China and B2B2C

Originally published in Panstadia magazine, Q2, 2017

In Beijing in early June to give a presentation entitled “Smarter Buildings, Better Profits” I came across the term “B2B2C”. 

A little research revealed that B2B2C is one of over 1 million acronyms held on the ‘Acronym Finders’ website. Those which comprise both letters and numbers often become a strong form of brand identity, an example being ‘3XN’ with whom HKS recently delivered the new Copenhagen Arena. The founding architect-partners shared the same surname hence 3XN, as intriguing as it is memorable, simply stands for 3 x Nielson

B2B2C is an e-commerce model that combines ‘business to business’ (B2B) and ‘business to consumer’ (B2C) for a complete product or service transaction.” 

It Is a collaborative process that aims to create mutually beneficial service and product delivery channels…for example: Company X pays Company Y for users, leads or sales generated by Company Y’s business or website. Company X then uses Company Y’s channels to locate prospective customers. Company Y provides its customers with new and relevant services, facilitating an increased customer base and earned revenue for sold products and services.

But what on earth has this to do with an article on sport? Well, WSCE stands for World Soccer Convention and Exhibition China and their 2017 event held in early June in Beijing proudly claims to be Asia’s “only B2B2C Convention and Exhibition Covering Soccer Whole Industry Chain” (sic),  

I have attended, and indeed chaired, a good few conferences over the years but never have I seen such a symbiosis between so widely differing industry sectors and this was as evident in the cross section of speakers as it was in the products and services represented in the exhibition areas. Yes, we are used to seeing stands for specialist services and products from natural and artificial turf to lighting, and from stadium seats to IT systems but this was a whole new ball game. 

The B2B2C of this event comprised a coming together of specialists and interest groups that was reflected in talks and panel discussions on subjects as diverse as ‘Strength Diagnostics for Youth Football’ and ‘Neurofeedback: Measuring and Training the (Footballer’s) Brain’ to ‘Cross-over of Real Sports and E-Sports’ and ‘Broadcasting and IP Protection’.

Soccer is being developed at an extraordinary speed and scale in China: it is of course big business, and big business for a very wide range of sectors. But above all it is about transformation and about planning for the long term. Xi Jinping, the current President of China, is a big soccer fan and he is determined that his country should both host and win the FIFA World Cup before 2050. That, in a country that is so new to the game, involves a long-term plan of epic scale.

The players who achieve this goal (as they surely will) have probably yet to be born. Their education and training, together with the equipment and facilities that will be dedicated to that endeavor, will be more sophisticated than anything ever seen or witnessed before. And through that process medical science will benefit enormously, medical technologies will advance, and the public at large will benefit enormously.

FREI OTTO – Impact and Inspiration

Originally published in Panstadia magazine, Q3, 2015

Frei Otto died in March 2015 at the age of 89.

What is incredible, when considering his place amongst the truly great names in architecture and engineering, is not so much the contribution that he made in terms of creating a whole new language and form for buildings, but that he did it before the breathtaking breakthroughs in information technology and computer modelling which all of us now take for granted and which have so utterly transformed the world of the designer.

Just look at the roof of Olympiastadion in Munich.This stadium was originally built for the Olympics way back in 1972; an event so sadly marred and overshadowed by the attack that saw 11 athletes murdered by Black September terrorists.

Think, those of you who can remember, to what an architect’s office looked like, and was like, back then…

Drawing boards; ‘T’ Squares and Set-Squares; perhaps a few ‘drawing machines’ and ‘parallel motions’; the almost inevitable smell of stale ashtrays and, liberally scattered across the tables and plan-chests, a few slide-rules and those new fangled electronic calculators in wild abundance. And of course a good sprinkling of angle-poise lamps.

The point here is that when Frei Otto conceived his wonderful free-flowing forms, explored their natural beauty and potential, and developed their unique architecture in its purest simplicity, he was operating without the aid of modern computer aided drawing and calculation ‘support’.

Metaphorically, those light years ago, he was at the sharp edge of innovation in terms of the equipment available to him by today’s standards. Where we now can set up a complete, albeit, virtual model from which we can run ‘fly throughs’ that comprise a thousand, nay ten thousand images, every one of the renderings created within the studios of Frei Otto and Günter Behnisch was drawn by hand. Drawing was then a hugely expensive and time consuming process so this inevitably led to much less imagery being produced in order to explore and ‘settle’ form: the imagination simply had to work all the harder to fill in the gaps…..

Computer models now allow the designer to ‘travel ‘ around an architectural form in order to analyse it from every angle and incorporating the surrounding context within the virtual model allows the architect to assess how the proposal will relate to its setting.  Such processes also enable the architect to instantaneously understand how light and shadow interact both externally and within. Put simply computer technology has provided an invaluable tool for the rapid exploration of form and the pursuit of economic efficiencies.   

Frei Otto’s work, particularly at Munich, has had an immense impact on generations of the world’s finest architects, and through them on many of the world’s most impressive sports facilities. In this respect, if he didn’t actually change the course of architecture, he certainly opened up a complete new avenue in terms of genre. 

Quite simply, he is the father of the modern tensile structure……

But beyond this, his work has triggered another whole territory of exploration and that is the bolder and clearer use of structure. Some would agree that he was by instinct as much an engineer as an architect and in this respect stadiums – especially their roofs – offer immense opportunities for the use of structure, clearly visible and expressed in all its glory, as an architectural device for ordering and organising the building.

Building Services can be used in this way as well – for example the 5 pairs of enormous air shafts – bold and red – that run along the west side of the plaza outside the Pompidou Centre.

For too long, as we made the journey from load bearing structures to framed buildings, architects seemed to divest themselves of interest in structural elements and services: think of the wonderful ‘exhaust’ structures (chimneys!) that adorned our city roof structures of old. 

Otto Frei’s work not only broke completely new ground in terms of generating innovative architectural forms and language, he re-kindled interest in structure as a delightful ‘tool’ in the designer’s armoury.

In some ways it is sad that Otto Frei was not born 50 years later: he would have achieved even more with the tools and equipment that we take for granted today. Or put another way: what a pity the IT revolution didn’t come a few decades earlier…..

Expressing ‘Collective Identity’

Originally published in Panstadia magazine, Q1, 2015

Paul Hyett of Vickery Hyett explains the importance of designing host stadia that are conducive not only to the global sporting event but more importantly to their local community; reflecting their environs.

Music, Food, Language, Poetry, Literature, Song, Dance, Clothes and Furniture: these are just some of the essential ingredients that define a culture…… that imbue a people with a collective  ‘identity’  – a sense of belonging, and a sense of place. Architecture has a central role in this process – at once shifting and shaping space and informing “space making” through the varied agendas contingent to context. 

But traditional identity is being increasingly challenged by the processes of globalization. Modern products of media and manufacturing are constantly effacing the characteristics of ‘place’ and ‘back-drop’ that evoke the “particular”.   Modern mass production of   cars, planes and the hamburger each, in their way, contribute towards a process of ‘cultural unification’ – as do corporate hotels and denim trousers. “There” as a concept in “place making” is lost to the point of becoming “everywhere”.  

 The Challenge

 Invited many years ago as RIBA President to address the Sri Lankan Institute of Architects’ annual conference on the topic of ‘Traditional Identity in a Global Context’, I became pre-occupied with making “there” special yet particular. Against that endeavour,  architects can indeed challenge the processes of globalization and, through our work,  imbue  projects with a character that is relevant  to  making an ‘architecture of place’ – an architecture that makes sense of the essential qualities of “there” responding to local climate, topography and culture. An architecture that utilizes local materials and engages local craft…..

Some aspects of “global” cannot, of course, be ignored architecture must always   respond to new and expanding programmatic challenges;  including large building typologies such as hospitals  and stadiums that have little precedent in a newly  developing country.  Architecture must also respond to new agendas such as eco-sustainable design, but through all this it should remain locally relevant and confidently contemporary. 

……..Nothing can be more inappropriate and potentially inadequate than to transfer the architecture of somewhere else to a new location.

 But beyond reinforcing the cultural identity of context, it is necessary to recognize that “identity” is dynamic rather than static, always evolving in response to the conditions that a place, in the widest sense of that term, responds.  An architecture of integrity will generate local pride and command external respect. An architecture that is so grounded in its response to its physical, cultural and social context will, quite simply, be meaningless anywhere else…..

National Identity and Ambition

Architecture should be placed at the ‘cutting edge’ in the shaping of Cities, Regions and Nations as ambitious modern places which express a collective identity   that will ever continue to evolve.  Major public buildings such as stadiums will contribute enormously to this process.  They should be always bold and innovative.  Certain in their expression   they should ‘lift the spirit’ of all who use them, all who pass by and all who visit. But above all they should be buildings of that place that show a quintessentially local response to the challenge of ‘place making’.

Major Tournaments and the Challenge of Legacy

International sporting events impose requirements that are universally applicable to any site around the world; the temporary condition they create and their subsequent legacy will frequently be at odds with the cultural and urban norms of any particular place. Stadium precincts, particularly those capable of hosting major events, can be hostile places, they are space and infrastructure hungry, yet contribute little to cultural and urban life. History shows that time and again, the challenges of legacy generate embarrassing levels of waste, cost and ultimately architectural compromise with the legacy offering. 

If the architecture of the stadium is considered symbolic of place and its culture, we must ask how can the stadium precinct contribute to and sustain cultural and public life in legacy mode?  

The solutions to this will be as varied as the contexts themselves, but as designers our ambitions must –at least – address some common goals: we should design public spaces that are appropriate to local customs and that support the kind of public life that is particular to that place; the built fabric should moderate the climate so that spaces are comfortable to occupy – often this means borrowing from indigenous building typologies; we must build-in a degree of flexibility, to allow for unforeseen cultural nuances to enrich  a place over time. And we should activate these places with facilities that are needed and will be used. 


The ’Stadium’ and the ‘Major International Sporting Event’ are global phenomena, the modernizing effect of which can be extremely positive. It can also, however, pose a threat to cultural and traditional identity, with the notion of “there” being eroded by the notion of “everywhere”.  But “there” can be special, and particular to its context, by adapting ‘global’ programmatic challenges that hitherto have no local precedent into relevant and contemporary architecture which both reinforces and expresses a discrete sense of identity. And, in addressing the wider precinct in legacy, we are concerned with “place making” that will sustain cultural life and identity.

Proscription, Prescription, Liberty and Freedom

Originally published by World Architecture Festival, May 2020

Here, in an increasingly beleaguered Britain, many analogies have been made between Covid-19 and World War II: 

……the biggest threat to our freedom since fascism; the virus personified as a hidden, ruthless and cruel enemy random in its attacks; the impact on our economy, manufacturing output, distribution and way of life, destructive. 

Effectively ‘gated’ on this island with all but essential workers under 24-hour curfew, we are imprisoned in our homes large and small, urban and rural, our liberty, so prized, indefinitely suspended. The shock has been profound, the consequences incalculable.

So, having reached the end of the beginning of this viral siege what next? 

‘Tagged’, courtesy of our new phone apps, our movements will be ever monitored and recorded, those we meet identified and traceable. Virtual policing will become routine within the society in which our Prime Minister now so believes. And thereafter, when the enemy is beaten and the virus destroyed, what kind of future awaits us? 

The political battleground will surely become a struggle between Orwellian control and a ‘virtual’ version of another New Jerusalem Movement. Which brings me to the issue of the ‘intelligent’ buildings that will become an inevitable part of our future architecture: what kind of ‘intelligence’ and how will it be used?  

Supermarkets and digital purchase stores already maintain substantial profiles on the buying habits and the preferences of every one of us. Advertisers use these to influence our behaviours and expand our purchasing activities. Further surveillance and monitoring of our movement and contact profiles will facilitate yet more sinister abuse: these are very dangerous times for privacy and freedom, offering rich rewards for those who gain access to social profiling. 

A more progressive insight into the coming post-Covid architectural world can, of course, be found in the anticipatory projects and teaching of Cedric Price, once famously described as having a ‘capacity for making the complacent sit up, and the over-confident sit down’, which is precisely why we so much need his scepticism and wisdom to guide us now. 

Intelligent buildings are potentially good: the key is, what are the goals of those who direct and monitor that intelligence, and what will constrain their mischief. It is for this reason that the socio-political agendas that will inform the re-booted environment in which we will in future live, work and play are so critical to liberty and freedom.

As we tiptoe back to some kind of normality, to a world in which we can once again gather within our buildings for work, trade, worship, learning pleasure and fun; where we can sit at the same tables and drink at the same bar; where we can queue and jostle, cheer and clap, huddle and all the rest, we should therefore think about the architecture of Cedric Price which enhanced, rather than limited liberty, and of his prototypical ‘intelligent buildings’ which reinforced rather than constrained freedom. 

We of course already suffer massive invasions of our privacy in the form of security cameras – you cannot complete any urban journey unseen, unrecorded and unmemorised. Your progress by foot, car and public transport is watched silently, recorded meticulously, and archived for eternity. 

But from here on that game is going to get even more clever. Mobile phones will be screened, thousands of contacts traced, and our unfolding risk profile assessed at every step of life’s journey. At points of entry, shopping centre security systems will automatically measure our temperature and bio-recognise our profiles; pathogen monitoring systems will detect any offending microorganism emissions and, whenever appropriate, alert the authorities. Likewise, for stadiums, theatres, cinemas pubs and clubs. In Benthamite fashion, those whose ‘condition’ threatens the good of the majority will have been ‘spotted’ even before they have reached the top of the escalator. Whether you freely turn right or find yourself ‘firmly guided’ left into the restraining arms of authority will be a consequence of the surveillance and analysis systems incorporated into the very architecture that surrounds us. 

So whilst, courtesy of ever more efficient technologies that observe, manage and alert, we will once more soon be free to enjoy our buildings with a sense of normalcy, ‘Big Brother’ will be ever present in the metaphorical rafters, watching over you and yours. This is only good if it is for your good. 

We cannot go back to yesterday because we were different people then. But, Legislators and Regulators be warned as you shape and set rules for our new and safer world: enforced social distancing is the enemy of the marketplace; the shopping centre; the bar and the restaurant; the mosque, temple, synagogue and church; the arena and the stadium. And anyway, laws that forbid and prohibit are as alien to our liberty as are walls to our essential freedom. Safety must not be secured through proscription.

We yearn to return to a time in which we can breathe the same air, touch, shake hands, love, be loved and be human again. But that return is ultimately contingent on the complete eradication of Covid-19. On the way architecture will gain a new string to its bow the development of which should be guided by a philosophy of liberty and freedom as opposed to one of prescription, or its ugliest sister, proscription.  

So yes, we must for the common good accept a future in which surveillance of the public realm, both within and without our buildings, is the norm, but only where our government’s purpose and practice is itself proscribed and regulated, and where protections ensure that information gleaned about us is not raided and misused by others. The sole purpose of such  surveillance as will be delivered through tomorrow’s intelligent buildings must be to sustain our collective health and wellbeing, and to ensure our innocent freedom and right to learn, explore and develop within a virtual world that is becoming curiouser and curiouser with every step we take.Tomorrow is coming, but what will we become? That is the great puzzle….

Responding To Emergencies

Originally published by World Architecture Festival, April 2020

It is an extraordinary coincidence that two of the past buildings of Paul Hyett Architects – both featured as building studies in the Architects’ Journal – should have been indirectly involved in the tragic events surrounding the Grenfell fire.

The Fire Research Testing Station, completed in 1995, was constructed for the Building Research Establishment at Garston. Here, materials and components are tested under fire conditions and the results are used to inform the performance data that is so critically important to those who select products for incorporation into buildings. The facility is also used to test samples taken from fires in order to produce information that will assist the investigations that inevitably follow serious incidents.

The London Ambulance Service ‘Back-Up’ Control Centre at Devon’s Road in East London provides a fully functioning unit that can operate independently of the main control centre at Waterloo. It is sadly the case that budgets for such facilities – both capital and operational – are usually under great pressure; indeed, many doubts were expressed about both projects at the time of their construction. 

The case for the LAS ‘Back-Up’ Control Centre was especially fragile. Despite the clear need for such a facility in the event of a complete failure at the lead control base at Waterloo, the availability of Devon’s Road for use other services – such as police and fire – at similar times of stress, or as a combined Control Centre at times of major incident, or even national emergency, was never taken seriously by any but those dedicated professionals who are expected to both manage services and public behaviour in times of crisis.

I am thinking of events like two passenger airliners crashing over central London: a total of as much as 1200 tons of plane and 400 or so tons of high octane fuel raining down on a busy Oxford Street or Piccadilly, creating a path of debris and a fireball half a mile or longer across our city. How would we respond? Mercifully, we have never in peace time faced such carnage but recent events at Schipol and Charles de Gaulle are ghastly reminders that such threats are ever present. The former involved El Al Flight 1863, a Boeing 747 cargo aircraft, which crashed into the Groeneveen and Klein-Kruitberg flats in the Bijmermeer neighbourhood of Amsterdam at 6.35 pm on 4 October 1992. The plane, on route from JFK to Ben Gurion airport, had stopped over at Schipol for re-fuelling and a crew change. It crashed while trying to re-land following catastrophic mechanical failure. Three crew members and a single passenger plus 39 residents of the flats were killed. All ten floors of the flats were destroyed by the impact which generated a fire of ‘gigantic proportions’ some 120 metres wide and the length of a football pitch.

The crash on the afternoon of 25 July 2000 led to the death of all 109 passengers on the Air France Concorde and four people on the ground. Again, the fire was intense and enormous in scale, albeit in a sparsely populated area.

The point of recounting these serious and tragic incidents is that like any other major incident they place immense demands on emergency services both in terms of the immediate response, and the longer-term medical care of the many critically injured people. Having adequate response plans in place, tested, re-tested, regularly reviewed and rehearsed in anticipation of such events is, as we now see with Covid-19, so important. This involves people, trained and at the ready; equipment, sophisticated and adequate in quantity; and facilities, maintained and constantly tested in order that our responses are speedy, adequate and enduring.

And yet here we are again with the Coronavirus tragedy unfolding around us and a seemingly inadequate capacity to meet the challenge in terms of medicines, PPE clothing, equipment and hospital facilities. The 5 PM Daily Briefings increasingly offer a picture of severely strained resources and inadequate preparation and, although seemingly restrained, the media’s interrogation of the government and its medical and scientific advisers points to weaknesses in supply and logistics which, to the many watching, must beggar belief.

But there is a parallel story that has yet to be told in full, of extraordinary  strategic skill and operational logistics, led by the scientists and medical leaders who have managed to interrogate a variety of scenarios based on statistical forecasting, and through such analysis, to plan, despite all the obstacles, the supply of human resources, equipment and facility that has been available. Of course, we would all wish to see better, particularly those in the front-line whose need for adequate PPE is so great, but we should also acknowledge that we are witnessing the most incredible achievements during these dark hours.

The speed with which the ‘new’ 4,500 bed coronavirus hospital has been delivered at the Excel Centre in East London…. the largest intense care unit in the world…. is astonishing: 

The story goes like this: on Friday 20 March my friend James Middling, who is Global Director for Built Environment at Mott MacDonald, wrote to the Dept. of Health and Social Security and the NHS offering support in the response to the anticipated surge in demand for hospital beds. London’s Excel exhibition Centre was assessed the following Monday, conversion work began on the Wednesday and the facility was opened on 8 April…. A quite astonishing achievement and a testimony to the skills of all involved.

A clinical team planned the areas that would be dedicated to patient treatment, their priority being beds and medical equipment whilst a second team focused on the provision of the supporting infra-structure: that is the ambulance stations, vehicle washdown areas, mortuary, storage zones, staff canteens and welfare areas and residential accommodation for staff within 25 nearby hotels. Provision was also made for auxiliary and back-up power supplies, water and waste disposal; for access and egress, parking and marshalling provisions for ambulances, delivery and service vehicles,  for staff vehicles and public transport, for those shuttle buses that will connect the facility with the staff residential accommodation, and for general and dangerous clinical waste. Fire safety, security, signage and wayfinding as well as IT and communications also needed attention prior to the facility becoming operational.

The team has now moved on to providing integration and programming support for four further surge capacity facilities at Cardiff, Manchester and Glasgow, sharing knowledge and the benefits of lessons learned and expanding the capability of a team that is now receiving requests for help from around the world. 

Through such experiences as major incidents, accidents and disasters, and now this pandemic of hitherto unprecedented scale, a new professional discipline has emerged; one that has the enhanced experience required to provide and co-ordinate rapid and appropriate skills and support; that can provide the integrated common data environments that are required for collaboration, information management, communication and document control between multiple parties and technical leads; one that will continue (when Covid-19 is all over) to build knowledge for an ever-expanding information base that can inform future emergency planning; and one that can maintain an approved list of capable and trained contractors for all service disciplines and which can provide management and governance to oversee the responses to future high-speed and high-risk scenarios.

Many of the great architectural and engineering practices of the latter part of the 20th century were created by young people who had ‘cut their teeth’ working on military support projects around the world. People such as Robert Matthew one of the founding partners of RMJM architects who was involved in the design of prefabricated housing during the war – work that was essential to the post war housing crisis. His partner, Stirrat Johnson-Marshall, spent much of the war with the Royal Engineers in the Far-East before returning home to design camouflage and decoy equipment with the likes of Hugh Casson of Casson Conder fame. And we should not of course forget the ingenuity of Tom Harris, of Harris and Sunderland, who at Churchill’s behest had designed the Mulberry Harbour pontoons and coupling facility that paved the way for the D-Day Landings.

So next time you witness those well intended mainstream journalists expressing astonishment at the apparent chaos and inadequacy of the responses to incidents such as the Covid-19 crisis, it is worth sparing a thought for all those who in ‘normal’ times struggle so valiantly to make the case for the manufacture and stock-piling of the equipment and facilities that we require for such situations, and the training and re-training of all those who we will need to lead and deliver the responses. Being ready is so important!

The Worst Ever Land Deal and Design Intelligence

Originally published by World Architecture Festival, October 2019

Ever heard of Run? You should have, especially if you are either in Real Estate or American. And if you are in American Real Estate and you don’t know about ‘Run’ then shame on you……

The account of Run was just one of many fascinating stories that surfaced last week during two days of brilliant presentations and workshops at a symposium held at the RIBA  by David Gilmore’s ‘Design Futures Council’. It goes like this:

Run – also known as the Island of Puala Run – is 0.6 miles wide and just under 2 miles long. Pretty close to the size of New York’s Central Park…just a little wider but not so long. So, what’s Run got to do with real estate and land deals? Just a little as recounted following a brilliant presentation by Alastair Parvin of the ‘Open Systems Lab’ – an architect who specialises in ‘open digital innovation for industry and society….working to transform cities….with private, public and third sector organisations to design 21st systems’.

Look Open Systems Lab up….and YouTube Parvin: his stuff will blow your mind. And its deadly serious.  Like how to make a city the size of London every five weeks to meet global  demands. As someone else said….it’s what we build in that time that determines our survival. The stuff you all know about: ecologically responsible architecture and energy or we kill the planet.

Because Alastair is all about ‘systems’ he posed the simple question ‘which system is getting in our way’ in terms of solving our global city and development problems. The answer: LAND. Not land per se but land as a system of exchange and investment. Land in the sense of Location, Location, Location type land. 

Parvin pointed to uncomfortable facts such as the massive escalations in house prices ….a consistent pattern across the world….which continues despite pretty static wage levels for the majority. His point is that we have the science and the knowledge, and certainly the money to solve all our city problems but we operate land in terms of value, investment and tenures in a way that distorts outcomes, wastes resources and opportunity, and strangles futures.

So to the Isle of Run, one of 18,307 Indonesian islands. (Wow: world’s 16th largest economy, biggest Muslim community, with 719 of the world’s six and a half thousand languages:  how do they manage such a fragmented country?).

……the date was 31 July 1667 and the Dutch finally got their deal: they acquired the coveted Run. This tiny little place was of critical importance to the Dutch, for years a leading power of a spice trade so critical to ongoing European progress. Indonesia…which the Dutch had increasingly controlled from the later 16th century, was their imperial pride. But there, tucked in amongst the Banda Arc of islands, bang north of Darwin in an Australia yet to be discovered and mapped by Flinders and the arch enemy Nicolas Baudin, lay the haven of Run. And the dastardly British owned it.

It had some Nutmeg trees, and some Mace, but not much to excite the Dutch except it was not theirs. Pretty amazing that they managed this deal with the British on that Sunday back in 1667 because only five weeks earlier the Dutch navy had bombarded British towns around the Medway and, even worse, had made off with the pride of the British fleet, HMS Royal Charles. The flagship was towed to Hellovoetsluis  in Holland where she was ashamedly placed in dry-dock as a tourist attraction.

But the British never let pride or acrimony get in the way of trade and a good deal so it was that they finally succumbed, in the most haughty and disdaining of manners, to letting the Dutch have their little mound in the Bandu Sea…..but not for money. The British wanted more and they got it: the most valuable land swap ever to take place…. before, since and surely forever. The Dutch might have got some coconuts and the nutmeg that they could sell on a 32,000 percent yield in the European markets, but the British got what was, for them, a much coveted swamp. 

That swamp was ‘New Amsterdam’ on the East Coast of America…. now of course New York.

But fortunes ebb and flow…Britain lost New York with America’s Independence just a century or so later whereas the Dutch held the Isle of Run well into the 20th century.

Those two days at the Design Intelligence Leadership summit were rich in content with a series of stunning presentations. Paul Finch gave an amazing account – vintage stuff – of the development of the architectural profession, Laura Lee had kicked things off with a great opening presentation on Day 1, which was followed by rich offerings from the likes of Eva Ravnborg from Henning Larsen, and Grimshaw’s Managing Partner Kirsten Lees. Other speakers included Andrew Morris, Ben Derbyshire and Peter Oborn with events rounded off by the amazing Indy Johar of ‘Dark Labs’. I mention these by name because their subject territories were settled around alliteration – a clever Gilmore/Lee initiative which offered a moving theme for the two days: Rebellion, Revalue, Reimagine, Reinvent, Redefine, Respond, Reflect, Re-generate, Recreate, Redistribute, Indy’s Real Revolution and then finally: Renew. 

We face the gravest of problems in this difficult world and dark clouds have formed over every horizon. But events like this offer us hope: we can design our way through and out of this mess. As David Gilmore said to me after the event: with talent like this around the future is indeed bright. But the biggest message  came through time and again off the delegate floor….against new  and exponential problems tipping points to better futures are possible but, as Alastair Parvin so rightly  pointed out, we cannot solve 21st century problems with 20th century systems. Change is crucial: the old paradigms simply won’t do. Think bravely.

We must for otherwise Manhattan will revert to swampland in the metaphorical blink of an eye. That said, Run will go on much as before.

Redefining Crowds, Space, Time – and Buildings?

Originally published by the Design Intelligence Institute, 2020

Paul Hyett shares musings on life, togetherness and technology in the United Kingdom.

We are indeed living through incredible times.

Aside from the seismic socio-political and economic changes that were already rocking the stability of our western boat, we are now in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic: COVID 19 has ripped around the globe in double-quick time, wreaking hitherto unimagined havoc in its wake. Our current reality is akin to a B Grade Sci-Fi movie. You know the plot: alien virus runs amok; world brought to a halt in epic crisis, and then the movie wraps up and we get on with life as normal.

But this movie has no foreseeable end, and the daily horror only worsens. New norms displace other new norms as this hidden, ruthless, and cruel virus impacts evermore severely on our economies, manufacturing outputs, distribution systems and ways of life. 

The shock has been profound. The consequences incalculable.

Here in the UK, Orwell’s world has arrived with a bang. The clocks are indeed striking thirteen. Virtually tagged courtesy of our new phone apps, our movements are now monitored and recorded; those we meet, identifiable and traceable. Such policing will hereafter remain routine within our land until either the virus has been destroyed, or more likely, a cure can be found. This is all for the common good, of course, but the less authoritarian our society, and the more we prize freedom, the harder it is to submit to such controls.

And when it is over at last — what kind of future awaits us? 

The next step will surely be viral-intelligent and responsive buildings. At points of entry, shopping centre security systems will automatically measure our temperature and bio-recognise our profiles; pathogen monitoring systems will detect any offending micro-organism emissions and, when appropriate, alert the authorities. Likewise, for theatres, cinemas, pubs, and clubs. In Benthamite fashion, those whose condition threatens the good of the majority will have been spotted even before they reach the top of the escalator. Whether you freely turn right or find yourself ‘firmly guided’ left into the restraining arms of authority will be a consequence of the surveillance and analysis systems incorporated into the very architecture that surrounds us. 

Courtesy of ever more efficient technologies that observe, manage and alert, while we will once more soon be free to enjoy our buildings with a sense of normalcy, ‘Big Brother’ will be ever-present in the metaphorical rafters, watching over you and yours.  

As we tiptoe back to some kind of normality, to a world in which we can once again gather within our buildings for work, trade, worship, learning, pleasure and fun; where we can sit at the same tables and drink at the same bar; where we can queue and jostle, cheer and clap, huddle and all the rest, we should think carefully about the broader directions architecture will take beyond the immediate imperative of viral protection.Pre-Covid, two big agendas were already well underway. Much has been written about the first: ecologically responsible design. It is gratifying to see so many responsible corporations, professional institutes, and practitioners view this as critically important. The second, to which comparatively little attention has been paid, arises from the capability of the new communication technologies to distort hitherto norms of time, sequence, and distance – until recently, predictable laws of physics and reliable human conditions. What now?  We are figuratively at a nano-second to midnight on the environmental clock.

A large clock on the side of a building

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“The second, to which comparatively little attention has been paid, arises from the capability of the new communication technologies to distort hitherto norms of time, sequence, and distance – until recently, predictable laws of physics and reliable human conditions. What now?”

Since the human species gained any self-awareness—since any kind of social order first prevailed—our experience of events was only sequential. Since mechanical became prevalent, time has ticked in regular fashion, and we experienced the beginning before the end. Above all, time and distance were intrinsically related: information travelled at the same speed as humans.  

In his great essay “The Monastery and the Clock,” Lewis Mumford noted that the clock was introduced as both a means of tracking time and a method of “synchronising the actions of men.” Think where we are now: for many, the rhythms of the working day and week have been all but destroyed by the fax machine and by email. Gone are the office rituals of opening the morning post, ‘getting letters out by last collection that day’, and all the rest. Others benefit from these new, asynchronous “structures” 

By the 1970’s, the ability to watch that far away motor racing Grand Prix ‘live’ in your own home was taken for granted. Today, we expect to see the race from the vantage points of the competing car; to watch a recording at a time to suit ourselves; and even to fast-forward to see the end, then rewind to see the pit stops or a crash. In sports, maybe it’s an earlier set or those three match points at Wimbledon. Certainly, for media, and much “work”, chronology can now be abandoned at will. Buildings are still responding to these changes.

A group of people in front of a crowd

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World Cup Match, Big Screen Viewing, Old Town Square, Prague

But home viewing is not enough. We crave the same-time, same-place experience of watching with friends. The play and players can be somewhere else, but we must get to where the atmosphere is. That is why in January 2020, some 62,000 people packed into the Millennium Stadium in Wales to watch, courtesy of the big video screens, their national rugby team play New Zealand in Auckland. And that’s why Maverick supporters trek into the American Airlines Centre in Dallas to watch their side play the Lakers in LA. It seems togetherness is an essential part of enjoyment, but what are the implications for designers and builders? 

One thing is for sure: while new communication technologies continue to shrink the globe and provide us access to ever more remote happenings and events, so much of what we enjoy involves the rituals of sharing experience, and that necessitates same-place engagement with others, be it a pop-concert, sports event, or opera. 

That is why the post-COVID world will be so interesting and challenging: we already knew we could enjoy sport remotely. Courtesy of COVID, we have suddenly come to understand just how much we prefer to be together in that remoteness. Now, as offices go beyond survival and start to flourish with a remote workforce, as universities face that same challenge en masse with distance learning, we will come to realise we are at the dawn of a new norm.

There is no doubt we crave to be together, but when, where, and how? These questions will increasingly redefine tomorrow’s architectures as integrated communication technologies become an ever more essential part of the architectural programme and offering.  Are you reconfiguring your teams and skills to provide them? 

Be ready: Design intelligence will be in high demand.

A person standing in front of a tree

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Paul Hyett, RIBA, and Honarary Fellow of AIA, is an independent consultant practicing out of London. He was formerly President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and Principal with HKS architects for 20 years. His contemplations from across the pond offers useful comparisons to the North American vantage point. He is a frequent contributor and Senior Fellow with DesignIntelligence.