dRMM director Sadie Morgan tells AJ100 audience to seize ‘infrastructure initiative’ and get more involved in UK infrastructure schemes
Speaking to a packed AJ100 Breakfast Club at Claridge’s in Mayfair this morning (Friday), Morgan issued a plea for the profession to take a more ‘propositional’ approach and demonstrate their problem-solving skills.
‘I don’t really know what we’re doing as an industry’, the Stirling prize winner said. ‘I think we’re sleepwalking into a place where we’re not going to be relevant anymore unless we can affect our built environment.’
Morgan is not the first AJ100 speaker to warn architects their future is under threat. Last September, Mike Hussey, the chief executive of leading property developer Almacantar warned: ‘The design industry is in danger of being, not just marginalised, but wiped out.’
Among her various government advisory roles, Morgan chairs the independent design panel for the £42bn High Speed 2 railway line. She said one of its biggest successes had been to encourage the company to employ architects who would provide specimen designs to benchmark against and act as a model for contractors.
The panel has also changed procurement documents to give more generous weighting to design, sending a ’strong message to the building industry’.
The design panel is made up of 50 people from different disciplines, and acts as a ‘critical friend’, explained Morgan, who argued that a non-confrontational approach was more effective.
‘It’s no good just sitting there and saying you can do it better, because the shutters will just go down and no one will listen,’ she said. ‘It’s not that we roll over but we’re criticial in a supportive way.’
Morgan also spoke of the need for design leadership on national infrastructure projects.
‘Why shouldn’t we expect our bridges, roads, viaducts, flood defences to have the same level of design thinking? To be beautiful as well as functional?’ she asked the audience, adding: ‘We can do it. We have the skills, we have the capability, we have the brilliance and the imagination – we just do it everywhere else [outside the UK].’
She added that through the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which Morgan also sits on, there is the opportunity to widen the debate and ‘convince those who would not generally prioritise design thinking to do so’.
She also urged architects to enter into dialogue with pioneering individuals who ‘understand how the world is changing’ and the technological advances that will radically alter the built environment such as automated vehicles.
One of the ways this is happening is through the NIC’s Young Professionals Panel, which includes representatives from a range of professions, and was set up after Morgan pointed out she was the youngest member of the commission and probably ‘the only person who could use an iPad’.
She added: ‘There is a whole range of young professional people all with a willingness and enthusiasm for thinking about how we might change our built environment for the best.’
The morning was hosted by AJ managing editor Will Hurst. It was sponsored by Bespoke Careers, Deltalight, Equitone, Graphisoft, Hoare Lea, Miele, Roca, Schlüter-Systems and Schueco.