Emma Rutherford establishes new practice – General Office


This month our Associate Emma Rutherford leaves Maccreanor Lavington, to establish a new practice – General Office. We sat down with Emma this week to hear more about her future plans. Whilst we are always sorry to have valued staff leave us, we are genuinely looking forward to seeing what’s next for Emma and her co-director Richard Hall, formerly of East.  


Emma, can you tell us about the motivation and intention you and Richard Hall have for General Office?


We love working with the reality of the contemporary city, with all it’s physical, social, economic, political and logistic parameters. Rather than a hindrance to creativity, we believe that engaging directly with these conditions in a concentrated way is the route to exciting, useful and sustainable architecture. Importantly, General Office aims to operate in this context without preconceptions. Our emphasis is on the process; employing openness, pragmatism and a conscious economy of means in order to locate design where it counts.

We want to work across the full range of scales and uses that make up the city. This is something we have individually experienced in practice and began testing whilst working together in Philadelphia. We have both been fortunate to work in offices with clear sensibilities towards architecture and the city, and we’re looking forward to articulating our own priorities through practice.


You have aways combined practice and teaching – what benefits does this connection to academia bring to your as practitioners?


Our academic work is really focussed on exposing the exciting and surprising possibilities of engaging with reality. Not necessarily about making students into little project architects straight away, but certainly emphasising that reality is often more exotic than imagined alternatives.

This was the case with the Comfortable Home LSA Design Think Tank I was part of with Maccreanor Lavington last year. The brief was concerned with making small adjustments to the requirements set out in policy, to explore how a residential building could accommodate change over time. With his colleagues at East, Richard’s teaching at London Met was also focused on working with found reality.

We are currently exploring similar themes this year with our students at the Welsh School of Architecture. There, the unit is working in central Cardiff on fixed sites and a brief that takes-up the challenge of designing speculative development. The aim is to design precise and responsive projects that contribute positively at an urban scale and can accommodate a range of scenarios, rather than a single fixed use. This approach of using parameters or limits as a stimulus is very similar to our own design methodology.

It’s of course also enjoyable to have reflective and speculative conversations with our students and to see the projects develop over the year.


You both bring a wealth of experience – how will this contribute to you shaping your new practice’s ambitions?


We really enjoy being architects and through the offices we have worked at we’ve engaged in a deliberately broad range of projects. We have worked across scales, sectors and stages. Richard has extensive experience leading projects across scales at East, from urban strategies to buildings and, as well as working in architectural practice I’ve previously worked at a much larger strategic scale as an urban designer at Publica.

Our experience has also included less traditional ways of practicing. Prior to me joining Maccreanor Lavington, we worked together in the US for a couple of years, leading the design client side within a small development company, on the adaptive reuse of a vast former vocation school as affordable workspaces, public and community uses. This includes a strategic framework for the building’s reuse as well as the detailed design and delivery of important projects.

The range of projects was one of the reasons I was interested in working at Maccreanor Lavington when we returned to the UK. Here, I’ve been fortunate to work on projects from co-design brief making at Lancaster West to construction and delivery at Varcoe Road. I am equally interested in the technical resolution of a project and its urban strategy, and it has been very valuable to develop projects across workstages in this office. Most recently from the initial stages to tender delivery on Silvertown Quays.

For both of us, working on residential projects is a fantastic way to understand the mechanisms that determine how the city is built, and to engage in that process directly. It has also meant working on complex projects with complex teams. We’re excited by this and look forward to continuing to bring clarity to complex situations.


Thank you, Emma, for your time, we wish you and your co-director Richard Hall every success with General Office.






Richard Lavington and Emma Rutherford