architecture

“Play with purpose” — how this architectural firm is pushing boundaries with their R&D

We all have a saying that we try to live by and continually repeat to ourselves. Some sayings we apply to our personal lives and others to the way we run a business. At times, the two overlap. For our client, Red Deer, the phrase — ‘play with purpose’ is like a modus operandi, but creativity and pushing boundaries takes courage. Find out how claiming R&D tax relief has created a paradigm shift in Red Deer’s approach to new projects, giving them the freedom to be even more bold and experimental.

I had the pleasure of talking to Lionel Real de Azúa, one of the three founders of the architectural firm Red Deer. The company is celebrated for their innovative architecture and design practices that attempt to fully integrate the design process to the smallest details. Their belief in the constant progression of environmentally sustainable solutions and their approach to design in an end-to-end manner meant that their projects continually pushed architectural and design boundaries.

As we set up a Zoom call on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, I was excited to learn more about Red Deer and what it’s like designing with sustainability in mind. Although deep down I wished we were meeting in one of Red Deer’s projects in Los Angeles, namely Grá, an artisan sourdough pizza place, Zoom however, seemed the more eco-friendly and logical solution.

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Red Deer designed restaurant Grá in Los Angeles, photograph by Hannah Wilson via Urdesign Mag

Novel: Red Deer’s ethos is to better engage with the world around them, what do you mean by that?

Lionel Real de Azúa: We tend to focus our design on real experiences rather than digital ones. We avoid taking inspiration from visual trends on social media platforms and, instead, prefer to look at the world around us because the design then becomes more tangible.

By trying to codify our experiences, things that are hard to embody and represent, into a piece of design, we are able to put our own personal spin on each project. Although it’s not to say you should dismiss trends altogether, I just think you get a certain layer of depth once you integrate personal experiences.

How do Red Deer’s core beliefs affect the projects you choose?

There is one short sentence that we tend to use almost like a modus operandi — play with purpose. We want to enjoy whatever the process is but we want whatever we do to not just be whimsical, but to also have a purpose. So we try to ask ourselves and our clients the “why”. Why are you doing this?

One of our key values is that we will always look to natural materials or traditional methods of application for inspiration. Over thousands of years, humans have done a very good job of demonstrating what materials should be used in certain applications, whilst the underlying knowledge has sometimes been lost. In a landscape which is constantly evolving with new materials, we do not want to forget that we can sometimes learn just as much by looking back, as we can by looking forward.

What are certain misconceptions in the architecture industry that you have often come across?

There is a misconception that architects are all powerful but I think the industry has actually gone into a direction whereby the client and contractor dictate everything. As a result, the industry nudged the architect into a more of a coordinator-style role making the architects more of a facilitator rather than a visionary. Although we are less of a victim of this based on the fact that we’ve approached the industry from a very design-led perspective, I would really love to challenge this rhetoric.

Would you say the architects should position themselves as visionaries and try to promote that as the epic of their story?

Absolutely, I would push that, though I would also couple it with the fact that architects also need to be entrepreneurial. I want to encourage architects to not just be receptors of projects but actual enablers. This means figuring out where the money is, where the money can come from and pursue that rather than waiting for clients to come to you. If you don’t have the urgency to try to self-actualise your projects, you will end up only delivering what others ask of you and often that is limiting.

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Burning Man Installation by Red Deer Architects via ArchDaily

Would you say R&D tax reliefs can act like a buffer for visionaries because they can try new things and experiment with projects without worrying that they will run out of money?

For Red Deer, claiming R&D tax relief helped hugely. We had been told about R&D tax relief in the past but we thought that it sounded like too much paperwork and something that we’ll never have the time to do because we’re not specialists in government schemes. However, having worked with Novel, it created a sort of paradigm shift in how we’re going to approach projects in the future. We are now not as dismissive of the creative process and attacking unknowns head-on, which not only makes the projects a lot more interesting and widens the scope of our work within the industry, but that we are actively pushing the boundaries of what is architecturally possible.

… We are now actively pushing the boundaries of what is architecturally possible.

I think R&D tax relief has a huge potential to impact our industry, not only just our approach to a project. We’ve always been big advocates of failure, a journey of successive failures rather than taking an easy route and having the monetary buffer from R&D tax relief allows us to do just that.

It allows us to experiment, to fail and to sometimes succeed. Whilst success is not guaranteed, it is only by innovating that we may discover something truly different and I think that is fantastic. It can only be a force of good for the industry. If more architects adopt this mindset, safe in the knowledge that these projects can go ahead where they would have otherwise been a lot more financially risky, we will start to see more creative, efficient and sustainable solutions in the industry.

Do you recognise yourself in the Red Deer approach? If you are an architecture firm that is doing something innovative, claiming R&D tax relief can help you push even more boundaries. Unfortunately, this industry commonly misses out on R&D tax relief, a government initiative to reward innovative businesses in diverse industries, however, in a short 30 minute consultation we can help advise you whether you have a potential claim. Book your spot below or to learn more about R&D in the architectural field, click here.


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