Full transcript of the second Max Fordham roundtable
Rory Olcayto: Thank you very much for coming today to the second Max Fordham Roundtable Discussion. I don’t know if you saw the first one that we did in AJ. It was a debate around the idea of climate change and how do you view climate change, whether it’s a design problem or whether it’s a situation in which we can form new ideas about how to design and think about architecture and the environment, and it’s generated a very interesting discussion about how we should frame the idea of low energy design.
What we want to do today is have a similar engaging conversation about the idea of collaboration.
This was developed in collaboration between Architects’ Journal and Max Fordham, and it’s the notion of creativity, collaboration and authorship in contemporary design, in the making of buildings which are incredibly complex projects which are very rarely, well, never the vision of just one person.
It sort of emerged out of thinking about, say, for example, the Richard Rogers show at the Royal Academy which was meant to be about how that practice in particular thrives with collaboration to bring back the visions of, initially, Richard Rogers and then the other senior members of the team.
Max Fordham offered up the idea of film making as a good analogy and it makes you think about Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is possibly his most famous film and we associate that very much with his vision. But the team that were involved in creating that vision has a number of other creative giants as well, and it’s how did they get recognised, how does their contribution get acknowledged.
So that made us think that there’s quite an interesting discussion to have here in the world of construction about the pros and cons of collaboration and authorship and, the time when a singular creative vision might actually be an important thing to shore up and to give support to.
So some of the questions I’ve got to start us off is - how can we create a working environment that values collaboration above godlike singular genius? What are the standout projects in recent construction history that failed to acknowledge a collaborative nature of its success? How is education located in our view of collaborative creativity?
I think anybody certainly who’s been to architecture school, that is how we learn about architecture. I started my studies in 1989 and it was Frank Lloyd Wright, Aalto, Corb, as the way in, and I don’t think it’s changed that much.
Cite and discuss examples where collaboration has worked effectively, perhaps projects that you’ve worked on, and maybe talk about the hows and whys, and then maybe collaborations that failed miserably and how and why. Is it hard for architects to see other team consultants as equal creative partners? Is it hard for engineers to see other team consultants as equal creative partners? Can an individual’s creativity survive in a collaborative framework? What impact has celebrity culture made on the role of creativity and collaboration in the construction industry?
What I would say is this idea of celebrity culture being something new. I don’t think that’s true, I think that is the way we’re hardwired. We wouldn’t really have any readable history if we weren’t obsessed with celebrity culture. What’s different now is communication technologies that allow celebrity culture to proliferate.
So if it’s a reasonable kicking off point, I suppose I’d like to start with the idea of: can an individual’s creative vision survive in a collaborative framework, and how does something like that operate?
The reason I’m coming to you, Piers, I think you’re in an interesting position in that you were involved in a certain kind of collaboration with the Mitchell Taylor Workshop, and you broke from that collaboration in order to form a looser framework so that you could tailor-make your collaborations, and you also have an individual profile as well. So perhaps you could –
Piers Taylor: It’s a really interesting topic and I think that the biggest misunderstanding of collaboration is that everyone goes into a room and says, “Okay, what are we going to do, guys?” I feel that’s the kind of death of a collaboration, and I feel it’s at its most successful if individuals could be quite directive in a group. I think what was successful about the early Rogers’ groups, the Team 4, was that why it was exciting was that it was a loose group of people who knew what they could do. What Rogers has been good at is getting the right people around him, that not everyone is trying to be Richard Rogers. It’s John Young, there’s Marco Goldschmied, there’s Foster at times, there’s Rogers’ own wife historically, and everybody knew what they were good at.
Successful collaborative practices have always been like that. So Feilden Clegg Bradley who were close collaborators of Max Fordham for example, have always been very good at saying, “I do this, you do that, but together we can collaboration on this thing.”
For me, I think the collaboration is interesting because it does this thing which is it adds fertility to your creative life, and if you’re just working with the same group of people always, life can get boring. So within my previous practice, there was some resentment to my continuing invitations to other people to be able to have the conversation with. So when we got another project, I would say, “Why don’t we ask X, Y and Z to do this project with us?” Often there would be, “Why do we have to invite them? Can’t we just do it together?”
So in a way I got tired of that, and the new organisation is an invisible organisation, there’s no one. It doesn’t employ me, it’s a vehicle to allow people to come together to be able to work together, and it’s a project-based group which is set up for each project, so each project is under the umbrella of an invisible studio, but there are no permanent members, and each collaboration, each project depends on there being a collaboration.
But I am quite directive, I’m no Mark E. Smith, but in Mark E. Smith’s band which is the four, it’s had 49 members over 30 years, but he is very directive and very good at telling people what they need to do and very good at moving them on when they’ve had their day, had their time.
So I think it depends on an individual being quite directive within a group for a collaboration to be successful, that’s my point, I guess.
Rory Olcayto: This idea of collaboration can sometimes lead to a kind of brown sludge when there’s too many voices.
Piers Taylor: Absolutely.
Rory Olcayto: So is your argument that actually, someone does take the lead?
Piers Taylor: I think it’s like a conversation. I think there are lots of appropriate ways of collaborating, there’s not necessarily one way, but architecture is about having a conversation, and the key conversation in a way is with a client, and I think a client has an obligation within a project to be able to be part of a conversation. I think the least successful projects are when there’s been a benign client who hasn’t really been interested and hasn’t been able to direct and speak their mind.
I think that you do get brown sludge if there’s an expectation that everyone is going to do the same thing within a project, and why it’s easier to work with structural engineers or mechanical engineers is that immediately your role is defined. So there’s no expectation that you’re going to bring the same thing to the table, and there’s an expertise that you bring in.
I suppose I try and bring in people that have a different expertise. So I might ask somebody who has a sustainable expertise or is a theatre designer or has a particular constructional expertise, but I’m clear that their role is, I suppose, not defined, but they have a kind of expertise.
The other thing I think you need to be clear about in collaborations is that you need to be agile enough, so you need to be able to be directive, and yet, as soon as the configuration of the conversation changes, you need to be agile enough to step into a different role within that group.
So I think nothing stays the same within a collaborative group. Your role in it may change and it shifts, and you need to be able to step in and step out of an appropriate way of being collaborative. I think it’s a relationship you’re entering into when you collaborate.
Rory Olcayto: I think the two strands that I’d like to explore of that there, Clare, I’m thinking your school in Peckham, where the client obviously had a very strong role. I don’t know if you could expand on that in light of what Piers has said about not having a benign client? You want a client who’s actually really quite strong in directing the –
Clare Wright: Yes, well, building work, Piers has said, it’s funny, hearing what he said stimulated the thought for me that my life has been about a collaboration between Sandy and me in the first place. But that isn’t cosy or comfortable actually. It’s quite a fierce thing in that we both have incredibly strong views. It can be a life or death argument, you know.
Our son said to us when he was a teenager, “I wish you were like ordinary parents who argue about money and how to raise children instead of about a building.”
But I think the thing is that for us, whether we happened into it accidentally or not, architecture, we discovered this creativity thing which gave us the most incredible buzz which actually is like an addiction, we have to have that next fix. So it’s something terribly intense, but if somebody threatens it, that’s extremely stimulating and that, for us, is what collaboration means.
But at the same time, it’s very disturbing, because it’d be nice and cosy if they just agreed with everything you said. When you say, “I think this thing about…” then you’re actually exposing something utterly personal. If the other person, his opinion, advice is, “Well, I think that’s rubbish,” it’s deeply disturbing, I think.
Now, I have two other partners. But when we collaborate with other people, and I work with Guy, there has to be a rapport, and when there isn’t that with the engineers, then I think you’re going to really quibble.
Rory Olcayto: But what is a rapport though, it’s a very wide ranging word, what sort of rapport do you need to have with an engineer to make a project work?
Clare Wright: Well, the first time I met Max Fordham, we were meeting as representatives of our institutions to discuss contracts, and then I said something to him about, “The problem is the industry is in denial,” and he lit up because his father was a psychoanalyst. So the conversation went off in a completely different direction, but we formed this kind of common understanding of a lot of ideas beyond architecture. We got in to all sorts of things, and it was that broadening that led to a level of trust where if I sat down now with a scheme with Max and said –
First of all, I knew he was going to be very empathetic and I said, “We’re really struggling, I don’t know what to do here, Max, I’m stuck.” Then Max would be quite relaxed about just having a conversation when we weren’t even talking about the scheme.
But when you talk about the client, then that is, I don’t want to sound too dramatic but I think that becomes something very similar, that some clients, they stimulate the debate and they enter into that debate.
I think the other thing is when you share the common ground of all wanting to achieve something meaningful. It’s about something that you all think is really important. In Newlands, we all wanted to create a good school for children who’d had a bad time and it was terribly important and the budget was tight, but people really wanted to do that.
So the client having strong views and expressing those became something, and Sandy worked on it much more than I did, in which Sandy began to get very excited about some things that he didn’t know anything about, and that then became very interesting.
So as he got more into the social dynamics that people were talking about and the complex issues around that, he could translate that as an architect into something that was spatial and architectural.
I think then that’s a real lift because you’re contributing something very personal and meaningful to the conversation.
Rory Olcayto: Hanif, one of your buildings, and I say that very deliberately, has just been completed and we’re publishing it on Friday, the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku who, I think, Zaha Hadid helped you on!
Could you tell us a little bit about the nature of that collaboration and how it feeds into the wider themes of the debate that we’ve started here?
Hanif Kara: I think being specific about building for particular architects is not going to be helpful but I will say something about that collaboration because – I don’t like the word ‘collaboration’ just as much as I don’t like ‘less is more’, ‘let’s go and brainstorm’, all these other things that have come out of collective thinking with respect to people who are trying to do this.
I don’t really believe, this is my opener, in collaborating to the extent of bringing the average down. The argument I would put and bring it back to Baku is architects like that, concepts like that and conditions like that are actually pushing you far enough to draw out what this rapport is, because the rapport that drew out of Zaha because of the client, and it’s not a Zaha building just on its own, there’s a whole cultural, societal, political agenda there that produced that form on that imagination.
So the rapport that comes out I think, and I’ve worked with Max Fordham with a number of architects together, is that it demands of us to be empathetic, and I need to spell that out. From our position that means feeling the pain of the architect, not going to the hospital for him but actually feeling the pain.
So when Zaha comes up with something like that, you actually respect and admire the reason for her doing that. If those of you who know the project, politics aside, will know that that is what the client wanted. It is the equivalent of Sydney Opera House for that particular context at this particular time, and the response from a demanding client who wanted to collaborate with Zaha from an engineer ought to be one of supporting what they’re doing.
So the collaboration in that is not the way you’ve put it in your text where you say, “Where would Zaha be without the engineers?” It’s not like that actually. Zaha has made engineers like us, it’s not the other way around. It’s not that you’ll go right back to where we start from: where does creativity come from, where does architecture come from? This is blowing some smoke here, but architecture goes right back 5,000 years. We were invented 100 years ago as structural engineers as size and technology started to become a bit difficult and architects started to give away the first step which was to give it to us environmentalists, and then we’ve all become lazier as we go along.
I can tell that on Masdar Institute of Science and Technology which is the Foster building that we did, Foster’s had 47 sub-consultants. That becomes collective collaboration producing crap. If it hadn’t been for a strong architect like Foster, it would have been a piece of porridge.
So my take of collaboration is it still demands of you to be an expert in your field, but being able to respond to the field of the other.
In the case of architect/engineer, this is why I was surprised that you were bringing Richard Rogers’ exhibition into play, because I didn’t think of this as a collaboration between architects or between partners in an architectural practice as I gain here from my position which is a collaboration between designers and constructors, and with engineers being the in-between. We’re the bridge that often takes it through from design to construction.
If I don’t have to stop there, I believe that the biggest issue, and I have to say something about this from the educational side, because that’s where I think the problems have started from. What has happened is that because liberal arts is perceived as all experimental, and the science and technology is perceived as the other thing which solves everything in a very quick way because we know what we are talking about in science and technology.
Both of those positions I think have corrupted the practice of designing buildings. So what I’m seeing, certainly from the educational perspective, is there’s a short term artistic architecture so today, we’re even seeing five or six different types of architects.
There’s the guy who’s just thought about it, somebody who’s sketched it, and somebody who produced the drawing, before the engineer even gets to it. That I think is a major disaster.
I’m hoping that why Max Fordham have drawn this up is it’s particular to them and I could refer to that when we work together, particularly with Zaha, or Feilden Clegg or Fosters, that the position is that they’re, these people are very good engineers and we’re actually reasonably competent aesthetically in the arts, I mean the social stuff, not just science and technology.
Therefore, the conversation actually encourages and discourages the certain things that I think produce a better drawing. So it needs that. Where the weakness comes again then, even with the best guys like Max Fordham and AKT II, the architects around here, they’ll sufficient again because constructors come on board, and that’s where the second seam appears. So let’s forget the thin slice between the consultants. The biggest slice is between design and construction.
There is an assumption, and we’re being consumed in a way that actually only contractors know how to make things, we don’t, we know design, as in all of us. So I think there is another issue about collaborating between what we all conceive design and how we make it as well, which is a big issue that we ought to be thinking about.
Henry might come on to it, because M&E has a bigger problem here because most of them are appointed only to a performance level. You never really know whether you’re going to detail what you can see.
I think I’d better stop there because –
Rory Olcayto: No, I think I’d like somebody to come back on some of those points there, but, you know, being a journalist and words being my currency, what’s an alternative to collaboration?
Hanif Kara: The thing is, you shouldn’t be talking about collaboration, it just happens, I’m surprised you’re using the word. My view, and this is very personal, it’s not a practice view, is interdisciplinary discussions.
Today, it’s an overused word. If you go to medicine, biochemists were the first, biology and chemistry, but if you really bring it down to what I’ve been involved in, which is in the last five years, a lot of research, you know I’ve written a book on the subject. So there’s a lot of discussion going on at the highest level into interdisciplinary discussion, you know, where innovation is not necessarily outsourced by either giving it to an executive arch or or giving a blank sheet to an engineer like you can draw over it before you’ve thought of other ideas.
What’s happening at the highest levels interdisciplinary discussion is there is a lot of creativity coming back into play from my view, and it is not reliant on technology, it’s reliant on the human aspect of collaboration, of people who are around the table. So interdisciplinary discussion and design, not multidisciplinary which requires specifics, it requires a very good architect, a very good environmental engineer, a very good structural engineer, for example.
Rory Olcayto: Does anybody around the table use the word ‘collaborative’ in their PR in the way that they talk to potential clients? I’m interested to know like, “We work with a collaborative framework.” Yes?
Jerry Tate: Yes, we say that and frankly, it’s because we find that it starts the, whether it is a collaboration or not, and exactly what the definition of that is, I don’t know, but we do find that it starts a project off in a much more open framework for whoever’s approaching this, that they don’t feel that we’re going to impose some kind of solution on them, that we’re going to work with them in a sort of conversational way to develop something that’s going to suit what they want.
Which is actually how I think we’d like to work anyway as architects. One of the problems with architecture at the creative practice is that it’s a team go, you can’t do it on your own. If you’re willing to paint, you could potentially paint on your own.
I know, Piers, you built your house, and probably a lot of that might have been on your own, but generally with architecture, inevitably, there’s a lot of people involved in the process. So from the off, you have to work with people to get things done.
We’ve talked to people about, “We’d like to collaborate with you,” as a way of opening that up at the start of a project, I think.
Rory Olcayto: What do you think about the kind of implications of Hanif’s definition of the process and whether you think it’s more useful to define what you do in a different way? Does everybody agree with Hanif there?
Piers Taylor: The thing that’s missing is the kind of inter-architectural collaboration. So I agree completely that the conversation between people who have a very specific expertise is critical to the nature of the project.
There’s also the inter-architectural collaboration, and one of the things I’m interested in is inviting architects I know and have known a long time to work with me to effectively fill my gaps. I’m very quick and woolly and rather loose and rather scatty, and my closest and best collaborator is incredibly rigorous, but actually can’t make the first move. But together, we’re quite good. I’m very good at chivvying her along and making her get to the point. She’s very good at making me be more rigorous.
So there’s the inter-architectural collaboration, which is Rogers. Rogers was, in fact, a film producer or an orchestra conductor. Rogers can’t draw, he’s not a designer in a conventional sense, but he’s very good at getting people around him, and then orchestrating that conversation to direct a building.
I think that what you’re saying is the critical part of architecture, it’s knowing your expertise and knowing what you’re good at. That can happen among architects as well as among the different disciplines.
Hanif Kara: I wouldn’t disagree, but as your audience, as engineers, we see that being abused more than work effectively. So Rogers is a very rare success, the majority of the time the consequence of what you’re telling me is it might be a business model, so that you can’t actually afford something, you can do the drawings or whatever.
Or what we’re seeing even more so is a prescription, from the beginning of every job there is an executive architect on board and then they select everyone else. So there’s a QS, an executive architect, and then the rest of you come in, including us.
So I think the more natural thing that seems to be going on, certainly in the British industry, as a consequence of that conversation is the way it’s been translated by your clients, your consultants, and particularly the cost people, is that means we’ll get very cheap executive architect on the job, a good idea from Piers, and then we’ll the two. I think they don’t even realise the porridge.
Whereas Zaha would never accept that.
Piers Taylor: See, I think some of the best buildings have been done with executive architects. Let’s pass on the microphone but whatever one thinks of the politics of the living architecture projects, they are collaborations. So Winy Maas with Meredith with Mole, and the way the whole fee is structured is a collaboration. There’s a 90% fee, at the beginning it’s 5% to Meredith and 14% to whoever it is, and at the end, it’s split and Meredith’s getting 14% and so on.
There is a conversation that is structured by virtue of the fee split. I’ve worked as an executive architect too on equivalent projects for the AA and so on. Maybe it’s the semantic role of the executive architects but I feel in a way we should pass the microphone around the room.
Rory Olcayto: I wonder if we could get Max Fordham’s perspective on this? Collaboration was one of the words that you wanted to work with when we came up with these three topics. It’d be interesting to get your perspective on what’s been said so far.
Henry Luker: There’s three engineers sitting around this table because we’re thinking about collaboration, which isn’t a word I like. I recently went to an interview and I was asked, “How do you collaborate?” and I didn’t know the answer to that. We just do it. It’s what I’ve been trained to do all my life at Max Fordham’s, you do it without thinking.
Going back to your original question that if something is never the vision of one person being a film, building, I disagree with it. I think it is, and should be, it’s been about how you support that vision, and the person who’s directing that design, the person Piers mentioned about, that somewhere in that group is the director providing direction to the entire group.
I’m very comfortable with that as an engineer for the architects with one providing that direction. The question I have: is that person prepared to listen and be challenged in order to deliver a better building?
Because there’s collaboration, the relationship that the architect has with the client, which I think is very important, and about having an engaged client and that process going on which we as engineers probably don’t see as much. Is that architect then going to engage with the rest of the team and listen and work with the rest of the team to deliver what I think is a better building?
I’ve worked with architects who do both. Zaha I think is, as you know, a very demanding architect and you see very strong vision, but she also listens, and she is prepared to be challenged which surprised me.
I think that’s a real shame if architects aren’t prepared to do that.
So I think it’s not so much about collaboration, it’s about engaging and working with the team, being prepared to listen, participate and be involved in quite a detailed level rather than sitting on a pedestal.
I’ve worked closely with the Tate themselves for 20 years and we made a decision early on in that relationship about who we were going to serve, deliver the building for, and it was very much working with Tate to deliver a better building, we found.
So we had a lot of challenges with Herzog & de Meuron where we just came up against each other, and we just went, “No, we’re doing the right thing, we’re going to push and push and push.” Interesting enough, that has come back in the last few year about the positive thing. I think you have to look at the best building for the client, although at the time it was very painful, we have had positive feedback from the architect from having done that and they wished that other people had pushed them more.
Rory Olcayto: Paloma, can I come to you because my understanding is that the work that your company does, there’s a number of people in the company, and it’s very difficult for me to understand who’s done what, and it seems as if there’s a very deliberate accent on collaboration. Perhaps you could talk about projects that others around the table may know like the Flyover Project, or maybe what you’re working on in Glasgow which I know is working with the local community very directly?
Paloma Streilitz: I think the first thing that I wanted to say was questioning the value of the word collaboration. I think what has struck me so far is I think as a term it’s definitely an aspirational one. I mean it’s a condition in which we aspire probably to have an interaction with people which is probably about having an open conversation on an equal footing.
So in that sense I think it’s about enabling a positive ethos and you think of, I don’t know, we might say a simple thing like a hierarchical situations which might be effective in a certain way but I think it’s suggestive of a different condition of engagement, if you like, which is, I think, the value of it.
The other thing that I thought in relation to the topic briefly was, and I wondered whether there was something, and the connection to the Rogers exhibition was about the names of architects and their practices. This isn’t a historical study but obviously when you think of someone like Richard Rogers Partnership becoming Rogers Stirk Harbour, or you think of the practices which name one individual moving towards the ones with names of a couple by surname and then moving to ones which are I suppose more anonymous in the identity of the individual. So like Invisible Studios, like Practice Architecture, like Assemble, and so then coming to the name of Assemble, thinking about that and being perhaps an aspiration that working collaboratively it could signify a confluence of people and ideas and material ultimately to create buildings.
In terms of individual projects, the aspiration of collaboration I think means different things in different contexts. I’m trying to think which project to talk about. I think it’s probably useful to talk about our first one which is The Cineroleum because that’s when we started worked together in the least… it’s the beginning. The impetus of that was that we were a group of people who’d studied together, so had shared an education, a set of references and experience, each held ideas about that and then wanted to find a way of reformulating what we’d learnt from our teachers probably and from each other into a built project.
So we were all working as Part 1s. Going back to the first point in a, if you like, hierarchical situation where obviously we were the least experienced people in those practices and we wanted an opportunity to enter on to an experience where we were equal collaborators, so perhaps equally inexperienced collaborators and bring together our individual experiences into a collective act of creation and, I suppose, especially on that project and hopefully…
We were probably the least experienced builders on our team, and so that project relied on collaboration, on conversation with a lot more highly trained individuals from other fields. So from theatre design in terms of the curtain and basically looking outside our field to how other people might contribute and integrate that with what we knew in order to create something new.
The last point of that would be an aspiration which was then born out of that project which was about learning really and about the fact that we wanted to begin to look at ways which would, by creating which would enable people to come on board and get involved with the building process.
I think what we realised, collaboration was for us like a learning opportunity because we didn’t know very much and other people could come on board and enrich those conversations and teach us more and add value and accept our projects.
Rory Olcayto: What do you think about the idea that projects are better when there is a singular vision which I think has kind of been said? For me, the Folly for a Flyover has a very distinct look and feel, but I understand that to have been a collaborative vision, it’s not somebody’s drawn it and says, “It’s going to look like this,” and then the team build it.
Would you argue that point that the singular vision is necessary to create the best kind of architecture, one which is admittedly supported through conversation and collaboration?
Paloma Streilitz: I think not an individual’s vision is necessary but I do think you all have to be standing in a similar place looking towards a similar direction. I think that it probably comes back to the thing about education and that you’re talking about a group of people who have essentially a shared value system and a shared set of aspirations.
I can think of very few, if any, other people have referenced projects which have been the product of a single vision…
Piers Taylor: I think in a way they all have. I think the Pompidou Centre was the vision of a single man. I suppose… actually most architecture, whether we like it or not, is the vision of one person.
Clare Wright: I don’t agree at all, I absolutely fundamentally and utterly disagree with you. Because I think what happens with a building, Isi Metzstein once said to me, we were talking about the design process, so this is a long time ago, and Isi said, we were working on a scheme and it was my thesis, and something happened and everything just fitted.
We started to do this thing and it fitted, and I said it’s extraordinary, it’s like weird, and he said, “I have this experience that it’s as though you’re sweeping off the sand and it always existed.”
Now, it’s very strange, that stayed with me, and I’ve experienced that on many schemes. I think what happens is that there are at least two people always, and this was a view I also shared with Isi where I said I think it takes two to make a building, and he said, “I think you’re right.” Sometimes it’s an equal relationship and sometimes it’s unequal and other people come in and out of it as well, and they matter too. So it’s not just two, it’s a minimum of two.
But what starts is something which probably happens with the client which is where you start to do a scheme and you’re trying to understand what it’s about, and if you somehow touch the right things, which they may not even have identified themselves but you’ve somehow got under the skin of it, they recognise straight away.
Then it becomes something, it’s a shared thing. You put in your architectural bit but you’re responding to something which existed and they recognise it and that’s the rapport, and it starts to cause something which actually is an intensely enjoyable shared human experience. If it then evolves into working with engineers with whom you also feel that rapport, when they come in and they make a suggestion in relation to the scheme and you think, “That’s it, that’s absolutely it,” and it uncovers another layer which enriches it, and the whole thing becomes richer and deeper as different people feed into it.
Then within the team, sometimes it’s not fun and you’re tired and cross, but a lot of the time, there’s a shared ownership like your children, you love it like your child together, and you care about it together, and people will work all night because they care so much about this shared thing.
Then it turns into a building, and if people come in and say, “I love this building,” then everybody finds that deeply satisfying.
Rory Olcayto: I’d like to bring Fiona in there. Just before you do, I wanted to make a point. I think it’s really interesting what you said about Isi saying sweeping off the sand as if it’s always existed, and it matches Michelangelo’s, I don’t know, the statue being inside the block of marble and he’s just removing what’s necessary.
There’s this concept of idea space by a writer called ‘idea space’ by a writer called Alan Moore. Alan was a comic book writer, and he spent so much time creating stories, he’s one of the most prolific storytellers of the 20th century basically.
He used to do weekly comics, then he’s written things like From Hell which is an exploration of Jack the Ripper. He’s done Superman, Batman, all that kind of pulpy stuff. So he’s very well versed in ideas and stories, and his concept of idea space is interesting because he talks about being at conventions when people come up to him and ask him, “Where do you get your ideas?”
It’s like what people ask and it’s often dismissed as a stupid question. But he thought, “I’m going to give this some serious thought,” and he came up with this concept of idea space being a kind of real realm, as real as the physical realm, where ideas live. The chair was once an idea, but then a number of people found this idea of the chair and it came into being.
And that there’s a notion that maybe perhaps everything does exist as an idea already, and what we do as creative people is kind of voyage into that territory and uncover it. Sometimes other people are also in that same territory. I mean the steam engine was being perfected by a number of people at the same time as James Watt did. The theory of evolution that Darwin was working on was also being worked on by somebody else independently.
There’s a confluence of things that happen to allow ideas to emerge, and sometimes outliers really just kind of wander into that territory and discover it first, and perhaps collaboration is when you can make the connection with somebody else and you both start to uncover that idea.
I just wanted to get that down because it was such a provocative - I didn’t have that prepared but it’s a really interesting notion I think. It starts to make the idea of collaboration seems a bit more exciting.
Clare Wright: It’s sort of the collective unconscious, isn’t it? It’s kind of building this resonance and it’s the collective unconscious.
Rory Olcayto: Exactly.
Clare Wright: When people come in and they may not even be able to identify what it is, it’s because invariably, bits of architecture, like very great pieces of music, they touch a very deep level of humanity which everybody shares.
Rory Olcayto: Yes, and I saw Fiona nodding vigorously when you questioned Piers’ view there, and I’d like to ask you to re-join that part of the conversation if you can?
Fiona Scott: Well, in some ways it’s repeating what Clare’s saying, but I think anyone who has a partner in business knows that the way we work, the way we create architecture isn’t about the vision of one individual person. I don’t think of my work with my business partner Jay as being a collaboration in the way other people describe it, it’s almost too obvious. Of course we collaborate, it’s just what we do.
I think Paloma touched on it as well when you were asked about the idea of the singular vision. I think that it’s possible and important to have a vision, but where it comes from is not necessarily from a singular place. It might be that it’s something that’s already there and it’s more enjoyable when it’s already there, when you discover it together and it’s not attributed to one person. I think that actually feels much nicer and much more real.
Rory Olcayto: Can you give an example of how you and Jay bring about that kind of creativity? Is there any specific example of a process that would cast light on that way of working? We can come back?
Fiona Scott: I’m trying to think of a particular example but… I think it’s partly also to do with different physical ways of working such as making models or drawings or bringing different ideas from other precedence and other buildings that we might know to the table but we’re always coming in from different places.
We’ve been working together for a while but we haven’t become one person, we haven’t become like one brain, and we never will. So everything that we do is going to be a product of more than –
But that’s just talking about what happens within our practice, and as I said, I barely even acknowledge that as a collaboration. I think it’s also interesting to go back to working with other architects. It’s maybe an issue of semantics as to whether you think of collaboration as being a dilution in the way that Hanif was talking about.
I think that’s pity to look at it in that way because I don’t really see the breaking down of roles as the creation of a collaborative environment, I don’t really think that’s necessarily what we’re talking about. Quite often a collaboration with another architect where it’s not a case of, “We’re working with them because we know one thing and they know something else and we’re coming together to make a whole.”
We don’t even necessarily know what we don’t know, and they don’t necessarily know what they don’t know. For me, there’s something to be said for collaboration just for the sake of collaboration because I don’t think there’s any architect company that’s too big or too clever not to be able to learn something from working with somebody else.
When we were just starting out and we were working with some other architects and we thought, “Oh, we’re only little, we’re only small, we’re only young, we’re only new, what can we possibly bring?” But the fact is that we can bring a lot, we can bring a whole unpredictable conversation that leads to something that didn’t exist before and it’s much greater than the sum of the parts.
Rory Olcayto: Mary, that sort of context of working closely with somebody on a day-to-day basis, your situation is similar to Clare I suppose is that it’s your partner as well, and you’re working with your sister at the moment as a graphic designer. That’s a very intimate level of collaboration there as well. What does that actually bring?
Mary Duggan: I’m probably very similar to Fiona in my opinions about the way you actually talk about collaboration. It’s not necessarily about what we do within our practice or necessarily within the design portion of any project.
When we talk about collaboration we’re very much focused on what happens at the front end. So to take our Maudsley Learning Centre for example, we were commissioned, our brief was to write a brief, in fact, to generate a vision prior to the brief.
So it’s interesting that we talk about this obsession which relates to who put the first line on a new piece of paper and that you’ve just defined a building. That project was actually four years from beginning to end, and the first two years there wasn’t a single drawing but rather a whole series of conversations and uniting of intelligence with psychiatrists, mental health users, doctors, nurses. The brief was very much we want to create a building for you to enhance your learning. So it’s essentially a CPD for the mental health care sector, a CPD centre, if you like.
We talked to all of them about their vision, we said there’s no precedent for this. There probably is, but the start point is, “We’re going to design a new building which is going to enable you to rub shoulders with doctors, with end users, how do you see it working?”
We had discussions about one portion of the teaching was all e-learning, so one person was saying, “Actually, I don’t need a building,” and NGs who were saying, “I would be really afraid to be very visible.” Then there were also conversations about whether there should be a public facing aspect to this building, and that became a very important part of the discussion and it not being a building of classrooms reasonably traditional but a place that lots of people could gather and have a conversation and interface with a doctor or a psychiatrist and interface with each other.
The building really was a product of this very interesting collective vision. We were very worried at the beginning that we’d have discussions with teachers who’d want a particular size cupboard or they’d want their desk in a particular place, a particular orientation, they’d want to completely manage every single space. But it really wasn’t that at all. It was about understanding the wants and needs of every single person who was going to interface in that building and create infrastructure for it to happen.
So it became one big event, and it’s a very successful building as a result of that. I’m also really interested in operating in London and what you have to do to design in London. There’s an increasing requirement to consult with planners from the beginning all the way through. If your work with developer clients, you work with clients who are in the housing sector, you need to be flexible and willing to exchange and redesign and do some numbers and really bring people along on that journey.
Rory Olcayto: It sounds slightly negative. Maybe I’m inferring that.
Mary Duggan: No, we’ve turned it into a very positive thing because in the old days you designed the design, you think, “Oh, God, I’m going to need a planner. I need to frame the story, present it to them in a particular way.” We don’t do that anymore. We treat them as equals, we have conversations, say we think this was beautiful, we think maybe we could do this, that and the other, and then we’ll have our next meeting and it would be a genuine next phase in the journey and our response to that meeting and that conversation.
But it’s not brown sludge at all, it’s a very rich and very intelligent -
Hanif Kara: I should defend myself. I was very clear. I have the misfortune of having built more than most people around the table and being old. What I’m seeing, and I’m a fan of architecture, everybody knows that, what I’m seeing is not what you’ve just described.
You’re right, all of you, in that you’re very interested in collaborating with each other and so on. The thing I’m arguing against is why do you want to give away something that’s so powerful and such a big gift which is architecture? So the question is not ab collaboration or what designers do but actually, if you succumb to having the debate and accept, “I’ll have less fee and I’ll collaborate with Feilden Clegg and they’ll do a bit of that and I’ll do this,” I think you’re losing the plot.
Because as one of the servants of architecture, which is what a consultant engineer usually is, if he’s good at his job, and I would cite Calatrava as somebody who’s not good because he tried to be both things at the same time, and sometimes he wants to become client.
That’s not where we are, but my position on this is very clear, it’s based on science and fact which is that I see this all the time, 47 consultants to do one building just stinks. Just wait, because you’ve made your client go into 47 contracts because you didn’t want to be an architect or the reverse, you’ve allowed the project manager to break it down so much that you’ve said, “This architect needs all this help.” I think that is what causes brown porridge.
Going back to London, it is the epicentre of the epicentre, and if we are careful about the way we operate in London, it dictates quite a lot of what happens everywhere in the world. The rest of the world might not accept it, but as a world travelling person, I can see it. We’re very good, but it is even happening in London where consultants from the beginning are accepting they will do the vision, somebody else, not architects, might do the concept, and then a third person will deliver it when ready, and they’re allowing that to happen.
The value has been created by that very thing you just described. You had the conversation with the client, you invented and created the brief. Why can’t you then actually form a role in that. One more thing to say. Try to write, and if he’s holding the pencil and she’s holding the pencil the same time as me, we can’t write the same word. There has to be one person holding the pencil in my view, that is the architect often.
Clare Wright: I agree absolutely with everything you said and it was clear, and I agree that architects have given away so much, and I think it’s to do with professionalism being questioned in the ‘80s and it happened to other people, to doctors, to lawyers, and a feeling of, “I must be mea culpa,” and I absolutely agree about the grey sludge and the frustration where project managers do the job we used to do, and sometimes defend a position where you’re not allowed to speak to the client because they’re the project manager, because actually, if you spoke to the client, the client would realise they didn’t need to pay 3% of the project manager fees because the main job was to drive the architect’s fee down, and when he did that, he screwed up the job.
So instead, the client is not allowed to have a direct relationship with their architect, and you’ve broken the one thing that really mattered by introducing this. The reasons for doing it is a client who doesn’t understand how clever they are and that so often, you might be at the client and they say, “You’re the architect, tell me.” They have to understand that this is a relationship in which they are going to put in about as much as you or certainly a lot, and that once they start to do that and engage with it, the building is going to flourish.
But you probably, it’s very, very likely, you need them to realise how important it is and that they have confidence, even if they say, “I don’t understand it,” or, “I don’t think my judgement’s very good,” that they’re actually engaging and if they will engage, how often they do so and they understand their own organisation and that they can bring something to it and cut out the middle man and cut out the planning consultant, because the only time we didn’t get planning in 30 years was when a client hired a planning consultant who took her drawings and didn’t get planning.
In every other situation with extraordinarily difficult situations, we have got planning.
Piers Taylor: But I think that’s part of it, because I think the currency of the architect is at an all-time low, 70 to 90%, depending on where you look, of the built environment isn’t designed by architects and it’s terrifying, but that’s the case.
The thing is what our strength is is effectively giving a vision and shaping the material considerations of a project which is what planning succeeds or fails on. So planning consultants are only valuable if it’s a matter of principle, it’s outside material considerations of how it knits into the Albert Hall.
But see, I think there’s a slight misunderstanding that there’s a polarised thing developing where oh, we’re either pro this idea that there’s a – this is changing the subject slightly – either we think there’s a singular vision or we’re a kind of happy people sitting around a table directing the project together.
In a way I think it’s both and I think that just because there may be a relatively singular vision for something doesn’t mean that it can’t be tested, shaped, pulled developed by other people, and I think that is the collaboration -
Hanif Kara: You need to talk about the elephant in the room which is yet to come: technology. Because when that thing starts to invent, I’ve seen projects done by Rhino, not Rogers and –
Piers Taylor: Sure.
Hanif Kara: By Maya, and now by BIM. That’s what’s coming next. So the risk you face if you don’t regain this control, and that includes us because we’re second base, once you’ve conceived an environmental engineer first followed by a structural engineer. I think if you don’t get there, the technological changes that are coming, because most of your clients already think that creativity is also part of a computer software, and unless you are able to, in this articulation, reinforce to your clients, the value of the conversation with a, or the value of you being able to spot a particularly bad detail that they would never spot, and so on, there’s a greater risk that the next collaboration is with a computer.
Rory Olcayto: One thing I’m slightly concerned about is this idea that architects have this kind of mighty role and they’ve given so much away. Is this not really what’s happening in the construction industry just a reflection of late capitalism and the kind of marketization of everything in which, in order to create more business opportunities, you break down all the constituent parts into lots of competing voices.
Hanif Kara: It isn’t from my point of view.
Rory Olcayto: This idea that the architects gave, this is the paradigm in which business operates now, and I don’t know if architects gave anything away, I think they were just kind of hit by a tidal wave.
Hanif Kara: I disagree with that, but then -
Mary Duggan: We’re increasingly having conversations with clients and begging them to keep us involved all the way to the delivery stage. Then we talk to our environmental engineers about, “Where’s the switch if it’s naturally ventilated, how do you open a window, how do you get the air in?” and then suddenly you’re not part of the natural ventilation and who specifies the handle.
So there’s a lot in those early discussions about the design and the delivery of a design that some have ended up as nothing because you’re not there to do anything.
Clare Wright: I don’t think it’s only architects. I’ve talked to other people and in particular to doctors, and my sister’s a professor of psychiatry and they said there’s a huge degree of frustration when she was confronted by somebody who was managing the situation who said, “In A&E, they can see patients in five minutes, so why does it take a psychiatrist half an hour?”
That seems so self-evident, doesn’t it, that somebody who’s working this out in a management role where they’re so distant from the task that has to be dealt with.
Jerry Tate: That’s one of the biggest problems, distance, the risk of the distance from the process of delivering a building inevitably means you’re not going to be in the best position to come up with the best kind of concept for a building. You can’t design something when you don’t understand how it works, and that I think is the real risk with what Hanif is talking about, that if there’s a professional.
We’ve just got BIM for our office. Now I’m not necessarily cheering for BIM but I do understand that if we don’t have ownership of that model, we will be remote from the building process. Piers has done some really interesting things about setting up courses where you building things and students get hands-on construction.
Again, that’s about bringing the creative idea back into the delivery.
Piers Taylor: I think technology’s interesting in a way, that’s because I don’t think people realise how interesting technology is. A lot of the best buildings that we’ve done have been collaborations between us and engineers and contractors, because actually, the first question is, “How can this building be driven by technological exploration?”
I couldn’t begin to do it without the people around me that know about that stuff. I think one’s role as an architect changes in every project that you do. I think your role is slightly different in your own office. At best, at my previous office, there are some projects I wanted to kind of retreat into a corner and draw every line on. But there are others that you’re really happy to just put on the table and see what happens and be on the fringes of.
Rory Olcayto: I know you want to make a point but also if you could address, either before or after, this idea of technology? Because I always think that architects tend to see technology as a kind of spoiler, and engineers see it as an enabler, and I’m quite interested in that split, whether it’s CAD or BIM or 3-D printing, there’s always like “Oh” from architects, whereas engineers tend to be –
Hanif Kara: All creative people see it as a good thing, so don’t separate architects and engineers.
Guy Neville: I’ve been sitting quietly listening and it struck me that engagement was probably a better word than collaboration because it seems to be all about getting the right people engage with the right projects at the right time. I’m thinking about my experiences, particularly working with Feilden Clegg over a series of buildings, and you can think about some of them which are the ones that I feel really, really passionate about, and other ones where we’ve come in with an idea at the beginning, and environment idea, and the architect before has really engaged with that, and as a result, personally I feel very, very strongly towards it.
It’s benefitted hugely from having a client who was really interested, really clear about what they wanted, they engaged with the process the whole way through. We moved on doing a number of buildings together. One of them we did a civic office, unfortunately it was for a council and the classic situation where the person on the client’s side, he’d be there from 9 until 4 and that was it, didn’t want to know anything other than that. I can remember him phoning me up when we got planning permission saying, “I’ve got some really bad news, we’ve got planning.” He was supposed to be leading it from their side but he was paranoid about the whole thing, so he kind of felt that by being slightly removed from it, if it all went wrong, he wouldn’t be tarred with the same brush.
As a result, we didn’t really care about it in the same way.
Piers Taylor: But do you think he recognised the difference between something that was good and something that was brilliant?
Guy Neville: I don’t think he would have known.
Piers Taylor: There you go.
Guy Neville: Because he didn’t get involved in it in any way. You get what you expect.
Rory Olcayto: What about this idea of technology though? It does seem to be a kind of hex over architects.
Guy Neville: Yes. I think what we’ve tended to do in the past is we’ll think about something, a problem, say it’s to do with day lighting for example, and how you make the most use of it in the building, and you work through and you do a few hand cuts and you do a few sketches, and then, once you think you’ve got the answer, you model it. If the model comes up roughly the same as what you thought it was going to, it’s probably right, and if it’s wrong, then probably there’s something wrong in the model somewhere.
Because it was kind of a black box. So rather than you developing your own spreadsheet or doing your own drawings, there is a risk that somewhere within that piece of software, there is a glitch, that means that what’s coming out the end isn’t necessarily quite the right answer. But it does help to engage.
Rory Olcayto: But architects would get excited about that glitch, the accident. I remember Amanda Levete wrote an article in New Statesman about how 3-D printing was a major worry for architects because it takes away certain thought process or other traditional ways of modelling, the artful slip of the scalpel or the stray pencil mark or whatever.
To me, that seems like a resistant mood because all technologies have glitches, and 3-D printing can throw up some quite unusual things as well that might move a project in an interesting direction. I just wonder what people feel about - technology is a collaboration. You’re collaborating with direction, a set of tools, guidelines, etc., and other people collaborated to make that technology. For me, it doesn’t seem like something that’s outside of the process, it seems like totally part of it.
Clare Wright: I think it’s something – we use everything we possibly can and there’s pleasure in it, it’s fantastic. You sometimes think, “What would Leonardo da Vinci had done if he was able to do 3-D?” But then we sometimes see portfolios of students that come in and sometimes they work for practices that are quite well known, and you’ve got a very young person who’s quite inexperienced who’s done something on the drawing programme where they’ve taken some lines and twisted it, and they think it’s fabulous.
They were quite patronising, “We’re coming to you because we’d like to do our Part 3.” Then you say, “Do you know how to build this?” Because actually you can build it but you wouldn’t want to because it has no connection with building whatsoever, and it has no connection with how it’s made, and in our office we have people who love building and really know about building, and they know about M&E and they know about structures. We have had Arup people camp in our office because of what they may learn about M&E.
The thing is that it’s something we care enormously about M&E and structures and the full integration of them, but there’s this balance between knowing as much as you can, using all these wonderful tools and wonderful ways of expressing things and exploring things, and at the same time recognising their limitations, that always it’s the human instinct, and sometimes you say, “This is too complicated, it’s much simpler than this, isn’t it?”
Guy Neville: It’s when you get to a situation where you’re relying on it that you get into trouble. The example of the 3-D printer throwing something up, you immediately get to see what the glitch is in front of you, whereas if you’re relying on the software, you don’t know necessarily that there’s something going wrong. So the glitch might throw up something and you might not recognise it.
Hanif Kara: But it does bring up one of the questions here, giving you examples of where collaboration has failed and technology shows you. So when it’s used as a weapon rather than a tool, which is actually more often than not, because most average people who get on to technology use it as a weapon, that’s what happens.
Guy Neville: Can you give me an example, what do you mean by that?
Hanif Kara: Beijing Stadium, the Bird’s Nest. At its inception it was orgasmic for everyone, particularly structural engineers. But when you really analyse it, the scale, somebody didn’t ask anyone what the size of it was. Whoever drew that the first time had never picked a brick up.
So when we analyse and re-look at it now, the wonderful technology that came because of the model, a bird’s nest, the fact that we were going to scale it up without weighing it or knowing what it was like, what difference, the world is consuming it, and just made it. Today, we’ve done an analysis to look at the weight of that steelwork, that if you make a belt 60mm x 5mm in steel, the amount of steel would wrap three times around the globe.
So today, I would question the wonderful concept that we all, including me, fell in love with at its time.
Rory Olcayto: You don’t like it because it’s too heavy?
Hanif Kara: It’s ludicrously irresponsible, it doesn’t take society, the whole basis of which we survive, the carbon footprint discussion, all of the discussions we’re having beyond technology, it didn’t take into account. It did it because the technology was there to do it, nobody said why and what are the consequences. They took away a third of the steel.
Henry Luker: What about for one-off buildings?
Hanif Kara: In my current situation, no. At the time, I was excited, but now, looking back on it, I would say that that was where nobody questioned technology, we did it because we could and everybody was excited about how far can we push it. So there is a risk, I can, I do blame the architects… The pyramids, the engineers would love to do it and show off what they can do, but you’ve got to question it.
Jerry Tate: There’s a big difference between the technology of creative production and the technology of buildings. The Bird’s Nest is a situation where someone’s got a modelling programme that can assist him to do something that’s amazing, but the technology of the actual building hasn’t caught up with that. You want to be able to 3-D print it. There is apparently a full-size 3-D printer in Los Angeles, but it just spits out concrete.
The problem with 3-D printing is that it spits out anything. Actually, you spit it out and then you try to work out how to build it and you find out you can’t because you can only build it with a full-size 3-D printer.
Then following on from that then, there’s a sort of, “How do you make that into a bit of architecture.” Well, that’s still catching up. There’s some really successful bits here and there’s some bits which haven’t really worked so well, and that’s because they’re still trying to work out how to make it. The fact that Zaha didn’t build for a few years is due to the fact that her visions were ahead of what was possible at the time.
One of my big gripes really is that the technology of building productions, when you’re building buildings is so slow and going so slowly. We still build with, whenever we do an office now, it has to be 900 divisions, it has to fit with office technology, it has to fit with the floor tiles, there’s a lack of freedom there which I think is the opposite of the way architects embrace actual creative technology in truth.
Rory Olcayto: I totally dispute what you said about Zaha. I actually think you can see the point when she adopted parametric software and started using it. Her early stuff is actually very annular, it was totally buildable but that’s a separate point.
Paloma, I felt that you wanted to join the conversation a couple of speakers back.
Paloma Streilitz: There are a number of things, I’m not quite sure where. It’s a slight aside but you briefly raised, it was heard by everyone, a point about the pyramids.
Rory Olcayto: Well, yes, if we knew 10,000 people were going to die making it, we’d go, “We can’t do that.” What I mean is there’s lots of irresponsible projects that have emerged throughout history and we love them because they are excessive.
Hanif Kara: Saying what? I still ethically believe that it was the wrong thing to do. As a responsible person…
Henry Luker: The global scale, you replicate that, yes, I agree with you, but as a one-off thing, why not?
Hanif Kara: So technology gives you the opportunity to do something for a good reason, for no reason whatsoever. The difference is which side of the fence are you on, and I have changed my mind on that. I think the Beijing Stadium, unlike Sydney Opera House, is something we should regret as a society, not because of the number of people it killed, because of the effect it had on the ozone layer which is yet to come, the damage it might –
Rory Olcayto: The pyramids didn’t do that!
Clare Wright: There’s another element to it though, isn’t there? It’s a little bit complicated and you touched on it in a way when you said that Zaha was doing things ahead of where she was. The point about you do it because you can, some structural engineers have said to me, “We work with some of our architects, they draw something and then there is no correlation really between the way the structure works, the structural integrity, and what the thing looks like.
If someone draws something and says, “Make it work, well, you can make it work. One of the problems we have today is that you can make just about anything work. Whereas when you were limited by how far a piece of stone spans, it introduced its own integrity. I’m not saying that one doesn’t ever break the rules because there should always be the exception, but there is a sort of judgement and there is a level of integrity to it about where you say just because I can doesn’t mean I do. In some ways we are the victims of too much choice. It’s the equivalent of becoming obese. We’re becoming obese because there’s so much food, we can eat it all and it’s all lovely and there’s sugar inside, and it’s the equivalent of too much sugar, isn’t it, where we can so we do, and we are going to get fat and our buildings are going to –
Piers Taylor: We all have this thing called self-discipline.
Clare Wright: But we don’t. Our society at the moment is projected to be over 60% obese very soon. There is a huge obesity problem, and I think it’s the same thing. It’s to do with plenty and it’s to do with the advancement of technology to the point where the natural constraints are no longer applying.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to eat sugar and we don’t like croissants, but I think it’s an equivalent problem that we as building and professional consultants ought to take very seriously. Because at the moment, we’re all just binging.
Piers Taylor: But society is programme to judge. Culture is a good judge of what’s clever, and I think your point is that as a culture we’ll judge the stadium in 20 years’ time whether we care about or not society which I think because they’re raising the bar, we can do it, and I think it’s the most exciting time to be an arch over all time.
But in a way, I think having the discipline to know what we can do and what shouldn’t do, and ultimately we just want our buildings to be clever and interesting, and that’s the point of collaboration is to make them, in a way, clever and more interesting than they could be if they weren’t.
Clare Wright: So when you look at the City, you see self-discipline?
Piers Taylor: No, of course not.
Guy Neville: Not what they did, the banks, no, not at all.
Clare Wright: No, not intentionally. If you look at the City of London -
Rory Olcayto: [Lets] move the subject back to collaboration and technology. I’m just thinking social media has been unquestioned. The people talk about Twitter without realising they’re actually advertising a kind of software corporation. But there’s seems to be an enormous enthusiasm for social media as a way of increasing collaboration and communication and awareness, of opportunities and ideas.
I would like to maybe move the conversation because technology seems to be a really key issue here about what we can achieve as design professionals. How does it actually enable a better conversation? I’m trying not to use collaboration. How does it enable a better conversation between consultants and designers to make better buildings and increase the quality of creativity?
I don’t know if anybody wants to jump in there with that?
Mary Duggan: I find this issue of the tools that are out there, there being more of them, means that I guess we have to direct and understand that there’s more means for producing information as in design and creative information that can lead a design and creative process.
We find that the architectural students or graduates who qualify that we interview increasingly are coming in with very different tools, so rarely someone who has excellent sketching skills but they will maybe be able to use Revit, they’ll have excellent model making skills, they’ll be good at CAD, 3-dimensional stuff.
We do find that our teams now, we try to build more resource of architects that have a number of different skills, so rendering, sketching and what have you, and we do find that when we’re designing and reviewing and creating that all of those different skills can contribute something very different to the creation of a building up to Stage D and onwards.
So someone will be building models well, some will be generating renders very well to examine for, some other different aspects of the design. So we need to be able to stand back and understand which elements of those we are interested in and therefore steer that process.
Rory Olcayto: Fiona, did you want to add to that?
Fiona Scott: I suppose I was just thinking about the way we use technology. I would feel ashamed if we can’t keep up with technology – we have to be able to, but just the way things tend to work in the way that we work, we will probably try and go for the simplest solution or the simplest tools first, and then if we can’t do something we’ll try it in another way and I think maybe that’s a way of countering that tendency that if you have a very complex tool that you will ultimately produce a complex outcome.
It might be because when I went to college, I wasn’t using lots of fancy software and so I still design with a pen and paper quite a lot. It’s not that we’re enemies of technology, but we can get quite a long way with those tools. Then when we do need something else, we can use that.
The thing about 3-D printing, I can’t imagine using 3-D printing at a design school but I can imagine using it very effectively as a way of creating beautiful objects to show a client. But there is nothing that can compare with working something out with your hands and your eyes.
Rory Olcayto: I’ll tell you what’s interesting about that is this idea that if a technology is old, then it’s no longer good. I don’t think that’s true, although I don’t think anybody said that. But a pen is technology, and it just happens to be a very durable technology that is still good and still useful as is paper.
Constantly talk about the end of paper – it’s not going to happen. Your paper is still really, really useful. There are good technologies that have lasted. Magnetic floppy discs, 1MB? Not great technology because they only had a very short shelf life.
Piers Taylor: Bicycles, you know?
Rory Olcayto: Well, yes, well, bicycle’s fairly new though, isn’t it?
Piers Taylor: 100 years.
Rory Olcayto: But technology I don’t think always means something that’s brand new. Technology can have a long shelf life. I just wonder if anybody can add to that idea about social media being a good collaborative tool? Because I’m intrigued to know if it is, in the context of your work.
Fiona Scott: We don’t have a practice Twitter account or Facebook account or any social media account but we do personally dabble. But we have found it useful on jobs where we have been doing community engagement and that has been a big part of some of the work that we’ve done in regeneration and particularly some of these outer London fund projects where -
Getting back to the topic of collaboration where we are actually working with people in a local area, don’t want to use the word ‘community’ because that’s a whole other word like collaboration.
But it’s a fantastically powerful tool to spread the message about things that are happening. It always amazes me how word spreads about these and how quickly you get people –
Rory Olcayto: Can you give an example?
Fiona Scott: For instance, the Wood Street Indoor Market project that we did where we identified that one of the best ways that you could invest in a better high street was not to build something or pay for something but to help do like this market that was very rundown, and it was about getting interesting businesses and individuals to come in and take space in this indoor market.
Then we had a competition and there were various promotional events to get people interested. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without social media. Sticking up manky flyers on trees and things just wouldn’t cut it, and we wouldn’t have been able to generate that kind of interest from that kind of people that could be that engaged with it.
But again, that’s a particular kind of project.
Rory Olcayto: Paloma?
Paloma Streilitz: Yes. It’s probably a similar point to Fiona’s. I certainly think that I don’t know if Assemble could have happened in a pre-internet time, firstly in terms of us initially all being based in different offices and communicating discreetly and via Facebook as something that had a goal outside of the physical office that we were working in.
I haven’t worked in an office in a pre-internet age, I’ve got absolutely no idea how you began to procure things, find things. What was there? The RIBA was there and AA, I don’t know.
So someone who is I believe termed a ‘digital native’, it has been an incredibly useful device, both in terms of as an organising tool for ourselves as a practice, and then also as a communicator, as a device to communicate our projects and also especially our initial involvements were about collaborative building and getting non-professionals, if you like, involved in the building process [Unintelligible] experience it. It was, as you said, the best poster that you can have.
This is a second point which is I’m interested in some of the terms which sort of come around the idea of collaborating, and I’m not quite sure where they fit in, but ideas about open source architecture perhaps or open source knowledge and how that links in with the idea of collaboration and certainly the idea that it’s like…
Wikipedia is a collaborative product, isn’t it? It’s lots of people’s brains, knowledge. So I think that’s interesting potentially.
Piers Taylor: Linux too, yes.
Fiona Scott: Operating system.
Rory Olcayto: I think that is a really interesting point is that a lot of this new, collaborative language it’s developed in the creative industries has basically been borrowed from software, academic and bedroom hackers working together on - Generally, actually working against the idea that’s put forward by singular visions like Microsoft or…
I think it’s amazing that architects are so enthralled to Apple, because they’re the biggest sort of un-collaborative and anti-creative organisation out there.
I think the open source architecture things is a really interesting point and then Wikipedia and then Linux. I’m wondering if there’s anything to discuss in that transfer of cultures there. Piers, you’re a very avid user of social media.
Piers Taylor: For me, technology is really important. The office that I suppose I’m part of doesn’t have a physical presence, it doesn’t have an address. Everyone keeps asking us what our address is, and the best thing is we don’t get all those junk brochures and things because we never give out our address.
As it happens, we do have a studio, and people live all over the country, they come, as a bedroom and then people stay there and live there sometimes, but we don’t advertise our physical presence. It’s only about the other stuff, the buildings, the conversation between ourselves, and actually, what I like about Twitter is the same thing that I like about collaboration and conversation is that it’s loose and messy and it’s a tester for stuff, and I like the provocative nature of it. I like being taken out of my comfort zone by one word that somebody can drop into something, and I like the kind of fraying at the edges of practice that Twitter does.
This is from somebody that studied with the singular genius of Glen Murcutt, that lives on his own and works in his front room and draws every line himself and doesn’t employ anyone, doesn’t have a mobile phone and faxes people.
So for me, the opening and the fraying of the edges of practice, which is what Twitter does, I enjoy and, for me, the allowing in of external influences into the conversation is an exciting one but it’s knowing when to use it and when to not, like any of these things. Actually, I can go for two days and not even look at Twitter because it’s just-
Mary Duggan: Joseph and I just fight about it all the time because it drives me crazy, probably because I’m a bit of a control freak. I was saying to Piers earlier, “I’ll walk into a party and someone will say, “Oh, you were at the Tate, what did you think of the fitout?” and I’ll say, “How the hell do you know?” It still really annoys me-
Fiona Scott: But it is an amazingly powerful tool for communication and I’ve said we don’t use it and it’s partly because we’re busy, we can’t get our acts together to have a coordinated voice, but I think it’s really important, particularly in communicating really what it is that architects do, and construction industry would say architects do to the rest of the world. Because I think there’s so many misunderstandings. Every time there’s an article in the Guardian or somewhere else about architecture, you get all these awful troll-y comments about what architects are as these big egotistical people who don’t understand, don’t, don’t care about people.
It’s just so unlike anyone that I know who’s practicing. One of them is about the media, the cultist levity, but I think that the media does perpetuate the idea of a singular architect of a Fountainhead variety who is in control of projects which everybody knows that we’re not in control of the building process or the construction process. We’re part of it. But there are these huge misconceptions perpetuated about that by even our architectural journalists who probably ought to know better.
Rory Olcayto: Why do you think that it is? I mean Twitter’s a platform where you can’t blame any like media professionals from perpetuating ideas on Twitter.
Fiona Scott: No, I know.
Rory Olcayto: Because it’s all of us who [use] Twitter. So why do you think that that image is still so popular with the media? Do you not think that maybe the public actually have that view as well?
Mary Duggan: I think it’s cultural.
Fiona Scott: Have that view of what, architects?
Rory Olcayto: Yes.
Fiona Scott: But why do they have that view? It’s not because they’ve worked with us? It’s because that’s the view that they’ve –
Rory Olcayto: Mostly because architectural practices are called Joe Bloggs Incorporated or whatever.
Fiona Scott: Yes, I think it is a cultural thing that people want, and the media finds it hard to present a story that’s about a big complex team of people. It’s much easier to say there’s this –
Rory Olcayto: I’m going to have to defend media here because I think we’re hardwired for leaders. Why do we have a prime minister?
Fiona Scott: A prime minister who doesn’t write all his policies or –
Rory Olcayto: No, but we still need that figurehead, like there’s some sort of tribal instinct that we need to have a big man or a big woman to be in charge of things.
Fiona Scott: My husband’s from California and I was talking to him about this last night and he was saying, “In California, it’s never about the individual, it’s always about the company,” and all these tech companies like Facebook –
Piers Taylor: They’re all about the individual. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple –
Fiona Scott: But they’re not, they’re actually not, not when you’re there, they’re not about the individual. People value the company. It’s the same in Japan, they talk about the company that’s made this –
Rory Olcayto: I can understand it in Japan but not in California. I don’t believe that. The cult of Steve Jobs is massive.
Fiona Scott: But he is a particular case in point –
Rory Olcayto: No, well, I’m no expert but my understanding is, and Facebook as well, is that the privilege of having Zuckerberg like walk along or standing next to him in a canteen, it’s like this sought after experience of everybody in their campus… I don’t know, I think it’s very hard to-
Piers Taylor: I think we need heroes.
Rory Olcayto: I think that this is why collaboration is a difficult idea to make popular.
Piers Taylor: But at the same time I’d say it’s incredibly unfashionable to say that you don’t like collaboration, and I would say that most practices say, “Yes, we’re in a collaborative and da-da-da,” because actually the cult of the great heroes –
What’s interesting in the ‘90s when I was out in university, was suddenly Foster was going on these great lecture tours and was filling stadiums in Barcelona. People were going there to have these extraordinary religious experiences, to be touched by the great man.
I think, 1) we do need heroes, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think that’s still an exciting thing, but that doesn’t also mean that, I suppose I’m slightly mixing my messages here, I do think we need heroes, but at the same time I think that we thrive on collaboration as a kind of culture, we thrive on it, I think.
Rory Olcayto: Hanif, did you want to?
Hanif Kara: Just to try and put a little bit of reason [Unintelligible]. I think partly the problem is if you don’t look under the hood of what we actually do, to ask us about social media is a fair question, but what we all do cannot be representative. Buildings take a long time to design and make. If you’ve got to describe it in 14 characters every hour, it doesn’t happen like that.
So there’s a distinction between what we do and how we want to actually portray or position ourselves. The second part of that, the societal hegemony of the whole social media wave that’s come, none of us can ignore it and most of us use it. Our own position on that is, “We couldn’t avoid it,” because to globalise properly and still stay you’re London-centric and a designer, you had to communicate across the world, and that was the fastest way to be able to do it and a very effective way.
Most offices have within them several languages, I think in my office 36 languages are spoken, we have to communicate against in a 24-hour period, and they’re small [Unintelligible] compared to say the larger people.
So I think there was no option but to go on social media and internet but also to promote yourself or to clarify what it is you do. But what it doesn’t contribute to is marketing and communication but it doesn’t help necessarily in the work we do. Open source is a good thing, and I’m glad you raised it because engineers are working on, “How can we develop our own software through getting more than one brain to work on it so that the software becomes better and better”
I think that is absolutely fantastic because what that’s doing is cutting out the corporate people who write software. So it’s allowing the ordinary person and the large corporate stature engaged, taking the latest software and being able to use it to shape what we do better.
So that’s the place that I think we sit in when it comes to social media.
Guy Neville: We’re about to start using for a different, we use a lot for communication for marketing at the moment, but we’ve started to do quite a lot of internal research projects, and the idea is to start to use Twitter as a way of communicating with [Cross talk].
So I think from that point of view, it’s a fantastic way of sharing that information and getting that out as broadly as possible. It’s just enough of an invitation really.
Rory Olcayto: So how would you use it?
Guy Neville: Well, we’d use the website again as the way of presenting the information, but actually then we want to get people to come and visit, and Twitter is a nice way of getting the message out.
Rory Olcayto: So inside of the office to other design professionals that you’re working with?
Guy Neville: Yes. We’ll be using that as one way, we’ll be going out and presenting it, but actually sharing it to a broader audience, Twitter is a very useful tool.
Rory Olcayto: But that still sounded like marketing to me.
Guy Neville: Yes, I suppose it is in a way, but I think what we’re trying to do is produce, the research is about thinking about some ideas and providing some critical comment on topics that might be in the media at the moment that are relevant to the construction industry.
So what we’re trying to do is share that information. So we’ve spent some time thinking about it and put some engineering rigour to, say for example, greener cities is one of the things that we’re looking at at the moment, and whether cladding walls, what effect that’s likely to have in reality in terms of acoustics to a street, whether it cleans the air, those sorts of questions.
To be able to share that research, rather than just keeping it to ourselves, Twitter is a way of saying to everyone, “We’ve done this piece of work, come and have a look if you’d like.” Then as a result, we can get other comments to come back and add to that piece of research.
Clare Wright: I think there’s something really interesting and it touches on one of the points that Fiona was making which is to do with first of all the vision of the architects. Forget about the iconic thing, I’ve just met so many people who think architects are terribly rich and they have this creative, very powerful job, and it can be quite a negative thing.
I’ve heard that from politicians, all sorts of people you’d –
Rory Olcayto: Famously Gove, in his attack on -
Clare Wright: He’s not rare. But then when you get social media and the growth of the individual and the expression of the individual and so on, there is potential for people to understand better what architects are like and what they experience and the difficulties they go through and struggles and the fact that most are not terribly rich.
Jerry Tate: I think that’s one of the things about open source architecture is what are you open sourcing? Architects I don’t think explain the design process very well, for example, even to engineers they’re working with. They quite often don’t’ explain what we’re doing right now. We’re looking at options, we’re building a model and making…
Mary, talking about the different mediums you use to explore designs, no, we actually don’t verbalise that much. There is a dichotomy that we have, we tweet, but to be completely honest, we tweet to make ourselves look good.
Actually, it’d be more interesting if we had to tweet every five minutes what we were doing or something. Well, it’d be a bit much but it would be quite interesting, you know, you could see the model, “This one didn’t work, now we’re trying to that.” Actually, that would be quite fascinating…
In a way, people don’t like things that they don’t understand, and I think a lot of people have absolutely no idea what architects do when they try and design a building and how they do it with engineers.
Mary Duggan: We’re architects, yes, it is a very complex profession. I’m not sure that a doctor would tweet, “Ooh, I’ve cut open a brain today and I found something worth…” I think there are things that you can tweet about that are interesting and talk about buildings and how beautiful buildings can be or ask a question about, and then an ACAS person might answer in an interesting way or something. But I don’t know that we need to tell people everything about what we do on a day-to-day basis. I just find it a bit…
Fiona Scott: The difference with doctors is they get rather good press, people think they’re rather -
Piers Taylor: I’m not sure they do, because everyone there’s they’re paid too much. Can I ask a question for everyone, which is actually to change the subject slightly and ask about this thing we call collaboration again?
Part of what we do as architects is to steer a conversation, we’re employed primarily to steer a conversation towards the point of conclusion, and even if obviously the building has a life beyond that, which of course, it does.
I think in a way we’re hardwired as a species to want, in a way, to direct and shape a conversation. It isn’t just a dinner party where you’re all hanging around until you’ve had enough and then you go home. You are actually trying to steer this thing.
How do we balance, how do we do that and allow, we need the collaboration, we need the ideas, we need our ideas to be tested, but we also need to steer the vehicle towards the next step.
My question I guess is how do we decide, how does everyone decide on the role of, who is the steerer? If we all sit around a table and actually no one is responsible to steer the conversation, then we’d never have a building. So I think we depend on the conversation being steered as a group of people, whether it’s within an office or whether it’s with consultants. So how do we manage that process?
Fiona Scott: I’m going to be really boring and pragmatic about it, you could say it’s the person who’s taking the liability and the risk.
Piers Taylor: But in your office between you and Jay, you’re both taking liability, and the people who work for you need a voice very much.
Clare Wright: But liability and risk are interesting things and that’s something which we were talking about just before we sat down formally. Because we had an issue in the office recently on a scheme in which one of the engineers came up with a brilliant idea to sort the problem, and everybody worked on it.
Now, it wasn’t something that had been done before, but then when the documents started to get written, somebody writes a specification, and what the effect of this is, the contractor’s got to do this in a perfect way, and the designer’s responsibility as authors, and if it doesn’t work, he’s liable and thank you very much.
So immediately we see this what’s been a group, open collaborative sort of zoop. Because everybody’s really quite scared about liability and we could all get sued to high heaven and lose our houses.
But what then happens is, and some of this is to do with a kind of litigious attitude, is that you break collaboration, you stop people from…
But what actually happened in this case was we had a very, very, very good, intelligent client, we all sat down together, and once we started to talk, the client completely understood what the issue was, and actually he had a great team doing a great job, and he was able to say, we were able to start putting words to it about ‘best endeavours’, those kind of things, everybody’s going to try their hardest, and that’s what you’re up for, and if it’s not perfect but it’s still much better than it might have been, then that’s a really good solution.
Now, getting people to that point of collaboration was quite difficult because it is, as you say, it’s this polarisation about liability and risk. I think this a societal concept that you can create something perfect, and that if something goes wrong, somebody should be blamed. That’s not to say that people ought not to take responsibility, but there has to be a reasonableness that says you’ve used your best endeavours, you’ve behave professionally, and when something goes wrong that there’s a position of resolving it.
Fiona Scott: Particularly with a client, if they want something special or spectacular, they have to be prepared to take on some element of risk for that, because you don’t get something spectacular without taking a bit of risk somewhere along the line.
We’ve had clients who are prepared to do that, and it’s amazing but it’s very rare although I say it’s worth it. Okay, maybe it won’t work, and I’m not necessarily going to hold you accountable if it doesn’t, but that’s a particular kind of private client who’s able to do that, it’s incredibly rare.
Hanif Kara: But it is linked to what you said, because I think the best projects that I’ve certainly worked on, the National Trust, perhaps which we both worked on, I think that the synthesis and the synthesising role which is the person that drives the conversation in most of those projects has been the architect.
I’m not saying that all architects can do it. A lot of those architects that I’m talking about also are very good at taking risk without being scared at all. Zara was one of them. She will take any risk, she doesn’t really have to worry about the consequences but that’s a different story.
Rory Olcayto: I’m thinking that we should probably come up with closing statements now, to work our way around the table. We’ve been talking I think for nearly two hours. Is that right?
If you want to carry on, let’s do that, but I think it might be a nice feel just to think about what you’d like to say in general about… If you want a kind of primer for that, then I can give you one, but I wonder if you’ve maybe just got something that you want to say about collaboration or otherwise as the point that you want to make that’s been informed by the discussion that we’ve had here?
Because I think there’s been a lot of very interesting topics to do with technology, to do with the nature of the actual world, to do with the different visions of whether you need a singular vision or not, whether one person should be wielding the pencil, whether one person should be steering the conversation, that there’s quite a lot of starting points there, and I’d be happy for you just to take any of those strands. Are you okay about that? Do you feel that’s an appropriate way to conclude or…? Yes?
Chris Moore: Rory, just before you finish and while people are formulating their closing statements, I’ve wondered in talking about client and risk, I know that both Mary and Henry have designed and built their own homes, and I imagine perhaps some others around the table have.
Just as a sort of final thing for the conversation while people are formulating their final thoughts, the relationship that you have as a designer when you are actually the client and how that changes your thought processes. I wonder if we could set some –
Rory Olcayto: Piers, you can answer that one as well.
Mary Duggan: In terms of the collaboration between Joe and I. It was easy. We’ve chosen some of the practice [Unintelligible], we’ve been running for 10 years, I think 6 years at that point. So the design part was very straightforward and, I think as Fiona said earlier, we wouldn’t necessarily call that a collaboration but really a sort of joining of minds in a conjoined effort.
I think I learnt a lot about what it is to be a client, so I think there are perhaps areas that I might have been pushing a client to take more of a risk on, and perhaps I held back because either, A) I needed to live with it, however long, or I felt that there was some risk in the delivery of it that I perhaps wasn’t fully committed to taking.
But I think there are other more obvious things like the comfort levels. It was a house, so trying to bring us back to a more environmental concern that I have which is how the building operated in the end, if I’m stepping from underfloor heating in one room, it’s a slightly different temperature in another. You really notice things like that. You notice if you’ve got a switch in the wrong place.
There are things like that, having designed and delivered my own house, I’m much more tuned in to now on a new house or any building. There are things you definitely learn from building and living in it and using it.
Henry Luker: I think it must be – Henry Luker, Max Fordham – very interesting being the architect of your own house, because for me doing my house, and it was Jamie Fobert, he’s an architect, and I think it did have a really, to go back to the word collaboration here, a collaborative relationship, but I think he was saying, “We worked together really well.”
But if I knew how to build my own, if I really wanted to build my own house, I would have done it myself, I suppose, but having an architect with the ideas that came through that, he has wonderful ideas I’d never have thought of myself. That was [Unintelligible] created the home I’ve got, and I think that’s quite interesting for you, because you’re both the architect and the client, in the way you haven’t got the other ideas coming in which for me was a wonderful process.
The other side when you’re building a house, and I agree with you on the client side, you learn so much about what it must be, the pressures and the risk about being a client. Going back to that thing about risk, I didn’t think with the risk that I’d lay it anywhere else other than with me. If something went wrong, I knew I’d be picking up the pieces and having to pay for it, so I wasn’t going to blame anyone else. I knew what people were doing, in a way, I suppose I was too knowledgeable of the process to be in a position to blame anyone if something went wrong, because I did know.
The other side of it was having a wonderful builder as well. We haven’t got any builders around this table but we never deliver what we want without the involvement of a builder in the process, and I think that that has been split too far apart, design and build doesn’t solve that problem.
For me, I had picked my builder before I picked the architect because I knew how I wanted to build my house and then I chose the architect as well.
Rory Olcayto: Piers?
Piers Taylor: Yes, I designed and built our place and, of course, it was a big conversation with my wife who lives there with our four children. But it was great. It was also, in a way, a big failure because as the architect, I kind of cranked up all the things I couldn’t do on everyone’s else’s project, which means actually it doesn’t work very well and there’s isn’t any storage and it’s a disaster in some areas.
But it does have the big architectural connection with its place that I wanted, so the way the light works, the way you inhabit it works very well, but actually I’d love to rebuild it. My wife cried when she saw the Mark II of our building for friends down the valley, similar building, similar brief, similar size family, similar budget, with all the deficiencies ironed out three years later when I was a better architect and had learnt through living in this place.
So it’s very rich and powerful. I would also agree that the contractor is key. In one of our places, [Unintelligible] as collaborators is a contractor, and at the process of construction for me, such a rich one. I’d say that constraints that you discover through the act of building a really rich and interesting, and actually also linked to technology of construction. So I think it’s a great, great thing to do, build your own place.
Rory Olcayto: Piers, we might have to review that 2009 Small Projects Award you got from - I like those comments!
So if we can sort of wrap up now and of course, we’re looking for provocative comments here that encapsulate what you feel is the essential point to make about this wider discussion about collaboration.
I can’t remember who said, maybe Piers said it, but it is actually quite uncool not to be into collaboration now and not to recognise the many voices and the many creative hands that are involved in the design and production of things, especially like curators. There’s a trend now to really express the collaborative nature of designed objects.
So despite us having this kind of starchitecutre culture, this celebrity culture, there is in the more rarefied circles of what we do a shift now, and I think it’s been led by the media. I think it’s been led by people in the British Council, by people like Kieran Long and V&A. I’m not saying for better or worse, but that is the new paradigm for discussing art and design production now.
So with that in mind, if we could have closing comments from everybody, and we’ll move around the table. We’ll start with Piers. What you want to say about this discussion that we’ve had in reference to collaboration.
Piers Taylor: For me the interesting bit is not the collaboration that takes place anyway, it’s the collaboration that we seek out beyond that which automatically takes place, because architecture, of course, is a collaborative thing.
I think for me what’s key is structuring a whole way of doing buildings around invited collaboration and then still recognising that everyone within that collaboration needs to bring a specific expertise to the table. How I feel that my role is within that is our practice is – because it is a practice that I’m shaping, despite it being an invisible practice, is that of director and curator, that you steer the structure of a conversation around essential stuff that’s brought to the table by everybody else.
Clare Wright: Well, I think the joy of building buildings for clients and for all the professionals involved is actually about the meeting of minds. When the right minds come together, then you get great buildings. Of course, some people play bigger parts than others, and I agree that there is a primary person and the architect has a particular role, but the pleasure I get is out of what comes out of that meeting of minds and this fantastic creative opportunity. I think it’s one of the deep pleasures in life.
Rory Olcayto: Guy?
Guy Neville: Probably picking up on your point, Clare, for me, it’s kind of the excitement of being involved in the creative process, and certainly I found the best projects that I’ve been involved in have always been the ones that everyone who’s been there has been really excited about and has personally bought into that all the way through from the client through to each member of the design team.
Then when you get to issues about risk and whether you want to try something that’s innovative and hasn’t been done before, if everyone there is passionately involved in actually getting right through and getting the right solution and getting it built and getting it to work, then it happens and it gets done.
One of the other points, I worked for a while with the same design times, so two or three projects in a row, and we had this very lucky situation of being able to go back and review what had happened on each one, and we all got to know each other very well and the design process became a very, very comfortable process because everyone knew each other.
As a result, the ability to throw almost any idea into the ring and allow people to thrash it around a bit and come up with some quite interesting things, and I remember sitting back in the design team meeting, almost just observing the process, and it fascinating.
It was the first time I’d ever really thought about it, just slightly distancing myself from it whilst being engaged at the same time but just observing it, and it was absolutely fascinating and you can kind of see why we all get so excited about it.
Rory Olcayto: Hanif?
Hanif Kara: I think collaboration is a done thing and it’s process more than anything else. If I was to say, of the most collaborative buildings that I have worked on, the most satisfying and the best ones that everybody else thinks are good as well and highly awarded, the differentiator is not collaboration. That only just happens. The differentiator has been created, and I think that creative spark can only come from individual disciplines and interdisciplinary.
So there is a baton passing around, because the richness of the buildings I’m talking about is not from the collaborative process, we were all good on all these projects, but it’s come from that moment of creativity, that one or the other discipline has actually put into it, and that’s created the richness and liking.
So I’m more for holding on to richness through creativity, but using the tools and the digital even more to improve the process of collaboration, because I think that’s where we are if we use those things as tools.
Paloma Streilitz: It’s probably like a guy’s point but I was thinking about all the comments about risk aversion and just from a very personal perspective, essentially beginning the process of setting up some sort of studio from the period just after my Part 1 and just the fact of collaboration and of being amongst a large group of equally naïve people enabled us to take risks that I certainly wouldn’t have done by myself.
For me, that’s really been the exciting potential of collaboration, it lets you share responsibility and do things which there’s just no way on earth that you could achieve by yourself.
Jerry Tate: I think the most interesting design we’ve been involved in and I worked on have normally been conversations, so there’s been interesting design conversation, and it’s only through those you can get to a surprising result. So if you know where you’re going at the start, then you’ve already got there.
It’s only through bringing different people together that you can achieve that, and one of the problems with I guess collaboration as a word, maybe from the Second World War but it’s got slightly sort of slimy connotations with it. It possibly doesn’t represent the kind of sparky-ness that you should get when you get people of a different state of mind around a table trying to reach a common solution, which is always when you get the best results.
I’m also really interested in, there was talk of a coordinator role which, we haven’t really talked education today much, but I think that the role of architect as a visionary is very well carved in education, and the role of coordinator is almost entirely skipped over. I don’t know why, I wonder where that comes from, maybe bozart’s a tradition, I’m not sure.
Rory Olcayto: I think that’s a really interesting point. The fact that why aren’t there any collaborative processes in place in university for architecture students to work with engineers and whatever else, I just think it’s bizarre.
Piers Taylor: It’s terribly done at Bath, it’s the worst bit of the whole course. Actually, I think you need the structure the conversations with them-
Hanif Kara: How about the engineers and GSD architectural in the class at the same time? It’s not just that, by the way, the Germans do it all the time.
Rory Olcayto: Yes, but in British education, it’s not standard, is it? Sorry, Henry?
Henry Luker: Just thinking about the word collaboration going back to what we were talking about at the beginning that it’s not a word that I use really, at least it’s not one we use in our marketing, it’s not one I use.
I think it’s about working together and we all have our roles within that. If I look at my successful projects, the projects I’ve enjoyed most, and I think they’ve been successful through that process, has been where an environment has been created, it’s a very nurturing environment where there’s a lot of generosity. Everyone’s very generous with their ideas, you didn’t feel that people were going to laugh when you come out with things. It’s very open.
I could say my work with Tate over 20 years, I think for me that encompasses all of that, where you’ve got a client that is very demanding but equally they’re incredibly generous as well. Because of that, I just want to give them everything, and I think we’ve done some fantastic things together.
So I think we’ve all our roles and we all need to work together, it’s how we create that environment where you want to give your best.
Fiona Scott: I think that I have learnt most and grown most as an architect and a designer in my professional years from collaborations mostly, in many ways, with other architects and designers. But I think that for collaborations to be taken really seriously, then everyone, all the collaborators need to be credited and acknowledged, and I don’t think that always happens.
I think that we’ve sort of accepted that all of our projects are the product of collaboration, that sort of it’s an enriching process, it’s an imperative part of the process, but that somehow when it’s presented to the wider world, then they somehow need a figurehead. That’s just how it’s presented.
But, I’m going to throw it out here, I have often wondered whether that is or has historically been… because in my experience, whilst women want acknowledgement for their role, they don’t necessarily feel the need to be seen as singular auteur. I think that’s an issue that hasn’t really –
Rory Olcayto: I think that’s a really interesting point that there’s a debate at the moment in history about the Ottoman world’s contribution to the Renaissance because there’s just been this kind of blanket interpretation of history that, “Oh, well, they didn’t have a Renaissance in Islam, they ignored the developments of humanism, etc., in Western Europe, that’s why they declined.” It’s a really dumb argument really because the two worlds of Europe and the Ottoman world which is Turkey, the North African Coast, the Balkans, the Middle East, were so in communication through trade that it was absolutely impossible for there not to be a relationship there.
I think that the idea of authorship is very different in those worlds, and when we try to understand what happens in that other world by using the kind of touchstones and frameworks from our world, it starts to give us a false reading of what’s really happened. So it’s not just a matter of gender, it’s a matter of cultural differences as well in that in Islamic creativity, the idea of authorship is a very modest thing and that you’re not meant to actually say, “I did this,” and it’s all sort of bound up with your relationship with God and the spiritual world, and if I’m correct in making this point, and Mimar Sinan, who is a Renaissance architect who just happened to a Muslim, he was competing directly with Michelangelo and Palladio, wherever.
He went out of his way to signal authorship and so we know that he designed certain buildings. He created three different biographies that listed all the projects that he did. But that was quite a risky thing to do.
I just wanted to make that point because I think there’s all sorts of reasons that authorship is a very difficult subject to be correct on. I was just reading the paper on the way here and it had something about one of the Bond houses, the house of the villain in – what’s his name?
Piers Taylor: It was a fictional house, wasn’t it?
Rory Olcayto: Well, “The Lair’’ in Sherlock. The house owned by Sherlock villain Charles Magnusson may have looked like a futuristic fancy, but in reality it nestles in the Gloucestershire countryside. Swinhay House, Appledore in the programme, was the setting for the series finale. It’s owned by Sir David McMurtry, head of Precision Engineering Company, Renishaw.” It doesn’t say who the architect is.
I was quite taken aback by that. It doesn’t say who the engineer is, it doesn’t say anything apart from who owns it.
Henry Luker: It’s good that an engineer owns it.
Rory Olcayto: This engineer owns it, yes.
Henry Luker: Well, because engineers don’t build houses very often.
Rory Olcayto: It’s so complex, authorship. It’s like is it a cultural thing, is it actually what people are… Maybe it’s a cultural thing in Britain that we’re not that bothered about who the architect is. Because most British people probably can name more engineers than they could architects..
So there’s many things that influence who we want to celebrate, and gender’s a massive one obviously.
Piers Taylor: But it’s part of the currency of this stuff. Everyone thinks architecture’s easy and anyone can do it, and everyone has it, it comes down to opinions, everyone’s got an opinion about architecture and that’s why we’re discarded after Stage D because actually, anyone can do it, it’s just another opinion on the table.
The house, it’s not a very good house, I thought it was a kind of awful concoction of a second year architecture student in sketch that had been kind of… large in Sherlock.
Henry Luker: It goes on to say his wife doesn’t like it, she doesn’t want to live there.
Rory Olcayto: But what’s interesting here is that what people want to know about, Sherlock is the main personality of this story where the villain, it’s a question of how we raise the hierarchy of personalities associated with a designed object.
Piers Taylor: But what’s interesting is the client. I have a client who introduced themselves to a friend of mine, without knowing he’s a friend of mine, as –
This friend of mine met my client without knowing they knew me, and they said, my friend asked my client, “What do you do at the moment?” and she said, “I’m designing a house.” So my friend, who knows a lot of architects, “Oh, all by yourself?” She said, “Oh, no, well, I need this kind of architect and everyone, but actually, I’m designing a house.”
I’m not doing that project anymore, but that’s how she felt, that actually – across the role of the - it’s kind of anyone can do this stuff, it’s just we just happened to be holding the pen. It worries me a lot that.
Mary Duggan: It sounds like a trial. I think that we talk a lot about having given skills away as architects, but I think in actual fact we’ve had to learn to do so much more, and those more things relate to technology. We’ve needed to have to be very diverse, and because of the direction procurement’s going, we’re needing to consult more than talk out loud about architecture much more during the process.
I think our skill set is changing and we’re needing to work out how to encompass that. So I would say I really don’t think there’s a place for architects to work in cupboards anymore. I don’t think you can close shop and doors and design something and out pops a building. I think it’s a very different process now.
Rory Olcayto: I’d just like to thank you all for contributing to our fascinating discussion from my point of view, I hope it’s been useful and entertaining for yourselves as well.