Since graduating from BCU in 2017, Jas Bhalla has become a rising star in the architectural world. Alongside managing his own interdisciplinary practice, Jas Bhalla Architects (JBA), he also sits on the Design Review Panel in Hounslow, Redbridge and Essex.
Specialising in architecture, urban design and town planning, JBA was recently awarded the William Sutton Prize for Affordable Housing Design and the Housing for a Better World Competition, established by Brick by Brick and the Stephen Lawrence Trust.
Out of the Ordinary
As part of the School of Architecture and Design’s Superstudio programme, Jas recently gave a talk to staff and students about his practice and the challenges of establishing his own company. Entitled Out of the Ordinary, Jas’ talk reflected JBA’s overriding ethos to ‘create interest, beauty and delight in everyday scenarios’.
Jas spoke about his interest in understanding the current pattern of creating identical, featureless developments of low quality housing stock. He speculated on the ways architects and town planners could challenge that system and create buildings that are architecturally interesting while also generating value for clients and the public.
“The overriding approach I have to practice is about the importance of narrative, so regardless of the scale of project you’re working on, you need a narrative that both you and the client, stakeholder or local authority buy into. It’s through shared values and narratives that you begin to evaluate what’s important to a project.”
Jas’s path into the profession was certainly unconventional! After initially completing a degree in Town Planning, Jas worked on new developments and regeneration masterplans at Allies and Morrison. With the 2008 financial crash came an opportunity to refocus and return to education and in 2011 Jas won a Fulbright Scholarship to study a postgraduate degree in architecture at Yale University. Upon returning to the UK, he wanted to qualify as an architect and came to BCU to retrospectively complete Part 1 of his qualification.
Jas praised the flexibility and generosity of the School of Architecture and Design, and spoke of his wish to contribute to the ongoing conversation of how the industry can challenge routes into qualification to make the profession more accessible and diverse.
40 under 40
With a wealth of interdisciplinary skills and a drive to affect positive social change through his work, Jas has been tipped for great things and was last year named in Architect’s Journal’s prestigious 40 under 40 list, a once in a generation award that was last published in 2005 to celebrate the UK’s most exciting emerging architectural talent.
Talking to Architect’s Journal, Jas commented on the lack of diversity in the architecture profession: “Young architecture graduates from BAME and working-class backgrounds still lack role models, as I did. I hope my firm can begin to fill this void.”
Speaking to lecturer Alessandro Columbano following his talk at BCU, Jas expanded on this idea: “In the last 12 months, certainly with all the protests around Black Lives Matter, there has been a paradigm shift in architecture. There was a framework produced recently which named 110 practices in an extremely diverse borough of South London, however there wasn’t a single practice led by a black architect, despite the local population of being 25% black and almost 50% non-white.
It highlighted not only the lack of diversity, but an ongoing issue where places that are undergoing tremendous change are often the most diverse places but the people doing the work have very little lived experience that relates to the challenges the residents are facing. I think those factors have led towards a renewed focus on diversity in every sense: gender, race and one of the things I think is most important, class and access to wealth.”
Valuing your experience
When asked to share his advice to students on making the most of their time at university and taking their next steps into industry, Jas encouraged them not to overlook the value of their own life experience: “All experiences are equally valid so just because you may not have grown up going to galleries and visiting exquisite modernist housing, it doesn’t mean that you’re not interacting with architecture in a useful or meaningful way. You might live in a multi-generational house with your grandad and a cousin, and you can still critically understand what it is about your environment that works or how you could improve it. There are so many different views and understandings that are useful and informative and I’m hopeful that in 10 or 20 years’ time, it’s seen as much more accessible career path.”
Our congratulations go to Jas on his inclusion in the 40 under 40 list from all at Birmingham School of Architecture and Design, and our thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking talk.
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