Practice Profile: T2S Architecture


Born in the pandemic, T2S Architecture embodies adaptability, cultural diversity, and a distinctive design ethos. Tom Boddy speaks to the founder about the pillars of the practice’s approach, in the context of the industry’s evolving challenges

Founded in May 2021 amidst the turmoil of the pandemic, T2S Architecture presents a distinctive fusion of agility and diversity that defines the essence of the firm. Since its inception, the firm has gone from strength to strength, cultivating a robust, sustainability-targeted ethos and a distinctive approach to both clients and projects.

Tom Slater, founder of T2S, studied architecture in Liverpool. Despite his love for the city, a mix of both personal and professional reasons drove him to London, where he says he “jumped up a level professionally.”

Ascending the ranks to architectural director, Slater eventually got the urge to establish his own practice during the pandemic.
As T2S was founded during such an uncertain period, one trait that has been instilled into the practice is its ability to adapt and remain flexible. With every team member equipped to be remote, the firm can navigate disruptions such as train strikes and other external challenges.

Evolving from a solo endeavour in 2021 to now an office of five based near London Bridge, the practice has maintained steady and sustainable growth. Tom says that as the firm expands, focusing on his staff is fundamental: “Every time we grow, I need to make sure I can protect what we have.”

The office comprises individuals from “all around the world,” and this tapestry of cultures and nationalities was the result of both deliberate and organic processes, explains Slater. Recognising the value of varied perspectives and inspirations, there was a conscious effort to foster cultural diversity in the workplace. According to Slater, “People from different parts of the world have different perceptions and draw inspiration from different sources.” This mix allows Slater and his team to be exposed to different ways of thinking, enhancing their creative skills. Given London’s inherent diversity, this integration also unfolded quite naturally during the recruitment process.

Reverence for refurb & fresh design

At the heart of T2S’ ethos lies a profound reverence for existing structures, a sentiment echoed by its founder, tracing his appreciation back to a GCSE graphics project where he chose to explore the refurbishment of an old mill in his hometown of Burton on Trent. He says: “I realised there was something beautiful about refurbishing old buildings,” adding that demolishing structures with decades of history “should be a last resort.”

The company’s commitment to the restoration of buildings also reflects a broader sustainability perspective. This approach is not merely nostalgic; it aligns with the industry’s “growing sustainability consciousness,” he says. Recognising the importance of embodied energy, the company prioritises the retention and enhancement of existing structures over demolition, as shown in its portfolio.

T2S also embraces higher density, tied into Slater’s love for cities, combined with the belief that promoting denser designs for prime locations with nearby infrastructure, supports sustainability. “If we enhance and increase the size of an existing building with a tube line nearby, we’re encouraging people to use public transport instead of, for example, using cars.” This resonates with contemporary urban planning concepts like the 15-minute city, promoting living with easy access to services and workplaces.

The practice’s design process begins with a thorough study of the local area to understand the urban ‘grain’ and examine existing architectural types. The designers extract valuable insights from this that help them understand the parameters and constraints influencing the design, and rather than seeing them as barriers, they “look to celebrate them.”

This research includes the creation of simple sketches that react and respond to the project’s site context. These can be “very evocative forms” that serve as the project’s foundation, as a reference to ensure subsequent design elements such as window forms, materiality, and detailing naturally complement the overall structure. By contrast, he says, design pitfalls arise when initial early forms are poorly conceived, but attempts are made to salvage them using ‘interesting’ materials later on – “by this point, it is too late!” Slater adds: “You needed to have that conversation six months earlier, to create a form that is interesting in of itself.”

Varied portfolio

Some projects that exemplify the practice’s contextual diversity include their mixed use project in Dalston, east London which transformed an existing building on a high street disfigured by a World War II bombing raid. The original replacement, being in a different style to neighbours, prompted the practice to reinstate the classic Victorian frontage. “This was a project where we allowed the site context to drive the design.”

In contrast, residential projects like Friern Park and Victoria Road in Barnet presented a more modernist approach. In these instances, the site context lacked architectural inspiration, but this allowed the architects to initiate a fresh and original design. Both of these small apartment blocks present an elegant mix of carefully detailed brick facades, and generous apertures bringing in light.

T2S Architecture’s approach to working with clients is marked by a process that includes early consideration of commercial potential and a strong emphasis on fire strategy. When clients bring forth potential sites, the architects swiftly generate sketches, 3D views, and plans to illustrate the commercial possibilities. A distinctive feature of T2S’ approach is their proactive integration of fire strategy considerations into the early stages of design, particularly in the post-Grenfell environment.

“One major issue with that tragedy is how the fire brigade couldn’t get close enough as the buildings in the area were too tight,” explains Slater. This has influenced their design process so that each project has a well-conceived design on compliance and overall project feasibility, supported by a close relationship with clients. “One thing we are good at is how we take clients through the whole process,” says Slater. “We’re able to build buildings and we’re able to design buildings,” contributing to the strong relationships they foster with clients.

Slater explains further the pragmatic benefits of the firm’s design approach: “If you can’t build a building, then you can’t design one.” He adds: “I’m a big believer in being an all-rounder – technical and creativity feed into one another; it’s symbiotic.”

Remaining ahead of industry developments is a constant challenge, says Slater, who coaches his team to remember that architecture has a ‘10-year cycle.’ He believes that the industry is undergoing a new cycle post-Covid, and it’s essential to stay relevant, as those who fall behind find it challenging to re-enter the current scene.

He believes that technology and AI are key examples. While Slater says that AI has already been adopted in “a lot of practices,” the broader implications on individuals, communities, and professions remain uncertain. “It’s a challenge that I don’t think society is talking about enough.” Answering the question of whether the architecture industry is prepared for AI, he says “I don’t have the answer, but it’s something that I’m thinking about and we will need to adapt in the future.”

The practice’s future goals involve sustained growth and an expanded client base. With an eye on the Government’s heightened attention to the housing crisis, T2S aims to engage in more Government-backed competitions, particularly focusing on housing frameworks. Slater envisions positioning the practice at the forefront of such initiatives, stating, “While it’s not something we’re doing at the moment, in five years I want us to be involved.”