Meet The Architect | Jennifer Beningfield of Openstudio Architects

Image: Richard Davies

If you caught our feature case study on Swartberg House (click here if you missed it) you would have been completely swept away by Openstudio Architects and cinematographer, Tatjana Meirelles collaboration on a ten minute multi-screen film installation capturing the enchanting sense of time, space, light, existence and landscape at the location.

Jennifer Beningfield is the Principal and Founder of Openstudio Architects, and we managed to catch up with Jennifer for a quick Q&A to discuss everything from her architectural roots to the Founder’s proudest achievement…

#1 What made you want to become an architect? What path did you take to get where you are now?

“Growing up in Johannesburg in South Africa made me intensely aware both of the impact of politics on the environment and how architecture can respond either insensitively or inventively to a sense of place. I felt that being an architect would give me a chance to contribute to the making of cities and places that could have a positive impact. And of course I loved makings things from childhood. I studied in Johannesburg at the University of the Witwatersrand, then did a Masters degree at Princeton University. That opened a lot of doors for me, as I had incredible experiences in the States working on museum and art gallery projects, including the Getty Villa in Malibu. When I moved to London to do a PhD at UCL I worked for David Chipperfield before setting up my own practice in 2006.”

Jennifer Beningfield, Principal, Openstudio

Image: Richard Davies

#2 What are your greatest influences?

“Place, light, landscape, history, people, materials.”

#3 How do these manifest in your work?

“In all of our projects we search for the essence of the project, for the ‘soul’ of it. I can feel when the project is right, when the balance of the quality of light, spaces, sense of place, and materials all coalesce into something particular and unique. We are essentially interested in layering of materials and spaces to create buildings and places which get better over time, which offer a deep sense of place and lived experiences.”

Image: Orchard Aerial – NJY Studio

#4 What would be your proudest achievement?

“Creating buildings that last, which outlive their creators, and are still relevant to the people who use them long into the future.”

#5 Is sustainability an issue for you?

“Of course, I feel we have a responsibility to build as well as we can, as sustainably as possible and with flexibility which enables buildings to be adapted to future needs. The use of materials which offer longevity and wear well is critical, as replacing buildings is incredibly wasteful and unsustainable.”

#6 Do you prefer city or country work?

“I actually love both. We work a lot in Westminster, which is probably the most challenging environment for an architect to work in in the world, and our studio enjoys the complexity of achieving special buildings in response to these challenges. But less spatially and administratively pressured, and more open sites, like the Swartberg House, enable us to connect to a natural landscape in a way which is just not possible in cities.”

Image: Richard Davies

#7 What do you think is the most enduring trend in domestic architecture?

“I think people are looking for their homes to ground them in a physical place, through warmth, texture and tactility.”

#8 What is your working method? How do you get started?

“I always start with the site and the place in which the building is located, as well as the quality of light. There are so many clues in the local and wider environment around the building that can help to inform and intensify the design and sense of place. The client brief is, of course, essential too, so it is in the interaction about what the place is and the place as it is imagined in the brief that the building comes into being.”

#9 What is most important to you when it comes to the architect client relationship?

“That you share the same goals and push each other to achieve something that individually you could not accomplish.”

Image: Richard Davies

#10 What would your dream commission be?

“I have two: either a hotel in an extraordinary place, whether that is central London or a remote and beautiful landscape, or an art gallery in which we can explore volume, light and a sense of space.”

Image: Richard Davies

#11 What will residential houses look like in 50 years time?

“Buildings are actually incredibly slow to respond to change, as a quick look around our environment tells us. I hope that environmental sensitivity and a sense of place will contribute to houses which respond more directly to their surroundings and to the challenges facing our planet.”


#1 Favourite restaurant?
“Badia a Coltibuono in Gaiole, Chianti, Italy.”

#2 Tea or coffee?

“Black coffee or Rooibos.”

#3 Favourite book?

“In Praise Of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki.”

#4 Favourite city?

“London: I love the diversity and hope it remains.”

#5 Favourite architects?

“Jørn Utzon, Alvaro Siza, Luis Barragan.”

#6 Favourite film?

“Belleville Rendez-Vous.”

#7 Favourite wine?

“Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir.”

#8 Most relaxing place?

“Prince Albert in the Great Karoo, South Africa.”

Want to discover more about Openstudio Architects? Click here.


Sevenoaks External – NJY Studio

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