Jak and Robert Ollett of Eudaimon urban sustainable design practice talk to Rachel Johnstone about being at Hamilton House since its early ‘desolate, squat-like’ days, their part in the area’s re-development, and their vision for the future.
Plants reach from all directions towards the sunlight. The air is an oxygen-heavy fug. This oasis of jungly greenery is like a capsule of rainforest, except that amongst the leaves are hi-spec computers and visible beyond them is the concrete greyness of City Road. Welcome to the headquarters of Eudaimon, Jak and Robert Ollett’s base since they moved into Hamilton House in 2009.
When they first arrived the building was boarded-up, uninhabited for years and sheltering street-drinkers. Inside it was ‘desolate and cold’. Jak remembers how ‘nothing worked and the bathrooms were caked in pigeon shit’. Yet founders Jamie Pike and Ollie Wells were persuasive in their vision for the project, and the Olletts grasped the opportunity to set up in a vast empty space, and be part of the regeneration.
The Hamilton House community grew, with everyone pitching in to transform the building into a functioning workspace. Once the only tenants on their deserted floor, Jak now finds ‘unexpected meetings, happenings and opportunities around every corner'.
From their office-come-horticultural laboratory the Ollets spread their unique vision of urban living. Whilst it’s tempting to dream of countryside idylls, they face the realities of city-life head on, and refuse to retreat. With a projected 80% of the world’s population living in cities by 2030 (up from 50% now) Robert describes their aim to make our streets ‘a more positive mental landscape and to affect institutions that already exist rather than saying “screw the institutions”’.
With their ‘Urban Watering Hole’ design Eudaimon won the vote to re-develop the triangle of waste-strewn land at the junction of Stokes Croft and City Road. Their vision for the new space has an evergreen vertical garden and art display area, as well as Bristol’s only public water fountain and manual bicycle pump. It’s an exciting, prestigious job, the first substantial pot of money the council is spending on the area. The Olletts foresee all varieties of local life being drawn to the spot – wildlife to inhabit and feed on the plants, people to use the resources and have ‘new levels of dialogue around interesting, inspiring things’. The corner project has been two years in development, and with final approvals will become a reality this summer.
Eudaimon’s ongoing vision is to create a Stokes Croft ‘corridor of biodiversity’, developing under-used areas to create a matrix of healthy green spaces. City life doesn’t have to be concrete-coloured: from their urban jungle Eudaimon show that the future of Stokes Croft can be an inviting shade of green.