Young in mind, but drawing is his way to craft the future

With some early years in Africa, and educated both in the UK and the US, John Bushell of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates enjoy an open and international approach to life. 
Young in mind, but drawing is his way to craft the future
Courtesy of John Bushell / Ti Gong

John Bushell is a Principal at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. 

Who is he?

John Bushell is a Principal at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. He’s hopelessly absorbed by architecture both as a process where you meet many different people and face various challenges, and for the fulfilment of seeing the built result and how people respond to their new environment.

With some early years in Africa, and educated both in the UK and the US, Bushell enjoy an open and international approach to life. Perhaps feeling younger than his age, that enthusiasm level is still high. Drawing is very important to him as a way to think and relax.

Please share with us some of your works, and name the one you are most proud of.

Choosing a favorite building is just like the impossible task of saying which your favorite child is. I go back to some of my earlier projects regularly to see how they are being used — office projects from the mid-90s in London include Thames Court, and Unilever’s Global HQ, a transformation of a 1930’s listed building. More recently, the mixed-use South Bank Tower development, where we reused a 1970s structure to create a better version of Modernism. I have also been lucky enough to work in Macau for a huge MGM hotel and entertainment complex, which we think is a very fine addition to the buildings there.

I am most proud of being able to use ideas absorbed from many places to inform each design, assimilating with a mixture of intuition and logic to create something distinctive, interesting and humane each time.

What projects are you involved in?

Mixed-use buildings are one of our primary focuses at the moment, very familiar in Shanghai but they’re a newer concept in London. One Crown Place and the DAMAC Tower are two projects encompassing lots of different uses interestingly expressed and arranged, and both taking shape on site which is extremely exciting for the teams. Several other mixed-use projects either have planning or are in that process.

Another focus is the provision of different types of residential project — a large building to rent scheme for Grosvenor, a student housing development for Greystar, Extra care/later living residences for Auriens and affordable residential in wider London.

Additionally we’re lucky enough to have some interesting office projects — currently under wraps — but we are exploring new ideas and possibilities for what the future office building should encapsulate.

What’s your design style?

Maximalist. Life is disparate and exciting, and buildings should have a character that is complex and interesting. I am very influenced by the tradition of humane and intuitive “modernism” of our time but with great care for materials, light, spaces and room for joy and ambition. With awareness of history and vision for the future, I try and absorb as much as is possible and resolve as something buildable and successful.

Buildings involve huge resources, both material and human, and it is the designer’s responsibility to make all the effort evidently worthwhile.

 I often try to capture life’s energy and excitement and express it in a way that invigorates others, and creates a place within which to feel happy and thrive. A high level of ambition does not mean excess of budget — in fact it is most satisfying to have a beautiful building created with an economy of means.

An undergraduate course on Rome was an inspiration in how to learn from the past without the need for stylistic copying. Working on the British Library with architect Sandy Wilson promoted a love of craft, avoidance of cliche and concern for how people used space.

I was very influenced by living in “Delirious” New York with its surprising combination of gargoyles, towers and people. One can sense that urban energy and the resulting interesting buildings in Shanghai.

Where are you most creative?

Work life has too many meetings and interruptions so I seek places where I can be undisturbed and get into a creative “flow.” Many “finally that’s it” sketches have been done hidden in a cafe near the office, or late at night in the study at home, perhaps with a sip of bourbon.  

What does your home mean to you?

Home is where the family is. In the UK I grew up by the sea and always feel at peace when on the coast.

What do you collect?

Objects: Books. Emotions: the reaction of my children to different places.

What will be the next big design trend?

No matter how much the Internet and AI develop we are still social beings and we will need exciting and beautiful places to meet. We can be freer with how these are designed, so to be very flexible and hopefully made of fabricated components of recycled material. I also strongly believe that every building should have a roof garden.

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