Walk the walk is our series where we ask creatives about getting started in the creative industry, or their inspirations behind certain projects. Product designer and creative Jack Young tells us about his Instagram side project 'The Council House’. Read on to find career inspiration for young creatives on how to balance side projects alongside creative work, why social media can be used to showcase more meaningful work and how to find creative inspiration in your every day.
What inspired 'The Council House' Instagram account?
Council housing is as much a part of London as Big Ben or Buckingham Palace, woven into the very foundations of our city. While some estates have garnered an almost cult following and others may even be celebrated by a wider audience, the vast majority are overlooked and dismissed as undesirable blips in London’s skyline. I believe there is a beauty to be found in each of them and for a long time have been fascinated by the individualism of each estate; no two are the same in design or history. The Council House is a documentation of those two elements, using photography and informative write-ups to give the estates the recognition I believe they deserve; maybe even changing perceptions as I go.
How did the Instagram account develop?
Instagram felt like a natural first home for the project. The low barrier to entry, partnered with the platform’s immediate nature, allowed me as a creator to get my project out there and in front of an audience incredibly quickly. From there, it’s been a constant cycle of exploring, photographing, editing, researching and writing; all crammed into any time I can find in between work and life. As the project grows and my Instagram post-count increases, it’s very exciting to see an audience and community form around their shared interest in the page.
Did you intend it to become a project?
The Council House was a personal obsession of mine long before I would have called it a project. It started with walks around The Barbican Centre on my lunch break and quickly escalated to researching lesser-known estates nearer to home in South London. As my obsession grew, I felt I needed a proper outlet. I think it’s at this crossroads where I began thinking of it as a ‘project’; a label I much prefer to ‘Instagram account’, which sounds too much like I’m trying to flog weight-loss tea on my new fitness page. I think I always intended for it to be more than an Instagram account, what that is yet I haven’t quite worked out, but ‘project’ gives it legs to break out of the four walls of Instagram.
What is it about the architecture of council houses that inspires you?
If you distill the concept of council housing architecture down and really simplify it, each brief to architects would have been very similar. Something like ‘design an estate catering to X amount of persons, per acre and do it as cheaply as possible’. Yet, the results are all vastly different with each architect adding their unique expertise to the project. I think this can be translated to any creative practice; there are infinite ways to answer a brief, don’t follow the crowd and do you.
Council housing at its very core is human-centred. Although this has become a bit of a buzz-word in other creative circles, it really was a guiding principle for many architects way before it was adopted by creative agencies. Take, for example, Kate Macintosh’s Dawson's Heights in Dulwich, where Macintosh managed to incorporate private balconies into all 296 flats; justifying the extravagance by combining their use as fire escapes. She also designed the estate to be completely vehicle-free, creating a safe pedestrianised estate.
What do you find interesting about documenting spaces in general?
Documenting space, in a purely visual capacity, is a journey of constant discovery. You start to look at spaces in different ways, it opens your eyes. You see new things in places and streets which you thought you knew like the back of your hand. I find it incredibly fulfilling to find something which perhaps most people would walk past without a second glance.
What do you use to take photos?
I take the photos using a Sony a6000. It’s years old now and definitely not the most professional camera out there, but it’s small enough to sling over my shoulder as I cycle around the city and a good reminder that the best camera is the one you have with you!
What inspires the style of the photos?
The project to some extent is inspired by The Modern House. I think they have absolutely nailed their visual identity, through design as well as the photography they use. I can spend hours, open-mouthed, scrolling through pages of homes I could never afford, garnering both interior as well as photographic inspiration. They understand the role that quality photography can have on influencing a buyer’s perception of a subject; a skill which I am hoping to use to open viewers’ eyes to the beauty of bricks and concrete.
How have people reacted to the Instagram account so far?
Before answering, I think it’s important to note that I went into this with zero expectations. If people hadn’t reacted well, or if it had been left unnoticed at the bottom of Instagram’s forgotten scrapheap, I would have continued regardless; viewing the project instead as a personal journal. I think it’s important to do self-initiated projects for yourself first and foremost, and the learning and growth I am gaining personally is as much reason to continue as any follower count. However, it is incredibly rewarding to have received such a positive reaction. It feels like there is a real community of people who have a shared interest in the architecture of council housing. My hope, as the project grows, is to introduce more people who may currently sit outside of this community to the subject.
What do you do outside of this and how did you get started in the creative industry?
After a stint in the world of advertising, I’ve now found my passion in Product Design. However, you won’t find me designing furniture or physical hardware; I’m more at home working on a website or mobile app.
What are the inspirations in your creative work, and what is the importance to you of expressing yourself in ways outside of your day-to-day as a creative?
Despite having a creative day job, working on client briefs intended to fulfill the needs of others can become tiring and at times you may start to forget why you fell in love with the creative industry altogether. Side projects for me work as a bit of a reset button. A playpen for you to express your creative vision without boundaries, giving you the opportunity to learn or flex a skill that may not be directly linked to your day-to-day. This revitalised mindset will bleed back into your paid work; win-win!
Do you think social media has a powerful role to play in sharing inspiration?
I think the ‘social’ element of social media is incredibly powerful when it comes to educating and inspiring. Social media, in its very nature, encourages debate; turning inspiration and learning into a community driven activity. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon, with the power of a good book having always had this effect. However, I feel social media opens this up to a wider audience than ever. As well as this, it creates a very open way of working. Posting online removes the option to work in-silo as your audience and followers are able to provide constant feedback; allowing creators to showcase more meaningful and tailored work.
Who else inspires you?
As I delve deeper into the project, I find myself being influenced by many of the architects behind these buildings. I would count Berthold Lubetkin (an architect who influenced the animal kingdom as much as he did social housing, by designing the penguin pool at London Zoo as well as the brilliant Spa Green Estate) and of course Chamberlin, Powell and Bon (of Barbican fame) as current inspirations. Stepping away from architecture, I find myself inspired by anyone who can tell a good story and capture my interest in a subject, especially a subject which may be unfamiliar to me. I recently visited the ‘FOOD: Bigger than the Plate’ exhibition at the V&A, where the combination of set design, graphic design, and even food design created a captivating narrative that introduced and excited me about a topic which I was no expert in.
What Instagram accounts inspire you?
So many to choose from. Some of my favourites are:
@themodernhouse - Follow for serious house envy. The photography is also on point.
@historicengland - An account where the captions are as insightful as the photographs. Follow to keep learning.
@savecundyandwalden - Recently residents of Walden House and Cundy Street won a battle against the Duke of Westminster who was attempting to flatten their Belgravia council blocks. Follow for an example of how social media can be a force for good.
@barbicancentre - They run a fantastic ‘Instagrammer in Residence’ series where for a month a new photographer or creator takes over the account. Follow for fresh takes on London’s most iconic brutalist estate.
If this project didn’t live on social media, where would it be?
The temporary nature of social media sometimes leaves me craving something more concrete (excuse the brutalist pun). Doing digital design as a day job, the idea of breaking out of the digital space altogether is an idea which excites me. I would love to eventually challenge myself by transferring the project to a tangible medium, somewhere which would act as a more permanent home.