Slow Home with John Brown of Slow Home Studio- Part 1
Interview: John Brown, Slow Home Studio
By Gilo Holtzman
One of the things that led me through my various professional experiences is the need to be versatile to gain more knowledge and control of what I design, and the services that I can provide to my clients. Going into architecture, I realised that I wanted to provide much more than a traditional architectural service. I wanted to equip myself with other skills that allow me to combine all my interests, so I can support my business and provide my clients with all the services they need under one roof. My research of John’s activities gave me inspiration, but talking with him inspired me even more. I hope it will do the same for you.
“if you don’t have to build it don’t, and if you do, then make it beautiful, that it’s well made and it would last” [ American Shakers Movement]
John Brown is a man of many hats which have one thing in common: the need to design, build and offer clients a better way to engage design professionals, resulting in an improved way of life. He is a Senior Professor of Architecture at Calgary University, researching and teaching residential design; a registered architect; a licensed real estate broker; one of the founding partners of Housebrand, a unique multi disciplinary practice, and Slow Design Studio, the on line educational design platform.
Q: what is slow for you?
Slow for me is about being attentive, careful, and thoughtful about what you do. And quoting from the American shakers tradition “if you don’t have to build it don’t, and if you do, then make it beautiful, that it’s well made and it would last” and that is for me a slow idea. There is slow architecture and slow design but I think that there is also the attitude of the client that you’re working for, and that’s what I’m really interested in. I think that the notion of a slow home is also based on the person that’s going to be living in it. If you think about slow food there is nothing inherent in the food that is slow, it’s the fact that it is homemade, that it’s carefully made, it’s made for someone not mass produced and shipped all over the world. It can be something very simple, so it’s really about the attitude of the consumer, which turns him into a participant in the making of food and I think this is the same thing with housing. You want the person who’s buying the house to be a co-creator of the house: sometimes that involves building the house, sometimes it’s just remodelling or just buying it. That’s why our Slow Home Studio is about providing people with knowledge. It empowers them to make those decisions and spend more time finding the most suitable home for them, instead of looking at the price and the house and saying, well it feels like home so let’s buy it. So if we can increase awareness about architecture so people can make the right decisions similar to slow food, when people know that most food are high in sugar, cholesterol and fats they will go to farmers markets to find healthier choices. 20years ago no body knew that – they all thought that all foods are the same.
Q: How did the Slow Home idea come about?
On the practical side we’ve had an architecture practice for 15 years called Housebrand, where we’ve been doing just residential work designing, building, renovating houses in the inner city of Calgary. We have created a unique situation, at least here in Canada, where I’m a real estate agent, a broker, we are architects, interior designers, we do construction, we have a furniture store where we sell furniture and design products, so it’s virtually an integrated idea about how to help people live in the inner city, and it has been very popular. When I travel to lecture, people ask me when are you going to open Housebrand stores, but we didn’t want to turn it into something we are not, which is a mass produce thing. So we thought that what we are really doing is education based. So instead of going elsewhere for design and build, we thought we could help facilitate between clients and other architects and designers. Basically it’s to educate people that they should talk to architects, that there are other ways to proceeding without building a cookie-cutter house. That was when we decided to open a new company, and the name Slow Home is obviously derived from the slow food movement.
On the philosophical side of things I always thought there is a relationship between architecture and food, and when my sister (who is a chef) described to me what slow food was, I thought that that’s what architects do, we design things which are inherently done in a slow way opposed to the mass production buildings which are fast. So Slow Home Studio is a social enterprise that runs through our architecture firm. It doesn’t make any money, it’s not a profit making platform, just something that we want to do.
Slow food is based on three ideas: fresh produce; the care in which it is prepared; and as Carlo Padrini calls it, the culture of the table – you sit down and you enjoy the meal as part of a cultural experience. So from a slow home point of view it’s about where does the material comes from, listening to the site and paying attention to that, to the climate. It’s about the care in which it’s designed and the thoughtfulness in which it’s lived in – a place where you raise your family, spend time and care about.
Q: so the 10 steps to Slow Home that you developed came to reinforce the idea of enhancing that notion, like the importance of having a dining area?
Yes! That is exactly what it is.