The muf studio

Four friends established Muf in 1994, the remaining partners are Liza Fior and Katherine Clarke. They address the social, spatial and economic infrastructures of the public realm. muf are specialists in public realm architecture and art. The practice philosophy is ‘Access is not a concession but the gorgeous norm; we create spaces that have an equivalence of experience for all who navigate them both physically and conceptually, muf deliver quality and strategically durable projects that inspire a sense of ownership through occupation.’ Liza and Katherine have their main offices on Mare Street, there are 10 staff, 8 are female. This is a space that women really take up, our voices are encouraged, heard and there is a lot of shouting. I had never heard the word ‘mansplaining’ until I joined this studio.

Liza recently sent an email around the office stating what muf are trying to achieve (enraged by a client who didn’t ‘get it’.)
• Built projects which are deliberately ambiguous as to where they stop and start
• Expanding definitions of the client, site and brief, by adding unsolicited research into every project
• Producing feasibility studies, where our recommendation is : you don't need a building
• Giving equal status to processes and objects
• The ground plane as at least 4 metres thick
• Designing in a simultaneously, pragmatic and endlessly ambitious way, for the same project
• Foregrounding the most fragile in any situation, taking care of that, takes care of others requirements, e.g. asking V&A to imagine treating people with the same care and precision as objects
• Projects deliberately rich in visual association - open to others interpretation as to “where it’s coming from”
• Self-conscious negotiation of compromising situations, implicating ourselves in order "to wedge open the door" for agendas beyond the brief.
• Being awake to what 'working with a community' means, they are not a material, they are people, if they work, pay them.
• Despite the design build contractual impediments always trying to have a productive and creative relationship with the person who is actually building it - with their own hands
• Paying at least a bit of attention to where things come from and not mindlessly supporting unpalatable supply chains
• Valuing the expertise of others and paying for it
• Offer very flexible working to staff

The ethic of the work penetrates the studio. It is ambiguous who sits where, what space is which and where you are meant to have meetings. The unsolicited research lies around in left over drawings, fragments of photocopies strewn across the floor, hand drawing from life drawing classes (undertaken in the model room) and within the people themselves. I sit there researching the people and writing this piece. We don’t need a building, if we can rent the space out, we move. The process is present, it is shoved in every shelf and corner of the room, it is a ‘mess’ unexpected from women (the domestic of society) and we display our precious objects adjacent to the chaos. Children’s classroom chairs in red and green litter the space, everyone here is learning. I hope the ground plane is four meters thick (I don’t really know what this means). Some stability would be nice.

The ambition of each project can be seen in the stacks of paper on each persons desk, some carefully stacked, some hidden in files, mine scattered. Foregrounding the most fragile in any situation, the women in this room are fragile, but strong, you can tell this by spending some time in this room. Sometimes people don’t want to work in the room and they stay at home and that’s ok. (See offer very flexible working). The collections of things around the room are examples of work that are rich in visual association and one wonders where these ideas came from, the huge print of the horse in the AA- did that actually happen? Did Katherine Clarke actually take a horse in the AA? I still don’t know. The wedge for the door is still on the table- Liza took a photo of it for an exhibition at the Royal Academy. The bookshelf has collections of fiction and more traditional architectural books, I have pulled out the feminist directed texts, although we have some of the ‘classics’ such as Lori Browns book, a lot of our books vary distinctly driven by the project. But there is no doubt, that bookshelf has a feminist agenda and most books are found in the ‘diversity’ section of the bookcase.

Working with community can be seen where every desk is littered with left overs from projects where we have met the public, Jon has a little postcard a deaf man gave him to assist with sign language clipped in a little frame, three plastic deer dance along the top of my mac screen from various engagements with students, Caitlin has a marble run, I don’t know why. Aranza can’t stand clutter but has two kissing pigs atop her screen. The relationships with the built objects are profound, materials litter the model room. Objects from the past sit within the space, a strange cart as you enter and a community built bench by the coffee machine, items that Liza and Katherine can’t bear to part with. The fridge speaks of our desire for sustainable supply chains, no avocado allowed in there. Quite often a desk or two is occupied by a ‘stranger,’ they are not introduced but just join in for a few days- these are the expertise, brought in for a minute and paid. Then finally, sometimes you will enter this space and there will be nobody there, hopefully one of our two full time staff can be seen but when muf say flexible, they mean flexible. In this studio people draw so much more than what can be seen, creating art, buildings, children and books outside this space, which enriches the fabric of the remnants one can see delicately balanced between desks, spaces and chairs.

Sarah Ackland