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Surviving and thriving, an interview with Studio Knight Stokoe

by | 01 Feb 24 | Landscape Architecture, News, Opinion | 0 comments

As Studio Knight Stokoe completes its first year in business, its clientele has jumped miles ahead of its expectations, taking on the first example of commercial roof gardens in the UK.

A studio that designs things simply, beautifully, and with multifunctionality and long-term care in mind, Studio Knight Stokoe blends artisanal craft and technology with a love of patina and texture. 

Made up of its two founding directors, landscape architects Claire Stokoe and Martin Knight, Studio Knight Stokoe turns to places that celebrate nature.

Completing their first year as a practice, Stokoe and Knight both explored the industry alongside their love of art, design, and sustainability.

“Leaving school, I decided that I was going to do something that I enjoyed and followed my instinct,” says Stokoe. Searching for something creative, she began an art foundation and fine art degree, focusing on the history of art at the University of Manchester before a short stint working for an art collector.

After quickly realising that she wanted to have a positive impact environmentally and work in a sector that was both meaningful and beneficial, the first port of call was landscape architecture.

“It seemed to tick all the boxes, so I got myself an internship and gave it a go, and I’m still enjoying it 12 years later.”

Having the personal benefit of seeing her ideas brought to life, as well as the ability to create uplifting and special places for people, Stokoe says: “It’s a profession that involves creative problem solving, collaborative projects, and having a positive impact on the natural environment.”

“I suppose Claire and I are perhaps quite different to a lot of other landscape architects, as we came to the profession relatively late,” says Knight, who was first introduced to the role through work experience at school but was naïve to the potential that the industry would have for him.

Knight ended up working for a landscape architecture studio in Newcastle in a support role and this became his first true introduction to the world of landscaping. He went on to complete a degree at Leeds Metropolitan University and worked for larger studios across the UK for the last 10 years before he and Stokoe eventually joined forces to create a business of their own.

“I don’t think either of us really envisaged that it would happen quite as soon as it did, but just the way life goes, sometimes opportunities  present themselves  in ways that you don’t quite anticipate,” says Stokoe.

“For me, it’s such a fascinating discipline to be involved in. It’s continually evolving, continually changing as the world changes. And as society changes, it’s never static, which is always really exciting and intellectually stimulating as well,” says Knight.

Officially launching in December 2022, Studio Knight Stokoe provides professional landscape architecture and urban design services founded on the ideas of helping to create resilient, regenerative places, whilst practising empathic design.

Originally assuming that they would end up working on quite a few smaller projects, what they’ve ended up doing is quite the opposite. Studio Knight Stokoe was invited to work on a project called ‘Plant’ in Basingstoke, an incredible listed building and five levels of roof gardens which was the first example of commercial roof gardens in the UK.

“Standing the test of time. In 1975 when Mountbatten House was built, it set the benchmark for office buildings in Basingstoke. 46 years later and still offering stylish, wellness-centred space above and beyond any accreditations.

“We got plans through and then, coincidentally from the same client, we were invited to join a team for an equally significant and iconic project in Bristol, which is called ‘Canons House’,” explains Knight.

“We couldn’t have dreamed of a better start,” adds Stokoe

Studio Knight Stokoe will be providing a complete landscape architecture service for the project, including all the landscape design for the external spaces which are spread over ground level and five roof gardens that have evolved across the historic structure. Originally built in the 1970s, it presents a set of challenges and is highly demanding.

“As a new business, we’re finding our feet with how best to try and balance our project workload, which has been so significant, and our general day-to-day schedules. We are constantly looking forward to the bigger picture. Like the climate and biodiversity emergency, it’s something that we consider as much as we can, and what we then work into through everything.” says Stokoe.

With sustainability at the forefront of their planning process, Knight and Stokoe take the ideas of reusing and recycling and then enhance these to explore regenerative landscape techniques.

“At Plant we’re trying to reuse as much of the existing soil as possible on site. But rather than just taking an approach of needing to strip everything and start it with a blank canvas, it’s about trying to use what’s already there and enhancing its potential,” says Knight.

A project desperate to come to life, the complexities of its scale, age and historic value mean that Knight and Stokoe will be floating throughout the extensive planning stages for quite some time. “You definitely have to take your time, do due diligence to make sure that you’re working as sensitively as necessary within the setting you’re provided.”

It’s a project that’s set to keep them busy for some time to come – it’s all about the high risk and high reward for this studio.

 “Just having the hope and the belief that you can make it a real success and have a really positive impact on the world around you in the design world,” and Knight and Stokoe have started exactly how they mean to go on, not only surviving but thriving in their first year of business.

“Being the new kids on the block, nobody really knows who you are, so you’re starting from scratch in so many ways.

“We’re very fortunate to have some really fantastic clients and collaborators that we have worked with over the years, who have continued with us now into setting up our own business,” says Knight.

Following the words of Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world.” If Studio Knight Stokoe has taught this pair anything, it’s to take a leap of faith and explore the world at your feet.

Continuing to be curious about the world, about how people interact, and spaces come together, landscape architecture has a large part to play in this ever-changing landscape.

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