What was your first experience of Kazakhstan?
Mike: My first experience of Kazakhstan was really working from London on the Palace of Peace. Looking at site photographs that were taken of Astana, a building site in winter. Until last year that was the only reference I had of Kazakhstan, looking like a scene from the Tarkovsky film "Stalker". The opportunity to work again in Kazakhstan came last year. We were invited to participate in the international competition to design the Expo 2017 Green Quarter project. I turned up in Almaty last April and I couldn't believe my eyes. First of all you read the landscape and the mountains and the location. That's kind of the first thing that hits you. I arrived in Almaty and I was just completely blown away by the city. I had come to Kazakhstan for two days, to present the competition design, with just an overnight bag, but due to a number of circumstances I ended up spending almost two months here.
Derek: I think my experience was totally different because, unlike Mike, I have only been here for a week, but have known Asel for several years. Certainly for the last three years Asel has been encouraging me to come over, saying I've got to come and see the city. I have built up an image of the city from all these little elements, like Asel's photographs, little stories, and then experience from these guys coming over. So it has been really interesting actually piecing all these things together before I came and then to compare them now that I am here.
What about past architectural projects? Do you have the most favorite one?
Derek: One of my favorites was one we did a couple of years ago on island in Amiens, France. The River Somme runs through Amiens and it kind of forms these big areas of lagoons. There are about 300 hectares of lakes and islands. We were asked as part of the art festival to install art pieces on these islands. There was the most amazing landscape. It took about half an hour by boat to get to our site. But the thing I really like about the project is that we were involved in every aspect: we used the workshop; we built all the components and then installed them ourselves.
Did you have projects connected with restoration of buildings, having historical value?
Derek: Yes, for example Cambridge University Library, it was built in 1931 by the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott; who designed "Bankside" Power Station now "Tate Modern" and the iconic London telephone box. Since the building was finished Cambridge as a city has grown around it. It was located on the edge of the city at the time it was built. The formal approach to the building has now changed. The main access to the building is dominated by a busy car park. We were asked for the competition to try to transform that area into something else that would be appropriate to the library building. So we turned the landscape into a bit of a jungle for the first round of the competition.
How long have you been working together?
Mike: Derek and I got together in September 2013. We both had our own projects and were living in a very similar part of London. We ended up collaborating on a couple of projects, which we enjoyed and we decided that maybe this is what we should do.