Inspirationist exclusive: Interview with Chris Godfrey, Global Principal of HBA Residential

Based in Singapore, Chris Godfrey is an award-winning RIBA Chartered Architect with more than 20 years’ experience producing highly considered and finely crafted residences for
 very discerning clients. As a Global Principal of HBA Residential, he oversees all aspects of design & management and is the chief client liaison. Hirsch Bedner Associates is the largest hospitality interior design studio in the world. Catering to the world’s finest residences, the design team brings a unique combination of boutique approach and global reach to private clients and developers of elite private villas, penthouses, luxury buildings and homes.

Prior to this, Mr. Godfrey was Creative Director at 1508 London, an internationally renowned, high-end residential design studio he founded with three ex-directors of Candy & Candy. In 2000, he established SCAPE Architects, a highly-regarded residential design studio he ran for over a decade and which was voted one of the top 50 young practices in the world by Wallpaper* magazine.

Mr. Godfrey answered our questions on his architectural background, how working for HBA Residential influenced his vision and exciting new projects in the works.

It’s highly rewarding to connect with owners uniquely and create residences that resonate.

INSPIRATIONIST: Where are you from and where do you live now?

CHRIS  GODFREY: I grew up in the north of England but spent nearly 20 years – my working life mostly – in London; now my family and I are based in Singapore, although I frequently travel back to London for business.

I: What’s your background? 

C.G.: My architectural education began in Yorkshire, and then I completed my Post-Graduate Diploma at the Mackintosh School of Architecture in Glasgow. But the creative gravity of London was magnetic and I ended up working there for nearly 20 years until March 2014 when Hirsch Bedner Associates entrusted me to launch HBA Residential in Singapore.

Prior to this, I was Founding Creative Director at 1508 London, and before that, I founded my own company, SCAPE Architects, in 2000. Over the decade orchestrating SCAPE, an approach was evolved and a reputation gained for crafting very personal and playful residential designs, with our work published extensively around the world and our studio voted one of the Top 50 Young Practices in the World by Wallpaper* magazine. In the years before forming SCAPE, I worked for other internationally renowned design practices including Seth Stein Architects.

I also enjoy teaching, and have lectured in Interior and Spatial Design at Chelsea College of Art in London and Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore.

I: How did you fall in love with architecture and why? 

C.G.: Looking back, I was really immersed in creativity from my earliest days. My father is an excellent artist and architectural draftsman and was also pivotal in shaping my creative foundation. From the kitchen table in our small Yorkshire town, he would hand-draw architectural perspectives of large, awe-inspiring London buildings for the big name architects of the time. So that was my introduction to drawing, buildings and the creative process. My father was an artist first, a draftsman second and a maker third. We lived in this ordinary terraced house, however the interiors were really quite unique with avant-garde décor he made in the backyard shed. My dad collaged the entire house. For years and years, he painstakingly cut out beautiful photographs from design magazines and the Sunday Times supplements, pasting together the pieces on every bedroom wall. So I’d go to bed surrounded by what at the time seemed pretty unusual – nudes, art, archaeology, architecture combined with his own hand drawings and furniture – but was ultimately highly influential. These points of reference, the craft, and attention have had a strong influence upon my design philosophy. It’s highly rewarding to connect with owners uniquely and create residences that resonate. The time, focus and care we invest in the creative process results in one-of-a-kind reflections of our clients’ personalities and values. To create someone’s personal environment is a privilege and the love for the subject continues to grow.

I: Where do you spend most of your time, and what does a typical day for you entail?

C.G.: My time is pretty evenly split 50:50 between the studio and business travel. I tend to travel around the working day in order to minimise downtime; which can make for a long day, particularly as we have projects within a 6-12-hour flight radius. I typically visit each specific place for a reason – a client meeting, presentation, promotion etc. and, as the demand for client time is high, I try to keep each trip as compact and focused as possible. That said, I like to experience one new thing on each and every trip so my appreciation and understanding of the places I work continues to grow. For example, I visited the Dhobi Ghat open-air laundry recently in Mumbai. Back in the studio, my time is spent reporting back and reviewing and directing the design work. We have management meetings Mondays and Tuesdays, and creative sessions every morning, to provide the best structure and use of our time.

In learning the value of interior materiality and how it affects a structure’s architecture, I’ve become much more rounded as a designer and architect.

I: What is your favourite part of your job?

The people I get to work with, that’s both with the teams on a project and the unique relationships with clients. I enjoy creating things for people and being with other people who enjoy that process, too.

I: Can you describe an evolution in your work from when you began until today? Has working for HBA Residential affected your vision/approach?

C.G.: I’ve always been interested in scale – the same principles apply whether the project is large or small. As a student in Glasgow I learned the fundamentals of spatial design – form, space and order – and how these correlate with section and plan drawings. So when I started out, I transferred this rationale to small, everyday projects – mostly interiors; now, of course, the projects have become much larger and exterior architecture has become a primary focus. For a time, these two streams were running in parallel. However, one side always informs the other and now they have coalesced. In learning the value of interior materiality and how it affects a structure’s architecture, I’ve become much more rounded as a designer and architect.

In addition, geography, culture and people have always fascinated me. I genuinely try to be the arm of a client, taking on their role as I challenge my team. This frees up the element of ego, because our projects aren’t created according to our own wills and tastes and the client always remains the central focus. We work with such interesting people, and getting to know them through the design process always inspires me.

Leading HBA Residential is a fantastic creative opportunity. My approach to the design process hasn’t changed, however the ability to experience vastly different people and places, as well as test my understanding of how to work with many kinds of individuals, has provided “wide-screen” vision. Working at HBA Residential encourages me to remain visionary, be receptive and keep an open mind.

Working at HBA Residential encourages me to remain visionary, be receptive and keep an open mind.

I: Is working for HBA Residential different from your previous practices, 1508 London and SCAPE Architects?

C.G.: The primary difference is scale. The fundamentals of the work itself have been consistent through all the experiences, travel and exposure I’ve been afforded. I’ve had the opportunity to work further and wider than before, and really test my modus operandi. HBA is truly global, and that’s been a real stimulus for me. SCAPE, the practice I had for 10 years, was a cottage industry – budget-driven but high quality. 1508 took this to a slightly higher and wider audience, and now HBA Residential is the third step. What I’ve retained is the attentive, boutique focus of SCAPE, but now I’m now applying this approach on a much more extensive basis.

I: What triggered the expansion of HBA Residential in London by the opening of a second international office? 

C.G.: We’d always planned to expand to London after establishing our methodology and developing an interesting body of work with our Singapore studio. Having spent two decades working as an architect and designer in London, it feels natural and progressive to be back since it’s the place I know best.

Our clientele is incredibly international and frequently moves through London whether to stop or as a launch pad to somewhere else, so there’s a wonderful synergy in having two studios working together on projects across a larger part of the globe. Now we can more easily service our clients as they travel since we have two design bases covering a wide range of time zones.

In the years to come, we plan to open other studios and become truly global by creating a wider offer for our international clientele.

Spending time with creative and passionate people always sparks my imagination.

I: If you had to choose one single architect who has provided a source of inspiration for you personally – who would it be and why?

C.G.: There are two parts to my answer: I’ve worked with many unknown people who have inspired me immensely in numerous different ways throughout my career. From my early-day mentors, my peers to the students I teach. Spending time with creative and passionate people always sparks my imagination. Within the current established profession, I really admire the rigorous pursuit and refined work of Sir David Chipperfield.

I: Which is your favourite building?

C.G.: Notre Dame du Haut, the chapel at Ronchamp, France designed by Le Corbusier. Visiting it is a seminal journey; only two trains go there per day, so you begin at dawn and then climb a hill to reach the chapel. It’s a real pilgrimage – a design conceived to be a complete, poetic experience perfectly woven into its environment. Le Corbusier reinvented the idea of a chapel to become a contemporary and original embodiment of the quintessential principles of ecclesiastic design, playing with light and the setting to evoke an emotional response. It’s truly inspired.

I: Which of your designs is your personal favourite and why? 

C.G.: As a designer, I don’t think it possible to have a ‘favourite’ or to be satisfied with your work as it’s a constant evolution – when satisfaction is achieved the journey has ended. That said, we have certain projects that allow us to better express our idiom: for example, currently under construction, we have been working on an “essay project” for the past three years, a 38,000 sq ft private residence in Mumbai that uniquely responds to the client’s character through its architecture and interiors, furniture design and art curation. The homeowner is extremely learned and highly engaged, which means the project responds not only to the site’s conditions and heritage, but also to his and three generations’ personalities and preferences. All aspects of the client’s lives, including religion, culture and art, have been carefully considered and distilled into something distinct yet harmonised. This home needs to accommodate large functions and also be a private, secure residence. It’s a truly personal response that fits with the physicality and cityscape of Mumbai whilst being attuned to the mosaic of religion and family.  The brief is to create an heirloom which will be handed down for many generations to come. This is as profound as it is inspiring.

I: How do you unwind?

C.G.: I’m not so good at unwinding, but living in the tropics with the sunshine and outdoor lifestyle certainly helps. I relax by being at home with my wife and son, who is nine and really good fun. With him I can switch off in a moment to become a kid again. I enjoy living very playfully through him.

I: What kind of music are you listening to at the moment?

C.G.: I have pretty varied tastes. I’m listening to artists like The National, Floating Points, Caribou, Ernest Ranglin and Jamie Woon, as well as new recent releases from Burial and Ghost Poet. I have a 70’s oriented airplane soundtrack of Van Morrison, Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash. Sundays are spent listening to BBC 6 Music and old classic Trojan records. I’m still really taken by Radiohead’s ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ album from last year.

I: What is your favourite colour?

C.G.: International Klein blue IKB 79; a shade invented by the artist Yves Klein who, through mixing ultramarine blue pigment with a synthetic resin, created a uniquely deep and brilliantly intense colour.





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