Joining the dots...
posted on Wednesday, August 22, 2007 03:17 PM
Paul West talks to i-genius about Ourhouse, his innovative working holiday retreat that unites architecture, design, branding and services. Aiming to revamp the UK tourism industry with his quirky designs and holsitic approach, Paul discusses his love for 'big ideas, innovative business models and making things happen', and his plans for the future of Ourhouse.
Editor: Could you explain in brief what you do?
Paul: I design environments and experiences by joining the dots between architecture, interiors, branding and service design. I am currently designing and launching a new type of working holiday retreat called Ourhouse.
Editor: How did you come to be involved in this area of work?
Paul: Working in several design sectors over the last 5 years, I have seen a lack of synergy between them. For example, I believe it's really important to consider branding and service design when developing spaces and places, likewise it's important to consider environments when developing brand identities and service design propositions.
Ourhouse is a classic example of these sectors coming together. I initially developed Ourhouse whilst at University and found myself designing the entire business, not just the physical space. This seemed odd as I was studying interior architecture. I became involved with Nesta and gained an award from the Creative Pioneer Programme. I left my much loved job at Foster and Partners architects to focus on developing Ourhouse. I love big ideas, innovative business models and making things happen.
Editor: What is the essence of Ourhouse?
Paul: Ourhouse is a communal retreat for both work and play. It's a flexible, shared space for creative teamwork, collaboration and networking whilst also being a place for friends and events. It consists of a series of customisable, high design eco-houses and is operated by an online members network and communal reservation system. Ourhouse will provide a creative and quirky alternative to traditional forms of accommodation, aiming to revamp UK tourism whilst acting as a catalyst for regeneration by making great use of redundant development sites on a temporary basis.
Editor: What was the thinking behind this initiative?
Paul: Firstly, over the last 20 years, the UK tourism industry has struggled to adapt to leisure trends and modern lifestyle. However, due factors such as global warming, safety, airport procedures and a growing need for convenience, domestic travel is re-emerging but only with a very similar offer to 'the good old days.' Hotels are largely unmemorable and conventional and very little challenges the way we are accommodated away from our everyday environments.
Secondly, working, meeting and networking trends have changed, people no longer need to be confined to traditional office environments and the conference market is in decline. "The industry needs to take a hard look at the long term prospects resulting from such change and adapt and re-invent itself". Businesses, teams, organisations and individuals benefit from collaboration, networking, social activity and flexibility. Team this with escapism and it becomes a hot house for creative activity. There's a gap in the market for flexible, useful and engaging environments for like-minded people to unite, work and play. Ourhouse provides environments, both physical and virtual, for this to take place.
Finally, despite years of investment and regeneration schemes, derelict and under-utilised land remain. Many 'once popular' coastal towns have redundant development sites. In many cases, it takes many years for land to be permanently developed and temporary land-use options are limited. Being semi-portable and adaptable, Ourhouse can solve this by making great use of land in the short to medium term whilst keeping options open for the future. Each Ourhouse area benefits from new visitors and an enhanced profile.
Editor: What are you trying to achieve through Ourhouse?
Paul: I am very keen to provide a really interesting alternative to escaping our everyday environments, effectively uniting like-minded people with a unique proposition containing innovative, coherent and simple architecture, design, branding and service. Does that sound like a mission statement? I just made it up. Well, it's all true.
Editor: Who is this product and service aimed at?
Paul: Ourhouse is designed for creative people from all walks of life. At peak times, during the week, Ourhouse will be a flexible, shared space for making progress. Progress meaning activity related to work, it can be meetings, conferences, team building, brainstorming, collaboration and networking. It will be a retreat and meet space for the media and creative industries, in the form of consultancies and agencies, specialist communities and organisations, individuals and groups. It will be a flexible hub for a wide range of SMEs and Blue-chip companies.
During off peak times, at weekends and holiday periods, Ourhouse will be a place for friends, enthusiasts and hobbyists from more leisure related industries such as music, film and photography. Ourhouse will be a place for suit individuals and groups to relax, re-energise and meet likeminded people. The advantage is that everyone knows who will be there, week in week out, with no nasty surprises. In both peak and off peak, Ourhouse will also be block-booked by event organisers.
Editor: Do you have any plans to expand the work of Ourhouse? Can the model be replicated elsewhere?
Paul: Yes, after the showcase scheme is launched in Kent, I am planning to develop Ourhouse offshoots, as opposed to replicas, in other parts of the UK. Communities will be formed and infamous towns will be famous!
Editor: What does the term 'social entrepreneur' mean to you? Paul: This is a funny one, I have been called this before by my mentor, Duncan Bertnsen. Traditionally, it describes an entrepreneur with a key interest to make positive social change. I wouldn't say that Ourhouse is solely driven out of a desire to create positive social change, although it is a key element of the business. I am aiming for Ourhouse to be a self sufficient, commercially successful business that is a great asset for everyone that comes into contact with it, whether they are its members or its local community.