The architects' blog
The past five years has been a challenging time for the whole country let alone the architectural profession. It is challenging times that afford an opportunity for reflection and debate about what we provide and deliver as an architectural profession.
At Orms we have been fortunate to retain and deliver high quality projects throughout this period, yet as we approach our 30th year in practice we recognise the importance of continuing to evolve as a practice. This was recently reinforced with news of the demise of Sidell Gibson Architects after 40 years.
We have just completed a refresh of our branding, vision and mission and I wanted to share some of my recommendations if you are considering doing the same. Here are my five steps to architectural bliss:
Step one: undertake an extensive review of your company structure, vision and contribution to the architectural profession as you need to remain current, relevant and fresh.
Step two: understand the perception of your practice by undertaking internal and external interviews that question the quality of your service, how you engage with collaborators and how your completed buildings perform. It will give you a fascinating insight into the difference between what you believe has been achieved and the reality; something the profession as a whole continues to struggle with.
Step three: collaborate with a creative agency that is right for your practice, perhaps considering one that has not undertaken an architectural commission before, because you are an architect not a branding / graphics expert and won’t be able to give it the fee earning time that it requires. At best the process of dissembling and then reassembling an existing identity (and the perception of it) can be described as soul searching, exhilarating and liberating, but “What is your USP?” will ring in your ears!
Step four: ask yourself ‘Why do we would do it?” The importance of this is demonstrated throughSimon Sinek’s TED video which explains “why” before progressing to “how” and “what”. The outcome of this process will underpin your thinking and articulate what you want to achieve from being in practice
Step five: think long and hard about any name change. Understand what the current name means to staff, clients and collaborators before changing it. Our change from ORMS Architecture Design to Orms whilst on the surface relatively minor is significant. The former was formed of the initials of the founding partners (Oliver Richards is still very involved in the practice) but we have moved away from this to symbolise the collective and our desire to closely collaborate with like-minded professionals and designers.
Finally, wouldn’t it be great to help change the understanding and perception of architects by communicating and debating architecture in a more user-friendly manner? If as a collective we were able to generate a joined up message that communicated why we do architecture, how we do it and what we deliver then we could transform the perception of architects. This must start with your own practice first and you will be amazed what you learn as part of the process. Good luck
By John McRae
John McRae is Equity Director at Orms
The “elected representatives” had made up their minds: “I’m perfectly open to modern design, but this just isn’t good enough.” With dread in my heart and my client’s sighs in my ears behind me I waited for the vote.
It suddenly became clear that a recommendation for approval from the planning authority and general endorsement from all statutory consultees amounted to nothing in the face of small minded conservatism and apparent disregard for the local authority constitution.
Now I’m no expert on Section 70(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 or indeed the 1989 case of R v Westminster CC ex-parte Monahan but I can hardly believe that an unqualified remark such as “this needs to go back to the drawing board!” constitutes a sound material consideration.
Few architects relish planning committee meetings. Even at the best of times, the dry bureaucratic administration of democracy seems at odds with the lofty aspirations of creativity and positive contribution to the built environment that most architects strive for.
On this occasion the juxtaposition was no less stark. The proposed scheme, a four-bed private dwelling for a local couple, had been developed painstakingly though continued consultation with the Planning Authority, the Environment Agency, the Highways Agency and Conservation Officers for more than three years.
Only a few weeks prior to this, I was holding forth about how good the entire process had been and how open to consultation all parties appeared to be in a radical departure from my previous experience of such matters. This was largely due to an unusually progressive and enlightened planning authority who seem, unlike many of their regional counterparts, to understand that contemporary design is not synonymous with wanton vandalism and that the replacement of a butchered and near derelict Victorian coach house with a building which does not draw it’s inspiration from the time of the Norman Conquest, will not incite violence on the streets and wide spread civil unrest.
During my strictly timed five-minute endorsement of the scheme it hadn’t occurred to me to come out guns blazing with threats of appealing a refusal and claiming costs upon inevitable victory or other such fighting talk designed to intimidate a cash strapped local authority. I merely rebutted the groundless policy arguments put forward by the local conservation society and reiterated my solemn belief that this addition to the town would indeed make a positive contribution to the “character and appearance of the conservation area”.
“I propose a motion” came from one of the more junior members of the committee sitting to the right. “I second the motion” said another a few seats down. Surely that’s at least two votes I reasoned, not allowing myself to acknowledge that a seconder need not necessarily favour the motion.“All those in favour,” boomed the Chair. The left hand side of the bench remained motionless, heads just slightly cocked back in staunch defiance, nostrils subtly flaring.
I awaited the sullen thumping kick of defeat. A congratulatory hand landed firmly on my shoulder. This could mean only one thing. Time for a beer.
By Henry Goss
Henry Goss is Principal of Henry Goss Architects
I flick through the pages of July’s edition of the RIBA Journal but there’s nothing. I’m not expecting anything, after all we haven’t done much in the way of press this year – other than via Twitter.
This time last year I had a Twitter exchange with @HughPearman about how disappointing the coverage of Love Architecture was and Threshold in particular. He blamed the lack of a July issue, which meant it was old news by the time August came around. A fair point, I guess, but since the RIBA has taken the journal’s publication back in-house the July issue has reappeared.
Last June, to coincide with Love Architecture, we created a one-off “pop-up architecture centre” in an underground car park in Brighton. I say “one-off” but the event was so successful we couldn’t stop there.
Under the Threshold umbrella, Chalk Architecture & Wolfstome entered and won an interactive bench project for a public park in Brighton & Hove. The council was impressed with our collective community engagement focus and ideas and expertise around leverage funding.
In October a Threshold team fronted up by UN[LAB] built and ran an interactive “intergenerational house” for Tedx Brighton with video talking heads.
We have so many ideas about what Threshold can achieve its difficult to keep a lid on them let alone find any time. Lots of things fall by the wayside as a result.
My favourite “lost” project is a “pop-up ball” in a disused market in Brighton with no water or electrics. It’s huge, and I dream of street food, free running, fire juggling and penny-farthings all to the soundtrack of an Aphex Twin disco.
We’d planned to match architects with street vendors and performers to design and build the temporary staging using found, scavenged or borrowed materials.
I’m not entirely sure how any of it would have worked but the thought that a day or two after you could walk back into that cavernous space and hear nothing but the occasional beating of a pigeon’s wing echoing across the emptiness was really exciting.
We regroup in April to plan for our Love Architecture event. To keep things simple we decide to take up myhotel’s offer to use its car park again. This is no token gesture — this is a working car park in the centre of Brighton!
The response to the expression of interest is good but, if I’m honest, the volume of responses is not up — and without the founders’ involvement the architects represented would be minimal. Having said that, the content is good quality.
As ABIR, my colleague and I build a prototype beach hut using Kee Klamp. It’s part of a live project where we’re reimaging beach huts to be multifunctional and flexible space suitable for working, making, selling or beach hutting (if such a verb exists).
Amongst my favourite exhibits are Morgan Carn’s Urban Consequences, Chalk’s cardboard furniture, Claire Potter’s green office and the Brighton University @CottArch students engaging “balance”.
Our programme of events is similar to last year. We start with DMH Stallard doing a whistlestop tour of the dysfunctional planning system followed by some discussion of the current mess we’re in. “Lipstick on a pig?” I ask them. They shrug.
In the evening we host a film night including a number of short films curated by @AnnaWinston on the theme of future working. I find some of the ideas really strike a chord and sit engrossed during @benhammersley talk.
The following day there’s a dual presentation from Cat Fletcher of Freegle and Duncan Baker Brown of BBM Architects, based in Lewes and well-known for their cutting edge sustainable design. Cat & Duncan are working together to build a house from waste in the grounds of Brighton University. Cat talks about the waste we generate and what happens to it. Duncan talks about reclaiming it and putting it back into construction. It’s depressing and inspiring in equal measure.
In the evening we have our Pecha Kucha night. This was the highlight of last year’s event but feels slightly flat probably due to that comparison. We have some excellent speakers – none more so than David Bramwell talking about his Zocalo, which takes place in Brighton each September.
Friday is our big event – a keynote speech by Dan Thompson @artistsmakers; four short presentations by Cathedral, Gillespies, ABIR Architects and Wolfstrome Design; and a panel debate with Matt Weston, Cara Courage, Finn Williams and Nick Hibberd. I’m nervous. Not just because I’ve brought all these people together or that I’m presenting alongside the likes of Gillespies but mainly because I’ve got to set up the IT and PA side of things. This is not my forte and I secretly curse Jim for running off to Glastonbury. (He’s working there. Apparently.)
In the event, and with the exception of one moment where the air conditioning snaps on loudly, the evening is a great success. We’re supposed to finish at 6.30pm but it’s not until 7pm that our excellent chair for the evening, Oliver Heath, catches my eye.
“Shall we wind it up now?” he mouths. I nod in agreement.
I’m disappointed that I have to quickly change into my kilt and run off to the black-tie LABC awards dinner. In many ways it illustrates to me the two conflicting aspects of the profession.
On the one hand there are the people who are enthusiastic about architecture and the built environment who, as Finn Williams puts it, “will give up their Friday evenings to sit in a car park and talk about this stuff”. These are the people who recognise that architecture doesn’t have to be big, that being creative can be done on a budget, that there are other ways of doing things and that we can find a way to do them.
And on the other hand there is the RIBA, who appear London-centric — seemingly run by big practice for big practice. Its voice to communicate with members is the RIBA Journal. But it seems full of the big projects — beautiful though some of them are, they often feel a million miles from what the majority of us do in practice. I look back through the June issue. There’s a brief half-page mention of a few events for Love Architecture.
I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues who continue to support branch and regional RIBA and I know how hard it is having just finished my term as chair of the Sussex branch.
I suspect many of them have a nagging feeling, as I did, that the RIBA is a toxic brand at local level (in sharp contrast to its national and international image) and they’re fighting a losing battle. On two counts. Members won’t engage with them and the public won’t engage with them.
The reason they won’t is more or less the same from both sides. The RIBA is a fantastic national and international brand but when you step out of that world into a world of local government, small business and single individuals most would say that using an architect is not for them — too expensive, too elitist, too touchy about their role, too inflexible, too bolshie, too much prima donna behaviour.
“I’ll pay big fees and get a design I don’t want” say people, unfairly. In the main these people could (and should) be using architects.
Small, local practices adapt and respond to this attitude as they must to survive.
There is also a feeling in the profession that we must not let other architects know what we’re doing.
I’ve found that Threshold has confirmed my view that the opposite is true — sharing and collaboration is good. Perhaps it’s the future for small practice. Maybe the RIBA will catch on soon.
You’re probably an architect and you will know already that many things and places are ugly. You’re well equipped to spot them and, it being likely that you are a visual person, it’s particularly hard to edit them all out.
If you’re a disabled person, you seem to have to put up with more ugly stuff than most people. So of course, it’s great when architects and their clients deliver beautiful buildings and spaces that work well for their users, disabled or not. But do our building regulations encourage a tick-box compliance to the minimum standard and an opting out of good design?
I have worked as an architect and a planner and have become more disabled through MS as I’ve got to middle age. It’s hard not to notice that design for accessibility is inconsistent and sometimes downright depressing. I’d love to see more products and schemes that provide well designed solutions.
Part M of the Buildings Regulations’ mission statement is that reasonable provision should be made for people to gain access to and use a building. I went back to check the regs again when my fellow board member of Shropshire Disability Network Ruby Hartshorn told me we wouldn’t be holding meetings at the new Premier Inn. I’d been thinking of nominating the building as a BD Carbuncle Cup contender, so didn’t mind, but Ruby was also thinking of other unhappy customers.
The popular budget hotel has a raised ground level – an Environment Agency requirement for sites liable to flooding, as this one is. Part M aims for the principal entrance of all new buildings to be accessible.
But “steeply sloping or restricted sites sometimes make it impossible, in which case an alternative entrance should be provided”. In this case, Premier Inn has complied with Part M by the use of the words South Entrance and the regulations have been met, but the way in is a long way round to the back of the building – lit and CCTVd, but still daunting at night and just plain ugly.
It isn’t impossible to find a solution and I have seen (a few) examples of good external platform lift designs. It is a more expensive option, but it seems to me to be “reasonable” if it allows everybody to go in through the front door.
Pam Newall is an architect living in Shropshire who will be blogging regularly for BD on disability issues in the built environment.
On Friday 28th and Saturday the 29th June, Tea with an Architect will be hosting the largest part of the RIBA’s nationwide Love Architecture Festival at Chavasse Park in Liverpool ONE. Celebrating architecture, inspiration and culture, Tea with an Architect invites all architects and students to come help showcase everything from ideas to help the public make their house a home, to activities through which all ages can come and learn how architecture impacts on the quality of our lives.
Tea with an Architect will include seminars and the opportunity for the public to have a cup of tea and a chat with architects from companies like Unit 3, MgMa, BDP and AHMM. The seminar series intends to both appeal to the public and architects alike, from tips and tricks on improving your home to talks on the architecture that have helped shape Liverpool and the UK today. BDP will also be giving walking tours of Liverpool ONE as well as a seminar on the ideas behind its design.
The event is aimed at all ages, and in conjunction with Placed, a Liverpool-based organisation, there will be fun activities for young people on the 28th, through which they can learn about the towns and cities in which they live, why design is important, and an understanding of how places are created.
There will also be live music from some of the North West’s finest bands (including Love for Zero, the Kooks supporting act), a ‘Beat the Architect’ Lego challenge, and various events organised by The Entertainer toy shop.
If you would like to get involved in giving free consultations over the 2 days, be part of/ attend the seminar program or would like to find out more about the event including participating in the ‘Beat the Architect’ challenge, then please visit http://teawithanarchitect.com/events/liverpool-one. Alternatively email Gabrielle Omar on email@example.com.
The event is aimed at softening the barriers between public and the architecture profession by bringing attention to the services and highlights of what architects can offer in a fun and energetic way, so the more architects involved the better!
Visiting the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, one finds oneself walking within a kind of city plan, its streets lined with monumental buildings, many with heavy doors to rooms within, where the privileged may contemplate relics of the lives of the departed incumbents beneath.
The population is said to be in the hundreds of thousands, some say millions. But however much they allude to the most resounding of architectural histories, these stone creations, naturally sombre and dusty, are also mostly dull, stiff, and awkward.
At my visit nobody much of the living could be seen walking the streets, nor even very many tourists. However, as I wandered, I saw in the distance a crowd gathered around one large object, and I approached to see what was going on. The particular tomb was of modern design, unlike the majority of the other memorials. Great primitive-looking winged creatures, said to be angels, were sculpted against the sides of a monolithic stone, cenotaph-like structure.
Compared to the conventional, neoclassical angels here and there on other tombs, these seemed powerful, properly alien, extraordinary, timeless and expressive.
It turned out that I had come upon the tomb of Oscar Wilde, sculpted by Jacob Epstein. It was bedecked with flowers and I was told it was the day of remembrance of his birth, or death. I discovered later that it was pretty well always bedecked with flowers, and that there was, pretty well always, a crowd gathered around it. I didn’t see the loving graffiti and thousands of red lipstick kisses all over the stone that are seen in the photos. Perhaps they were obscured by the crowd and floral tributes.
The time I am talking about was certainly before a glass screen was put up to prevent the lipstick allegedly affecting the stone (though a more obviously vandalistic occurrence had been someone chopping off the angels’ penises - Epstein is said to have been determined that his figures should have less than coyly carved genitalia).
The kisses were scrubbed off at the time of the glass screen. Now, the glass screen receives them.
Wandering on, I came across a modest grave nearby. It was a simple affair, not much more than a rectangular stone lying on the grass. Inscribed were words proclaiming that here were the remains of the man who had invented the gas lamp.
Where people and flowers were around Oscar’s tomb, here was but a ring of weeds against the stone edge.
It was hard to imagine a like gathering around this memorial to one whose technologically advanced works may have enhanced, brightened as it were, lives as much in their way at the time as did those of the celebrated artist.
Admittedly, the gas lamp was created around 1800, Oscar’s works a hundred nyears nearer our time, and an artist’s life and work is often more warmly appreciated by the general public than that of a scientist. But those kisses! After a hundred years!
One of Oscar’s witticisms is a reminder, if the character of the tomb itself is not enough, of the inspiration his literary output evokes in the arena of the visual arts and design. Spoken as he lay dying in a French hotel, it is said he declared that “either the wallpaper or I must go”.
This may be remembered due to the pathos and indomitability of “famous last words” composed as jokes; one recalls Spike Milligan’s “I told you I was ill”, instructed to be marked on his grave.
But the jest, seeming trivial, came at the end of a life devoted to aesthetics. The rich, vivid, sumptuous, joyous and mysterious panoply of life and nature he reminded us of in words, he may have wished to see acknowledged, commemorated somehow, in the design of artefacts and environments.
We certainly need something to remind us of what else there may be to our art than what we are getting.
The British Council for Offices (BCO) conference, held in Madrid last month, explored matters currently influencing the office sector and looked at what will affect the industry in the years to come.
Organised by Neil Thompson of Great Portland Estates, the event opened with Lord Lamont, who was surprisingly witty in delivering his insight into the Euro and banking, and his thoughts on the future.
He told an enthused audience: “At best we can predict the past, possibly the present, but just don’t try predicting the future.” A politician’s answer, or words of wisdom for the property world?
Lord Lamont also called on the audience not to exaggerate lessons learned from the recession: “I wouldn’t guarantee that human beings wouldn’t make the same mistakes all over again,” he said.
However it was, Stuart Hampson, chief executive of the Crown Estate, who encouraged us to “have the courage to look beyond the short term”. His previous role at John Lewis has informed this long-term view at the expense of short-term gain – a gentle reminder to the development world of its responsibility.
In the second plenary session, the importance of transport infrastructure and its influence on office location and attractiveness was explored. It was interesting to see two extraordinary pieces of transport architecture, having flown from Heathrow Terminal 5 to Madrid Barajas Terminal 4. One of them took 18 years to build, while the other eight years from inception to completion. I will let you work out which one was Heathrow!
Lord Adonis, who needs no introduction, and David Begg, professor of economics at Imperial College, argued that London needed a transport infrastructure to support its world status and to reinforce its importance to the rest of the UK. Informing us that Heathrow is already running at 99% capacity, Begg outlined a compelling case that an additional runway at Heathrow really was the only solution and that creating a new hub 60 miles to the east, Boris Island, would inevitably close down Heathrow and affect the surrounding offices, industrial buildings and housing, as well as the economy of west London and London as a whole.
It was clear to the delegates that this was an important issue that needed action immediately. The notion that this could take 18 years to resolve has to be avoided and a mechanism put in place to take politics out of the decision.
In an afternoon session titled “Survival of the Fittest”, we were treated to insights from across Europe on how we might deliver the office of the future, and group debates ensued over a glass of wine and tapas. The concept of trying to design now for the office of the future is an interesting one but raises the question: should we just focus on building the best possible infrastructure to support an ever-changing workplace? Technology has transformed our access to information and opened up the possibilities to interact in different ways. However, there are fundamental components of an office that won’t change … we will need “shelter”, toilets, methods of heating and cooling, power and light (daylight and artificial light).
After a conference dinner in the historic Galeria de Cristal, the final session I attended was “breakfast with the contractors”. With an increasingly important role in developing and delivering commercial projects and taking risk, the session discussed issues such as collaboration, trust and ways of developing innovation.
I get the sense that as an industry we want to put the past five years behind us and move forward into a “brave new world”, but in the words of Lord Lamont: “We need to be careful in resolving this crisis that we don’t sow the seeds of the next one.”
By John McRae, ORMS Architecture Design
Recently I joined the Paper Salon crit panel that assembled to review “visionary” ideas from an experimental (and very enthusiastic) architecture workshop that focused on the south London Heygate Estate site.
Convened by Alastair Donald of the British Council, Paper Salon emerged from the Venice Takeaway: Ideas to Change British Architecture, which was exhibited at last year’s Venice Biennale and is currently exhibiting at the RIBA. The aim of the Paper Salon was to combine the best traditions of a salon, an enlightened gathering that aims to increase knowledge and facilitate an exchange of ideas, and the esquisse, the working out of ideas through drawing.
The Paper Salon is also a nod to Paper Architecture, which is a genre of architecture practised by young architects that mainly graduated from Moscow architectural institute in the 1980s and is a product of non conformist reflection. The chosen venue was the Calvert 22 Foundation, which “is dedicated to building cultural bridges between Russia, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet republics and the rest of the world”.
The Esquisse in progress
The attendees at the event, who included graduates, recently qualified architects, artists and students of architecture, undertook an esquisse in the afternoon, following morning sessions on visionary architecture and the importance of drawing delivered by a variety of speakers including Ross Anderson, Anna Gibb, Yuri Avvakumov and Karl Sharro. The main emphasis of the esquisse was to highlight a problem or series of problems with the current Heygate site and then prepare and explain a response that counteracted the problem identified. The key was not necessarily the quality of the idea (although the more provocative the better) but the explanation of how the problem and idea were derived and the use of paper to communicate this graphically.
I joined Vanessa Norwood, Alan Dunlop and James McAdam to review four visionary ideas that ranged from the concept of an infinity building that an overzealous developer might create, to an enormous elephant, hot air balloons and essentially an underground 13,000-year time capsule that would eventually become a building in its own right above ground.
It was a challenge to prevent the day-to-day reality of architecture from influencing my critical views, but within the visions presented nuggets of ideas were explored and these ideas could easily be applied to our current-day thinking.
I was impressed with the vision and energy of the assembled group and wondered why this type of salon was focused towards students of architecture, art and recent graduates and not mainstream architecture. Intellectual debate is an imperative component of being an architect and is a genuine differentiator from the rest of the design team. It strikes me that we need more salons and paper architecture. Watch this space!
By John McRae, ORMS Architecture Design
Inspiration can be found in many places and arguably in no greater place than in people.
As a young(ish) architect working with Rick Mather, (albeit for a relatively short period of time) one may assume that it was professional inspiration which was his principle contribution to me. Not quite. Although his architectural abilities were indeed considerable– it is as a man that he really influenced me.
Rick is unique in my experience. Unique in that despite being more than twice my age, I considered him very definitely what Mother Goss might refer to in her 1950’s vernacular as ‘a chum’. His youthful spirit and tenacity could make even those of my generation feel uncommonly staid by comparison and his boundless energy regularly surpassed all-comers.
Rick’s playful and often risqué turn of phrase and manner are already well embedded in many people’s lexicon of persiflage with whom he was close. The jocular cry of ‘oh no!’ in an attenuated American falsetto in response to minor fiascos has become a stock response in my family’s vocabulary– usually good-natured and always amusing.
In my experience of Rick, nowhere was he more at home than in the garden of LPC, his home on the Côte d’Azur in the South of France. The depth and breath of his knowledge and his rigour in tending to and documenting the myriad of plant species there reflected his attitude to all other aspects of life.
With typical generosity of spirit LPC also became the location for RMA office trips.
I can picture Rick now– lightly bouncing past the middle garden terrace, bespattered with sleeping-bagged bodies in the wake of the previous night’s indulgences– mask and snorkel clutched in his hand, ready to plunge into the sea and once more put the rest of us to shame.
The balance between fierce dedication to what he believed and a laid-back social persona, led to an almost paradoxical contrast between architectural figurehead and unaffected regular guy, accepting of all. This was summed up perfectly by my cousin Edward who, having only known Rick on a personal level, remarked to the office staff on an LPC trip; “It’s amazing, you all see Rick as this famous architect, but to me he’s just a friendly old man”.
Rick may have taken exception to the ‘old’, but he was certainly friendly and quite a man.
By Henry Goss
Henry Goss is Principal of Henry Goss Architects
In the red corner the architect, dressed in black Castelli body-clinging gear beside his carbon-fibre cycle that dare not stay outside, nonchalantly flicking a journal so pictures of his design are visible. In the blue corner the surveyor, sharply pressed pinstripes, complaining about parking charges for his casually mentioned Porsche, nonchalantly flicking his iPad to check his 5% slice has clocked in.
One supports Derrida and his French gang’s deconstructivist tendencies to ensure there will be symbolic meaning in the diachronic layers of synchronous contextual form. The other supports Eric Pickles and his gang’s demolition of the planning system to ensure more profit from ripping up green fields. Will there ever be a meeting of minds?
Of course there are many on each side who don’t fit this caricature, but a recent exchange with a senior surveyor suggests that such different sets of values are prevalent:
Me: “Will your client be engaging an architect?”
Surveyor: “Why on earth would he pay good money to buy trouble from an architect? My lads will give him what he wants faster, more cheaply with less hassle.”
However, I think I might have discovered some light amid this gloomy disaffection. I have been invited to join the judging panel of the RICS Building Awards, South East, where surveyors are taking the trouble to hunt down and award buildings of merit. These awards have been in place for more than 25 years and deserve to be better-known by architects. I’ve recently spent enjoyable afternoons visiting buildings with surveyors, and while admittedly none of my fellow judges are of the raw, thrusting, ambitious sub-species (they are mostly retired and “giving something back”), their commitment bodes well.
In the light of my own concern about the self-obsessed and onanistic world of architects, it’s of particular interest that these awards regard buildings primarily as social artefacts rather than fashionable consumables, assessing the value of the project from society’s point of view as well as that of the design community — to the extent that they might even bring together the two very different sets of values that I have so exaggerated.
The assessments focus on understanding the extent to which the project is worthwhile in its widest context; its value to, and effect on, the local environment and community; its influence as an exemplar of good design; as well as obvious matters of sustainability in its many guises. The RICS Awards judges require evidence from building-owners that they have monitored user satisfaction, and that they have in place training for managers and users to minimise energy use. There is also an assessment of whether the architects have used the many dimensions of their creative and imaginative skills to design solutions that meet the aspirations of owners, users and the society in which the project exists.
Architecture awards do assess some of these issues, but too often the submissions play to the gallery — and the “wow effect” and the “zap factor” are privileged over the sort of buildings the RICS judges seek: buildings that in their totality contribute to a civilised society, which offer quiet satisfaction at a social, physical and emotional level.
These awards suggest that surveyors, precisely because of their more utilitarian outlook, just might have something to teach architects about what society expects, and deserves, from their profession.
By Alan Berman
Alan Berman is a consultant at Berman Guedes Stretton.