Denizen Works: in praise of off-kilter creativity

Murray Kerr, founder of architecture practice Denizen Works, shares his purposefully ‘naïve’ approach to design and discusses the challenges of leading his studio off the beaten path

Towards the end of 2020, an unusual glowing barge took up residence in London’s Hackney Wick. The boat, named Genesis, was actually a floating church – filled with plywood bench pews, a flatpack altar, and an accordion-like roof that can expand and contract like a pair of bellows. The project is the latest in a series of architectural experiments by London studio Denizen Works, which was set up by founder and architect Murray Kerr in 2011.

These range from a 20-metre tall tower-like bird hide in Scotland’s Inverewe Garden to a towable sauna designed to skirt planning permission in Finland. Over the last decade, Denizen Works has earned a name for itself with a series of quirky architectural takes that rethink the limitations of what a building can be. As Kerr puts it: “I don’t think something needs to look like what people think it should look like”.

He started the practice after leaving architecture firm BDP, landing his parents as the studio’s first clients – they’d bought a ruined cottage on Tiree, an island on Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, and wanted to turn it into a home. Kerr had to work around the site’s listed ruins, adding two new wings including a corrugated steel ‘bunker’ section to make it all inhabitable. Having won several awards including Grand Designs Home of the Year, the project set the path ahead for Denizen Works.

House No.7, designed by Kerr for his parents; photos by David Barbour