Mule: we talk to the Tottenham based design studio

Mule Studio are based in Greenhouse Studios on Markfield Road in Tottenham. They work across engineering and complex modelling, architecture, industrial design, teaching and consultancy. Harri Lewis and Jack Munro, who run the studio, met whilst grading and consulting on some grad students work at Westminster University.

Harri Jack
Harri (left) and Jack (right)

Harri comes from an engineering background and Jack has an architectural background. Although they work on many client led projects, the duo like to come up with their own ideas and are often looking at how they can do something differently, innovatively and sustainably. Jack: ‘Most of our work is focused on materials and construction processes and trying to do them in a slightly different way, a more intelligent way.’

Working on their own brief and designing the project before focusing on getting funding allows them to have more creative freedom. Jack: ‘We try to come up with our own projects, design, research and develop them ourselves and then at that point try and pitch them to clients.’

Mule are currently working on a variety of projects across a range of different scales. This includes a local park project in Tottenham, a watch (the first Kick Starter campaign has just ended), a table, some lighting and a project which involves designing a network of unique holiday cabins for a forest retreat. They also work for a microphone company, Aston, which is part owned by Jack and his Dad.

A few months after they first met, Harri, who was working at an engineering company at the time, reached out to Jack when they needed an architect for a project. This was the first project that they worked on together. They had the idea of producing an inflatable cloud that looked like it was suspended in mid air over a bar in the Lloyd’s Building in London. In 2011, the Lloyd’s building was the youngest structure to receive Grade 1 listed status. Unfortunately, the project never came to fruition due to planning permissions but showed Harri and Jack that they worked well together.

Lloyd’s design

Jack: ‘I think we are both slightly mad inventors at heart.’

Harri: ‘We were both frustrated about our separate industries – that they weren’t very inventive. A lot of times as a structural engineer you were given a building and you had to say whether it would stand up using all these methods that had already been proven. I think I thought that engineering would be more inventive.’

They both went off and did their own thing for a while before going full time at Mule for the last couple of years. Harri worked as a computational designer at a big architecture practice, Foster and Partners, and Jack did some work for an architecture company called Ordinary.

Harri and Jack told DT what led them both to a career in design. Jack: ‘I always liked designing stuff and making things. I always thought I’d be an engineer but decided I wanted to do something with more of a design edge to it. Architecture seemed like the obvious choice, it’s building, it’s maths and technical, but more design focused.’

Harri: ‘I studied engineering and always had my eye out for cool exciting versions of it. I had a list and one was roller coaster design. Whenever I felt a bit down about engineering, I thought, there’s roller coaster engineering, or there’s ski lift engineering. At least I can go skiing and snow boarding.’

‘I started working as an engineer and disappointingly found that they were doing things in a slightly boring way and started teaching myself a lot of interesting skills. I’ve always thought 3D design was amazing. It was luck that those skills became really handy and quite hot in the industry.’

Mule are currently working on pop up holiday cabins for a forest. Part of their criteria is that the cabins have no impact on the environment. Harri: ‘Each section is almost like a flat pack box and then you add all those together to get an entire shape.’

Jack: ‘It builds in a lot of features which we know are really important. For example, all the materials to build it can be carried by hand into the site, it leaves no permanent mark on the landscape, there’s no foundations, you can take it away and there’s virtually no damage, no marks at all… these are all things that we know are challenges. If you want to build a cabin in the middle of a forest, on the side of a mountain, where no road goes, how do you get materials there? How do you get a concrete mixer there to pour foundations? You can’t do those things.’

They enjoy coming up with new ideas to solve problems. Harri told us about a challenge they had been given by a company that create interactive design products. One of the employees of a large advertising agency passed away and they wanted something to remember her by. ‘They came to us with a challenge to take someone’s favourite song and put it onto a wooden plaque. We got the data from the song and then carved it using a computer cutting machine. We carved the wave form into a giant record…[on to a] beautiful piece of wood.’

Aston halo reflection filter and mic

Another product that they were keen to tell us about was their halo reflection filter for Aston made with PET felt (recycled plastic bottles). A reflection filter acts a bit like a portable recording booth helping to prevent acoustics and sounds from a room entering a microphone. Their design is unique due to it’s shape. Jack: ‘All the previous ones are half a cylinder so you don’t shield yourself from the floor or the ceiling.’

They try to use renewable or incredibly long lasting materials. Jack: ‘Materials should be renewable or biodegradable, very easy to get rid of, or they should last forever and be useful forever…’

Mule teamed up with Aston and designed a microphone which is virtually indestructible. They recently had a microphone returned to them. Jack: ‘About nine months ago there was a huge gas explosion at a studio complex and the entire building was rubble. This guy had just bought one of our microphones and his studio was in that building. He sent the mic back into Aston and it was completely fully functioning with barely a scratch on it. He’d been in there with the fire brigade going through the studio. Everything was dust except our microphone which was almost untouched… He recorded a video post with the mic that came out of the explosion. Either indestructible and eternal or renewable and sustainable is the general philosophy.’

When we interviewed Jack and Harri, they were also working on a design for a watch under the name Cloak watches. They have just succesfully met their target for the project on Kick Starter. Jack: ‘The theory behind it is everyone has a smart phone which is the most accurate time telling device in the history of man kind and having that on you at all times basically frees up your wrist watch to be much more expressive than it was before.’

Harri: ‘In many ways it’s the anti smart watch. We’re using natural materials like stone and wood.’

Jack: ‘We have faces that are made of really interesting and beautiful materials. Sintered stones, different metals.’

The watch will only have an hour hand and will use magnets so there is no mechanical connection. This means elements of the design can be easily switched. ‘You can sacrifice a bit of that hardcore accuracy and in exchange get a really expressive watch that you can customise. It’s very minimal… I think what we’re really excited about is it’s amazing how much it changes. You can change the bezel and the face and it becomes a completely different feeling watch.’

Cloak watches

Mule have found Tottenham to be a great place for their studio. They have access to many manufacturers and builders which can be utilised when looking for materials or outsourcing some of the work that they do on their projects. Jack: ‘It’s really well connected in terms of the other people that are here and the range of industries.’ They’ve found that many of the local businesses are incredibly friendly and helpful. Harri: ‘The wood veneer factory were incredibly friendly, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a friendly bunch as that, giving us free samples.’

Mule also are working on a local park project on Stamford Road in Tottenham and have also teamed up with architect and designer Sash Scott. The council don’t seem to have any records on the park’s name so Mule would like to look at getting local kids involved in renaming it. It is currently known as Stamford Road Park and Harri and Jack have joined up with a local Friends of Parks group who help with its upkeep. After a conversation with another local business, which backs on to the park, Harri and Jack were asked if they knew how to improve the space without any ownership.

Harri: ‘We did a flyer campaign to see if anyone in the area was interested in helping out. It turned out there were people already trying to help it so we combined forces with the Friends of Stamford Road Park. I walk to work everyday and about five times now someone in the street has waved and said hello because of that park meeting. That’s something I’ve never had in London before.’

Homes for Haringey own the land and there is a new housing development going in next to the park. The main body of the park will be redone by the developers but the back corner of the site is where Mule are getting involved. Their plans are to design a building to replace a corner of the park which is currently attracting a lot of rubbish and has been nicknamed toilet corner. Mule plan to manage the building and will be fundraising for the project.

Suggested design for Stamford Road Park

Harri: ‘The Friends [of Stamford Road Park] have agreed that, in order to solve the problem on that corner, the best thing to do is to infill it with a new building. We’re in the very early stages of working things out with Homes for Haringey and funding bodies. The idea is to be a combination of work space with, most likely, a cafe that fronts on to the park and provides a hub that is the focal point of the park.’

Jack: ‘It will have a strong social agenda. The idea is to have something along the lines of an apprenticeship scheme. Local kids can come in and do apprenticeships with people who are in those work spaces or maybe some evening educational classes. The idea is that it should be a community focused building and not just a private work space. A portion of the revenue from the building will go back into the park for maintenance, improvements and new equipment.’

Harri: ‘We’re relatively new to the area but what we’re trying to do with this project is not to have a situation where creative industries come into an area and exist completely separately from it or benefit from the improvements and either just leave or displace people. We’ve noticed a massive change here since last Jan… if we can do anything to help that work better than previous times… that’s a good thing.’

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