FAT’s all folks: Architecture’s biggest jokers sign off in style

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The London-based design collective which has stuck two fingers up at the modernists will call it quits at Venice

The kookiest architects in Britain have called it quits after 20 years of cheerfully sticking two fingers up at the world of posh modernist architecture.

The London-based design collective known as FAT Architecture (aka Fashion Architecture Taste) will complete only two more projects – a charmingly bizarre house for Alain de Botton’s Living Architecture chain of holiday homes, and the curation of the British Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Click 'View Gallery' above to see more images of FAT's notable projects

FAT’s work, typified by brightly coloured facades seemingly jigsawed together, has a playful quality that conceals socio-political intentions. Sam Jacob, Sean Griffiths and Charles Holland were always against clever, up-itself modernist design, so they delivered alt-clever architecture that was brash and almost childish, with an aesthetic quality that appealed to common tastes rather than arch-intellectuals: think Jarvis Cocker, rather than Radiohead.

FAT are best known for buildings such as the BBC Drama Production Village in Cardiff, and the Islington Square housing in Manchester. Their architectural cheek was never more vividly demonstrated than in their In a Lonely Place installation at the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2006. The huge structure resembled a timbered house having sex with a 7m-high black balloon.

“We’ve produced a whole load of buildings that we never thought we’d be able to design, and weave our magic,” says Jacob. It was a borrowed magic, initially. FAT’s fascination with trash-pop architectural effects drew heavily on the 1972 book, Learning From Las Vegas, written by the American architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, who glorified the random chaos of billboards and road signage.

Community In A Cube, Middlesbrough Community In A Cube, Middlesbrough
Even so, FAT carved out a unique niche, despite designing little more than club and shop interiors before being featured in Anglo Files, a 2005 book about rising architectural stars. At the time, they were scenesters, but below the mainstream architectural radar: they had been commissioned to design The Villa, a big community building in Holland, but the project remained on hold for years.

“We were always more like a band than a career,” explains Jacob. “So we want to end things in a different way – not the usual dying on the job, or ending up flogging dead [architectural] horses. We felt the time was right to end what we’ve been trying to do for the past 20 years.”

There was more than a common-touch wit to FAT’s designs. They were never “bad boys” in the way of the argumentative, uber-intellectual superstar architect, Rem Koolhaas. But they were bright enough, and shrewd enough, to resist bad-mouthing the establishment, and it was no surprise that they went on to lecture at University College London and Yale.

Their decorated facades were designed to look like skimpy stage sets tacked on to otherwise unremarkable structures, turning boxy buildings into lavishly encrusted, neo-baroque shrines to pop culture. Jacob says this worship of “tremendous” 2D flatness is a purer form of communication, and a riposte to the swirling 3D effects sought by architects such as Zaha Hadid.

Unlike FAT – still in their forties – many of today’s bright young architectural double-clickers know little about architectural history, but plenty about software scripting and wilful shape-making that began with Frank Gehry’s use of an aerospace computer to design the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum.

Jacob says FAT’s house for Alain de Botton in Essex, designed in collaboration with the artist Grayson Perry, will be “our fulfilment of the idea of collaborations between artists and architects”. And in Venice next year, FAT’s curation of the British Pavilion, titled A Clockwork Jerusalem, will be their final ornate riff on the state of modernist design in Britain.

FATtened up: Notable projects

The Villa, Hoogvliet, Holland With this community building, FAT took on the decorated shed. The design evokes the town’s industrial past, and highlights its landscape with cut-outs in the façade.

A House for Essex Commissioned by the philosopher-cum-property developer Alain de Botton, this building will be roofed with brass sheeting, clad with bottle-green ceramic tiles and studded with sculptures.

Blue House, London Built for £300,000, FAT’s first significant project is a live-work house with an over-emphasised street-facing façade. The practice considers it to be one of the most important houses of the 21st century.

BBC Cardiff This 3.6ha production village in Roath Basin became the home of ‘Dr Who’. FAT’s facade features motifs relating to dock warehouses, wave-forms, and Cardiff’s gothic architecture.

Community In A Cube, Middlesbrough This 82-home development proved FAT could be witty (the top floor looked like cottages airlifted into position) and pragmatic. The building gained an Eco Homes “Excellent” rating.

Islington Square, Manchester This was FAT’s answer to the design of “trad” homes: vivid, inexpensively built terraces with 23 houses for the Methodist Housing Group, developed after very detailed, wish-list talks.

Sint Lucas Art Academy, Boxtel, Holland In this makeover of an unremarkable 1960s buildings, FAT took a Lego approach to transform the front of the academy, and deployed other vivid surface treatments and signage.

The Blue House, London The Blue House, London  

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'