Amanda Levete: the architect building the future
London. Architect Amanda Levete opens the door to her Islington home and leads the way into her library-office. Sun streams through the open window, pooling light over rows of books that are stacked from floor to ceiling at the far end of the room. It’s an eclectic hoard. Tony Blair hangs out with Vivienne Westwood and Hogarth amid compendiums on design and architecture. On the top row, The Catcher in the Rye shares shelf space with The Girl on the Train.
It’s a distillation of the interests of a family. Ben Evans, Levete’s husband, is director of the London Design Festival and co-founder of the city’s Design Biennale; and until recently the couple shared their home with four now-grown children.
Levete, of course, has worked her architectural magic on the period terrace house, which appears like any other from the street but is Tardis-like inside, opening into a glass-punctured living space of epic proportions. “It’s a really big social space,” she says. “Four years ago, for my 60th birthday, we had a sit-down dinner for 110 people.”
The architect describes her home as the place she feels most rooted. “It’s a refuge, a place to be with family,” she says. “Creating that framework where you can deal with everything that life throws at you is very important.”
We sit on a leather sofa below a sash window, fanned by a gentle breeze. Levete, dressed casually in a white shirt and jeans, wedges herself into a corner of the couch, tucking her bare feet beneath her, with me on the other. I immediately feel at home. But then this is an architect known for creating spaces you want to spend time in.
Although enormously well recognised among her own peer group, Levete and AL_A – the practice she established in 2009 alongside co-directors Ho-Yin Ng, Alice Dietsch and Maximiliano Arrocet – are most known for their work on the contemporary wing of London’s V&A’s Exhibition Road Quarter (2017), which includes the Sackler courtyard, whose design incorporates 11,000 handmade porcelain tiles. Or for the sweeping futuristic vision of Lisbon’s Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, better known as the MAAT, a building so spectacular that it attracted more than 80,000 visitors on its opening day (some 14 per cent of the city’s population). The building has been credited with helping to regenerate the waterfront area to the west of the metropolis, a typical Levete project that sets the mind racing.
AL_A’s current projects include the radical £42m transformation of Scotland’s Paisley Museum, due to open in 2022, which will add a red glazed entrance hall to the neoclassical building. But most exciting are the projects that will take the business into the future. The first is research into a new material it’s calling “transparent wood” – a collaboration with Sonia Antoranz Contera, professor of biological physics at Oxford University, taking biophilic design into the space age.
“We are exploring how we can use nature to grow the materials of the future and to imagine how innovative materials can help us live better together with nature,” Levete says of their scientific explorations,…