a bit of a heated
debate. We’re passionate about our work,
and its actually through this rigorous
discussion that we end up with a much
stronger design. Its always important as
designers to be able to think through your
work critically, and be challenged on the
decision making process.
|Julia: Yes, of course we argue at work –
it’s part of the process. It’s good to have
strongly held views - be it about architecture,
politics or fashion styles. We were friends
before we were business partners, so yes,
you will most definitely find us hanging out
together at the weekends, but we try not to
talk shop then. A healthy work-life balance is
very important in our office.
|Do you both live in London? And if so,
what do you like best about your
|Tarek: I love London, in particular because of
all the little pockets and villages within it.
There’s always something new to discover,
and it is always changing. That, to me, is the
absolute definition of a successful city
actually, that it is always in a state of change
or rather, evolution.
|The most fascinating thing is being able to
watch and experience and be part of
changing culture and evolving urban
environment. We’re in Peckham now, which is
going through a huge amount of change as
we speak; Hoxton hipsters partying alongside
old south London locals and Afro-Caribbean
hairdressers...new developments and social
enterprises springing up and sprouting out of
derelict buildings or bundling themselves into
old car parks.
|Julia: When we came back from Brazil we
moved to a rented apartment in Haggerston
and I really love having the opportunity to
see London from a different side. There is so
much diversity in Hackney, people watching
is just wonderful. My favourite pastime is
eating out and there is so much choice, I use
an app to remind me where to go and what
to try. I am looking forward to being back in
our own apartment in Elephant &
Castle/London Bridge in October; it feels a bit
like I’ll be returning to my own age bracket!
|To each of you: if you hadn’t been an
architect/designer, what else might you
have dreamed of being?
|Julia: Running a caipirinha bar on a beach on
the north-eastern coast of Brazil. I might still
do that one day.
|Tarek: I think I would have always been a
dreamer of some kind - a writer, an artist or
something. I’m very happy and lucky to love
what I do I suppose. And it’s the challenges
we face in architecture and design that make
it all the more interesting. I’ll definitely be up
for enjoying a caipirinha in Julia’s bar at some
point though. I look forward to that!
Img 1: Julia with Tarek
Img 2: Peacock Theatre
Img 3: Kings Cross Gasholder
Img 4: Kings Cross Skate KX
Img 5: Eyes Wide sHut
Img 6: Peckham Studio
Img 7: Chateau Gateaux
Img 8: The Wentworth
Img 9: Concrete Panels