In practice: Waste not, want not
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In practice: Waste not, want not

Sep 29, 2023

Source: Kat Antos-Lewis

Holland Harvey director Jonathan Harvey weighs out the ingredients for his practice's longstanding collaboration with burgeoning ethical ‘neighbourhood bakery’ brand Gail's

Holland Harvey began working with bakery Gail's nearly 10 years ago, refurbishing the original Hampstead bakery in 2013. We have now delivered over 60 new bakeries in neighbourhoods across the UK. Through this, we have sought to redefine the idea of what the local bakery means and, by proxy, establish a new understanding between communities and their local high streets.

Gail's bakes fresh, hand-made bread, pastries and cakes every day. In 2005, the team opened its first high-street bakery in Hampstead, following the success of its wholesale business, which was founded in the early 1990s. In 2003, Tom Molnar and a few friends joined the bakery and grew the business organically to the Gail's that's familiar to its customers today.

To reduce waste, in 2020 the brand launched its ‘Waste Not’ range, which spans bread, pantry and pastry products to combat food wastage. The range incorporates by-product ingredients from food-making processes, dough off-cuts and yesterday's bread. For example, up to a third of the content of the Waste-Less Sourdough is made with a porridge from the previous day's bread. Surplus food in bakeries is also donated daily to over 95 local organisations and charities.

It's a business also committed to improving the end-to-end food system, selecting like-minded artisan producers to make the baking ingredients, who share an ethos of care for where food comes from, who has made it, who will eat it and its impact on the world. Gail's prioritises buying UK produce – cheese and butter from Quickes in Exeter and Brades milk from Lancashire, where natural feed supplement is used to reduce methane emissions from the farm's herd.

Our brief has been to explore how the bakery's architecture can respond to and communicate these values, while also delivering a commercially successful space.

Source: Kat Antos-Lewis

Food-safe recycled plastic is used for surfaces at Tunbridge Wells

We have continually looked to mirror Gail's values by creating spaces that elevate the everyday experience of visiting a bakery. Although the design principles are always the same (bread in the window, coffee machine up front and centre, seats at the back), the format has gently evolved through an iterative design process focused on creating impactful, comfortable, efficient, and operationally effective spaces. Building typologies that the cafés sit within range from glass boxes, such as at NEO Bankside, to high street shops in Brighton, Brutalist colleges in Oxford and former banks in Manchester.

Most shops are in a neighbourhood setting, so there is always a focus on community. Both the brand and designer acknowledge that the spaces act as a hub and become a natural meeting spot for residents, tourists and nomadic workers. This has become a significant consideration in the design process.

Looking back over the past 10 years, there have been several running themes and concepts that punctuate the work, and that we return to repeatedly. They allow for consistency in the bakeries’ atmosphere while still creating distinctive individual responses that feel local.

Source: Kat Antos-Lewis

Ceramic surfaces and upcycled timber furniture at Gerrards Cross

Each bakery's design begins with a conversation about what makes that site specific to that place. Whether it is a hyper-local reference such as a crest on the building in Clapham Old Town that talks about being content through enjoying the basics of life, or referencing past histories, like on the South Bank where ideas drew on the Festival of Britain as inspiration. Each bakery always seeks to tap into the history of the place it occupies to begin a conversation and engage with the local community. When each bakery opens, the stories we discover are always explained to the teams that run the bakeries to engage the customer and reflect the brand's interest in the places they serve.

Source:Nathalie Priem

Ceramic tiles and minimal additional finishes at Willesden Green

We often inherit characterful spaces, so seek to keep new finishes to a minimum, leaving much of the existing exposed. Raw, patched plaster, original terrazzo or stone floors all work well with the brand's aesthetic – as can be seen in our East Dulwich and Barnet sites.

The hardest sites are always the ‘white box’ ones, where landlords ‘upsell’ their space, wasting valuable energy and resources by plasterboarding over any history and interest. It means that, as designers, we must then use further energy-intensive finishes to breathe the soul back in. We desperately do not want to rip out brand-new materials, but sometimes it's the most carbon-neutral way to avoid additional finishes – as the walls, floors and ceilings previously covered up can be used to enhance the space again.

The brand has supported social enterprises such as joinery workshop Goldfinger, whose products we now specify at Holland Harvey. Goldfinger creates furniture, often from diseased, discarded or upcycled timber sources, and supports marginalised young people from its local community in the art of woodworking through an apprenticeship programme and on-site community café.

Having been introduced via Gail's, we have gone on to work with Goldfinger on many other projects, including the Inhabit hotel in Paddington, where we worked on a furniture range now available through their online retail platform. In response to the Waste Not initiative, we work with Raw Workshop, which specialises in refurbishing, upcycling and creating sustainable new furniture.

Source:Kat Antos-Lewis

Stripped-back finishes and utility furniture at East Dulwich

Through our work, because every bakery is a new iteration, we are continuously reimagining material options. Each bakery is made up of hundreds of small decisions that, across multiple projects, make a significant impact. In the same way that the brand seeks to minimise waste, we have also explored the supply chain to find opportunities to reduce waste and use fewer virgin materials.

At the Cobham bakery, we utilised waste marble offcuts from a local supplier that were going to landfill. Each piece was carefully catalogued, analysed, and tessellated as a patchwork surface within the space. Stones and marbles, unless a local material, carry an expensive carbon impact but are a fantastic surface to display and make food on. They communicate the right values for products perched on top, so finding low-impact means to use them as surfaces is important.

As a material, plastics are not used as a principle, as it does not communicate any of the brand's values. Single-use plastics are not used within the bakery's packaging and so are certainly avoided in their design. However, Smile Plastics creates solid surfaces by using recycled single-use plastics, home appliances or ocean waste, helping reduce the plastic waste littering our oceans. The product they have managed to create is also ultra-food-safe, and we often use it as a surface, most notably in the Tunbridge Wells bakery, where we used their Alba material, made from recycled yoghurt pots.

Source: Kat Antos-Lewis

Durable cork used as a bench backrest at Gerrards Cross

Cork is a renewable resource that can be harvested from the bark of cork oak trees without harming them. It is biodegradable, recyclable, and has excellent thermal and acoustic insulation properties. Cork's natural durability and resistance to water, fire and pests (handy in a food and beverage environment) make it a low-maintenance and long-lasting material. Its use is perfect for bakeries, as it not only has a positive environmental impact, but is also warm and tactile, making it a good choice for anything from surfaces to bench backrests.

Often forgotten, as it is so ubiquitous, timber is a great mechanism for good, if carefully specified. Not only is it anti-bacterial – great for food areas – but it's a warm and beautiful material too. Throughout the bakeries, we specify sustainably sourced solid timber to reduce the carbon footprint of joinery elements. Solid timber is used where possible as it lasts longer and can be repurposed after. Veneers have a limited life span, limited repairability and can only be incinerated after their life is complete. Going further, by collaborating with organisations such as Goldfinger, timber felled due to disease (Dutch elm and ash die-back) or for development purposes and which might only go for incineration or landfill, are redirected and turned into furniture.

Before we begin to think about what needs to go into a bakery, we consider what can be repurposed or have dual use, so as to reduce the need to spend carbon on new fixtures. For example, we incorporate bakery trollies as display shelving. Not only does this reduce the amount of joinery, but it also increases efficiency within the bakery in restocking time. Furthermore, Gail's pays for storage to allow furniture to be upcycled from old sites when longer required. The furniture is catalogued and a list circulated and we aim to re-use the furniture in a new concept, where possible.

Source: Kat Antos-Lewis

Bread displayed at Gail's Godalming

We look to specify ceramic tiles if we can, as they are more tactile, soulful and sustainable than porcelain. Their low environmental impact credentials come from having a lower carbon footprint during the production process. Ceramic tiles are made from natural clay and are fired at lower temperatures, resulting in less energy consumption and lower emissions. Porcelain tiles, on the other hand, are made from a mixture of clay and feldspar, which require higher firing temperatures and consume more energy. Additionally, ceramic tiles can be recycled more easily, as they can be crushed and used as a raw material for new tiles. In contrast, porcelain tiles are harder to recycle, due to their density and composition.

When Holland Harvey began working with Gail's, there was a handful of bakeries dotted around a few of London's villages. The conversation around how online shopping was killing the high street was starting to gain traction and formed the backdrop to this collaborative journey. Fast forward 10 years, and we have established the principle that a high-quality, local bakery fit for the 21st century can help drive a new relationship with our local high streets, as is now happening across the country.

The popularity of Gail's shows a broader appreciation and appetite for the awareness of where our food comes from. They have also shown that there is a desire for a physical space where people can come together, breaking down social boundaries and creating communal places for strengthening links and new friendships.

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TagsBakery Holland Harvey

Simon Aldous