Matter Architecture is a new RIBA Chartered Practice located
in Bethnal Green, London


Making the case for co-design
Co-design is the involvement of users in the commissioning and design process so that a product, service, or building is better suited to their needs and expectations. In architecture, this means working with people not normally involved in design right from the outset to determine the brief and to steer the building design as it progresses. Enabling people to contribute meaningfully to this technical process requires specialist skills and commitment. We’re firm believers in the value of co-design and have strong experience and understanding of what is needed to make it work. For clients, implementing co-design can appear daunting at first, but the process is rewarding and the benefits are clear if it is well-planned. Read our recent article arguing the case for co-design in the RSA Journal.

New for old
Almshouses fulfil an important role, providing affordable housing for elderly people. Many, like Housing Pathways Trust are small organisations whose residents support one another in loose-knit networks, allowing them to enjoy later life in a non-institutional environment. Matter have been working with Pathways’ residents to redevelop their existing estate in Ealing. The innovation comes from the understanding we’ve gained of the residents’ social networks through a series of workshops. The architecture has developed a unique relationship between the individual balconies, living rooms, kitchens and the social, communal spaces. Conceived as a giant trellis, the building itself is cultivated with plants, as a focus for social activity, health and wellbeing. The normal difficulties of balancing daylighting, overheating, shade, privacy, sociability and access are resolved in a single, layered façade that holds the social life of the new building.

Opening up prison design
In 2012, Matter’s Roland Karthaus joined an RSA team to develop a new social enterprise model for the re-use of Ministry of Justice assets to support rehabilitation. Unusually, the team worked inside, and outside the prison, designing the project collaboratively with prison officers, prisoners and their families. The work was highly influential and has led on to Matter receiving an RIBA Research Trust award and an Innovate grant to develop an evidence base for improving prison design. We are tackling this current work in the same user-focused way: to understand how to improve prisons, we’re asking the people inside. This month we’ll be working in Britain’s newest prison, HMP Berwyn doing walkabouts with the men, together with an environmental psychologist to understand how the prison environment holds people back from turning their lives around.