Architecture can be a career with many twists and turns, and a good dose of the unexpected
Alumni spotlight | Steve McCloy - BA (Hons) Architecture
My name is Steve McCloy, I spent my early childhood in Nairobi, Kenya before moving to the UK (first to Norwich but then up to Leeds), and have a keen and eclectic interest in arts, science and the pursuits of imagination and daydreaming... and books. I have designed all sorts: furniture, temporary installations, civic buildings, urban plans, polar research stations, theatres, eco-homes, shoes, scarves, jewellery and a bamboo bicycle.
- Course: BA (Hons) Architecture
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you've been doing since you graduated
I’m a designer, fully qualified architect and research author. I co-founded the design and architecture studio McCloy + Muchemwa (aka McMu) with a fellow Leeds Met (now Leeds Beckett) graduate, Bongani Muchemwa in 2017 – the studio could be said to be involved in the UK’s ‘emerging scene’ and our small public commissions have landed us a place on the Architects’ Journal 40 Under 40 profiles in the RIBA Journal and Wallpaper magazine, and with opportunities to teach and lecture. The collaboration between myself and Bongani has been fruitful ever since we were students together, and we take pride that we were able to complete several ‘realised’ architectural and temporary schemes before the age of 30 – you see architecture is perhaps an unusual discipline / profession where being considered ‘young’ extends well into your 40s!
I think I could be described as an optimist. My time at university was completely transformational, upon leaving my mind was suitably expanded and I believed that I could really do anything. Moreover, I had such a wonderful exposure to the possibilities of architecture and city planning that I can confidently claim that our collective built environment needs a radical overhaul!
What have been the highlights and challenges of your career so far?
You cannot expect to graduate and land directly on your feet with an independent architectural practice straight from uni. So, in the meantime, I have completed my studies at The Bartlett, UCL, have moved to China and back where I worked with Ma Yansong / MAD on the designs for Harbin Opera House and Huangshan Mountain Village Resort. I have cut my teeth on major civic projects with Allford Hall Monaghan Morris with the new headquarters of New Scotland Yard for the Metropolitan Police in central London and with the radical refurbishment of the Grade II-listed 1 Finsbury Avenue.
Architecture can be a career with many twists and turns, and a good dose of the unexpected – it’s fun to remind myself that I have worked in the design of structures and urbanism for every continent on Earth (including Antarctica!), and even contributed to serious schemes for Mars.
In 2018 I joined Hugh Broughton Architects, well known for their design of the Halley VI Antarctic Research Station. The practice is at the forefront of design for extreme and remote regions, as well as being an authority on modular and off-site construction. I was most drawn to the company by a fascination with the challenging of assumptions regarding the construction of buildings and the design of spaces.
Not considering myself a UK native, I am always appalled and dumbfounded by the unshakeable preconceptions of what architecture ‘should be’ or what horrendous form of pastiche almost ubiquitously passes for ‘fitting in’ or ‘what people like’. I would also posit that there is a conservative tendency to undermine the whole spatial heritage of the social democratic movement in the UK for political gain.
How has your experience studying at Leeds beckett influenced you and your career?
At Leeds Met (as it was then) I was lucky enough to find supportive and thoughtful tutors, fun classmates and a studio space that were really conducive for learning, collaboration and finding out more about myself. It wasn’t long before I realised that the main library was extremely well stocked for architecture and was open 24 hours a day – it was such a luxury, and sowed the seeds of my book obsession and awareness about the breadth and intensity of the global architecture scene and specifically the well-established heritage of the avant-garde.
We used to discuss our projects in the library after the Architecture School closed, and between three of us (Dan Mason, Bo Muchemwa and myself) would engage in some sort of quasi-Socratic method that we thought would give our projects a certain ‘edge’. In fact, we weren’t necessarily the most diligent students on the course as distractibility was definitely a thing, and at times modules needed to be re-taken or essays needed a re-think. In hindsight, the general solid foundations (no pun intended) that the School’s teaching gave us, and its organised structure, facilitated a second layer of experience which supported our perhaps more auto-didactic, experimental attitude.
What advice would you give someone thinking about studying this course?
If you are thinking about taking the BA (Hons) Architecture course, you might think that your only future career options are either doing house extensions in the suburbs or perhaps that you are going to be on Grand Designs – but that simply isn’t the case.
A great thing about an architecture course is that it is broken down into Part I, Part II and Part III – where at each stage people go off on wonderful tangents. There are opportunities to become involved in social and societal aspects of planning and design, or there are opportunities to go into technical and technological aspects of the profession. And it’s a really exciting and intense course too!
Architecture is great for strategic and applied critical thinking, whilst also synthesising aesthetic and sensory sensibility with societal aspirations and urban experience. I’d recommend reading around before making a decision and visiting different cities – there is, and should be, space for an expanded diversity of approaches and motivations to become involved in the discipline.
What's next for you?
Having just released the book Once Upon a China that I co-authored with Professor CJ Lim, I’m looking forward to the official launch and lectures. McCloy + Muchemwa has a few projects that are coming to fruition and it’s always a really happy, rewarding time when a project has completed and is a success. Otherwise, we are putting a lot of our efforts into vying for significant public projects through open and invited architectural competitions, whilst remaining super open to collaborations and private commissions. I am excited for some small roles too, including becoming a practice mentor at the Royal College of Art and having a place on the steering group of Project Office Leeds. The latter is an RIBA chartered practice that is a collaboration of staff and students at Leeds Beckett University, and is involved in designing and making ethical, social and resilient architecture with like-minded communities, organisations, local authorities and individuals, whilst giving students real-life educational experiences on ‘live projects’ – I think this is a very innovative programme and helps Leeds Beckett to uniquely stand out from some top academic or research-heavy schools in London.
WHAT WILL YOUR STORY BE?
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