Professional Interaction: a Higher Calling

Re-examining the tenets of interpersonal

Written by Paul Hyett and published in Design Intelligence magazine, Q2 2021

“I did not like the tone of your letter — please
don’t ever write to me again.”

So wrote avant-garde architect Cedric Price to Pat Enright, then a director of Murphy, the builder responsible for constructing the new InterAction Centre as commissioned by community activist Ed Berman in London’s Kentish Town. The issue at hand, inconceivable in this era of email communication, was Cedric’s insistence that Murphy should identify its correspondence by both date (day/month/year) AND the time of day. This he required to distinguish one letter from another when referencing replies to the many requests for information and clarification that were arriving daily during the early stages of the contract .

General arrangement drawings for that project, as with all others, were drawn on an unusual paper size unique to the Price office (by memory, somewhere around 700 mm x 350 mm in dimension). “Details” were produced on A4 sheets that, after allowance for borders and titles, all too often yielded less than satisfactory space for the image.

Enright had responded to the request by suggesting that the project would progress with greater efficiency if the architect focused on the issue of timely information, rather than becoming preoccupied with administrative processes — hence the infamous “please don’t ever write to me again” retort.

I reference this story because, as well as the coincidental word in this article’s title to the name of Berman’s organisation (Inter-Action) and project (the InterAction Centre), it highlights the importance of constructive relationships in any kind of creative collaboration.

The title’s other word raises a second question — what is meant by “professional”? Lest arrogance or conceit be suspected, let me immediately make clear that builders can, and indeed should, conduct themselves in all aspects of their work in a “professional” manner. But in an age where the word professional has been so demeaned as to be virtually meaningless in daily parlance, what, we must ask, is meant by “professional”?
One definition I have used over the years in teaching
“professional practice” to architects is that “professionals carry knowledge and skills that their clients do not usually possess. They offer this knowledge for a fee, albeit always with the client’s interest placed first and foremost.”
The patient therefore assumes, and codes of practice in my country certainly demand, that a doctor will prescribe with only the patient’s interests in mind: the medic will not, and cannot, take a second fee or commission from the drug company. Likewise, the architect must select and specify solely in the client’s interest and cannot receive gift or favour for so doing. That, in essence, is the distinction between “professional” doctors or architects and quacks or spivs.

And that is why footballers cannot be professionals: they may be paid, and thus distinguished from amateurs, but have only self-interest to serve in the performance of their duties. Likewise, the second-hand car dealer, and so on.

Rewind some 80 years — to the White House. The date: 27 December 1941. Winston Churchill is in bed and worried. “I am so glad you have come”, he told Charles McMoran Wilson, better known as Lord Moran, who, as his physician, accompanied him on all engagements. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had laid on a splendid supper, but on retiring to bed, Churchill had suffered chest pains and breathing problems. The prime minister’s mission had been to persuade the president to commit America’s efforts to the European theatre — a commitment much threatened by the events at Pearl Harbor just 20 days earlier. As the physician knew all too well, the stakes could not have been higher.

“Is my heart all right?” asked Churchill
Moran’s professional duty was clear and simple: it obliged him to hospitalise the patient — period. Remember the Hippocratic oath against which doctors are bound:

“I will follow that system of regimen which,
according to my ability and judgement, I
consider for the benefit of my patients, and
abstain from whatever is deleterious and

So, what did Moran do?
In full knowledge that the correct diagnosis was a mild heart attack, and that correct action was immediate hospitalisation, he told his patient “there is nothing serious.” As he later revealed in his biography (Churchill: The Struggle for Survival), “I determined to tell no one.” (Not even the patient!) In short, recognising the propaganda coup that would otherwise ensue for the German and Japanese high commands, Moran put the Allied war effort first. In attitude, if not physically, he propped his patient up to enable him to carry his American mission through to its successful completion.

Increasingly, construction professionals face the same dilemma: like Lord Moran, we have a higher calling that demands we put our world first, and where appropriate, ahead of the Developer/Client.
This increasingly requires new levels of professional interaction and shared ambition hitherto rarely seen — certainly outside the theatre of war. Essential to such professional interaction is design intelligence.

We need to exchange ideas across professional disciplines; we need to use conflict and competition in constructive ways and as vehicles to test ideas and search out the truths that will inform strategy and direction; and, above all, we need to co-operate, both within our construction professions and across our professional construction disciplines, as well as beyond our traditional industry borders.

Through all this, we, as construction professionals, need to distance ourselves from the path that law and finance have encouraged us to pursue — the path of abbreviated and ever-later information; of short-termism; of packaging and transferring risk “downstream” to those least equipped to assume it, be they suppliers or contractors, whose want is profit at any cost. Above all, away from the real problems afore us.

Striking in this respect is the dismay expressed by a senior executive of China State Construction Bureau 8, part of the world’s largest construction company, who once said to me:
“Paul — you all do it wrongly! Your people identify and then pass risk to others ‘downstream’ who all too often cannot cope. We identify risk and share it together. We solve problems — you pass them away.”
The message of this polemic is simple: “professional” conduct has always demanded attention to higher callings — beyond mere self-interest.

Interaction with fellow professionals within our own and associated disciplines has always offered rich reward in terms of innovation and execution. But now, as the young Greta Thunberg has so aptly and effectively warned us, we sit at a nanosecond to midnight: the world will see 80 billion square metres of new building in the next 20 years — a built area equal to 60% of the existing global building stock. Now we have a greater calling as professionals, one that mandates a higher level of interaction than ever before seen.

Take a look Google Earth’s time-lapse video entitled “Our Cities” published 15 April 2021 if you want a visual of what 80 billion square metres means and looks like.

Our struggle for global sustainability will be won or lost in cities. Do we have the design intelligence to solve this problem? Yes! Do we have the social, economic and political systems in place to facilitate the contribution that such design intelligence can offer? No! So, to where should we turn?
Governance aside, I suggest we turn to our instincts as professionals, that we lift our sights firmly towards the territories of collaboration, sharing knowledge and creative discourse that can shape and offer that better future we know we can construct.

The platform for such effort that can connect that higher calling and combine it with the intensity of purpose and disciplined focus essential to any success is professional interaction. There, and only there, lies the combination of ethics and discipline that, together with knowledge and invention, will be critical to any collective success we might achieve.

The view from here: ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’.

Published in Design Intelligence magazine Q1 2021

Paul Hyett reflects on three challenges facing RIBA’s new president and Britain’s architectural profession: Brexit, The Grenfell Disaster’s Insurance Impacts, and COVID-19.

Simon Allford, the recently elected 60th president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, faces greater challenges in terms of scale, breadth, and complexity, than any incom-ing president since the aftermath of World War II. Back then, Sir Lancelot Keay’s concern was essentially singular: how best to orchestrate the repair, renewal, and expansion of the national building stock. When Keay took office, that process was already well underway: the great reforming Labour Government of Clement Atlee was a year into its stride creating the infra-structure of welfarism – new towns, suburbs, schools, hospitals and above all, new housing. The aspirations of the New Jerusalem Movement, which had long engaged in informing the post-war agenda, were to be pursued with a vengeance.

In contrast, Allford’s problems today are multifarious, and there is no ‘New Jerusalem’ style roadmap to guide his effort. Sir Lancelot was also superbly well prepared to respond to his challenge. At 63 years old, he was the first RIBA president to come from a Local Authority salaried background. He had spent his entire life in the public sector, first at Birmingham where he was responsible for 16,000 new homes, then from 1925 at Liverpool where he ultimately became City Architect leading the effort to re-house families from the cleared slums of inner Liverpool.

‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man…’

In stark contrast, and through a career spent entirely in the private sector, Allford has, with college chums Johnathan Hall, Paul Monahan and Peter Morris, created one of the finest architectural practices in Britain. AHMM has established a prodigious reputation with a string of awards to its credit across a wide range of building genres, the Stirling Prize being the recent crowning glory. Like his father David, who also enjoyed a distinguished architectural career, Simon lacks nothing in guts, grit, determination, and intelligence, but again in contrast to Keay, Allford’s back-ground offers little in the way of relevant experience to the tasks before him. ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man ….?’

What an hour it is! Unlike the concentrated reconstruction challenge facing Keay, Allford must urgently shape the profession’s responses to three pressing practice related issues: Brexit, The Grenfell Disaster, and COVID-19.

The burden will be awesome for we must look to Allford’s presidency alone to lay the groundwork and frame the essential responses to each of these challenges.

The competition for presidential office at the RIBA was fierce this year and offered no shortage of enterprising talent: three women and two men campaigned on agendas which covered all the familiar territories: low carbon ecofriendly design, innovation, diversity, inclusivity, communi-cation, and government lobbying. But only Allford’s campaign included initiatives for the wider range of Grenfell and COVID- generated problems, and only Valerie Passetti campaigned on the issue of Brexit. So, let’s look at these issues in their order of emergence, starting with:

Brexit’s potential to damage the interests of UK architects is enormous. Hitherto free to practice across the European Union, British architectural qualification and registration are no longer recognised. That privilege was traded away as a last-minute Government concession to secure the elusive, much coveted ‘Brexit separation deal’. Beyond that, UK architects will now be ineligible for inclusion in European tenders for public commissions – a condition that had previously been mandatory.
Our freedom to recruit younger architectural talent from across Europe will also be severely hampered as the lethal impacts of work permit restrictions kick-in. This has potentially dire consequences for a profession that exports professional services extensively, relying on architectural ‘overseas’ talent to deliver its workloads, and on the ‘core’ language skills of our continental friends to communicate on a par with our clients and competition. (As in America, the presence of second and third language skills among our indigenous British architectural population is shamefully limited.)
Allford has much to contemplate here, and much to do to get architectural service exports into Europe onto the Government’s priority list. Public and Government interest remains stubbornly preoccupied with the emotive subject of UK fisheries, an economic segment with an annual catch value of just £987 million which is insignificant when compared to the UK’s Professional and Business Service exports into Europe which stand at £66 billion.
Of that, architecture and engineering services represent 16% — over ten times the value of fishing! The shocking explanation here is that our 12,000 fishermen – with their 5,911 small trawlers which are over 50% foreign owned anyway – have appealed to this once maritime nation’s nostalgic sentimentality in a way that 56,000 architects, despite our extraordinary global influence and earning performance, have notably failed to do.
As a celebrated Stirling prize-winner, and a sophisticated lobbyist, Allford is well equipped to bang this drum at Government’s door.

The Grenfell Disaster: Insurance Impacts
Sir Martin Moore-Bick who has, with admirable determination and skill, led the investigation into the tragic fire to the residential tower block that killed 72 people on 14 June 2017, is still hearing evidence for Phase 2 of the Inquiry. But even as that process continues, the impact of the Grenfell tragedy wreaks havoc across the entire construction industry’s indemnity insurance market. A recent issue of the Architects’ Journal reported three-fold Professional Indemnity (PI) premium increases, with some architectural firms unable to renew coverage at all. An incredible 69% and 58% of firms respectively report cladding related claims and fire safety issues being excluded from future coverage. Some architectural practices with large portfolios of completed, metal clad buildings, reportedly face ‘eye-watering’ 1000% premium increases…. irrespective of the quality of their work and their ability to show code compliance and safety of design. Understandably, architects’ insurers have no appetite for these risks.
To attract renewed interest in our PI business, some argue the profession needs to increase Insurers’ confidence in our education, training, and quality control. Either way, we will need to increase fee levels to facilitate payment of higher PI coverage costs. One commentator insists that in getting our own house in order we must re-establish authority over our own work. Allford will have a heavy-duty agenda to deal with in this regard, but there can be no doubt that he carries the experience to lead the response.

Covid-19’s Effects
James Pickavance, one of London’s leading construction lawyers, recently said in a PODCAST interview: “The world of construction litigation is only just beginning to ‘inhale the impact of COVID-19.’” The pandemic has certainly had far-reaching social and economic consequences beyond anything seen in my lifetime.
Our architectural responses can anticipate incorporating ‘intelligence’ into our building surveillance and services systems to facilitate early screening and detection of ‘COVID-Carriers’ (see this author: Design Intelligence Q3, 2020). Short-term, architects will continue to assist in planning safer circulation and separation arrangements in those public buildings that have remained in use, and they will continue to design conversions and adjustments to provide emergency COVID hospital facilities. Like many other professions, architects have adapted quickly to remote and isolated working practices, on-line meetings, and virtual communications.
But Allford’s attention will principally need to turn to the further impact on PI insurance cover for COVID is set to generate a heavy stream of claims relating to construction delays, many of which are already in incubation.
Much of this will centre upon the legal battles around the meaning and application of appointment clauses relating to force majeure. These disputes will feed lawyers for a decade and more as new Case Law emerges. Developers and Contractors will clamour to establish their respective rights during a pandemic which has made it all but impossible for the construction supply side to discharge its duties under contract.
Consultants can operate a remote working policy courtesy of today’s brilliant IT facilities, but how can builders build when the UK Government has enforced a Stay-at-Home policy? Breaches of Stay-at-Home directives may not have been an option for Contractors, but Developers can claim that Government ‘lock-downs’ have merely been a necessary response to a force majeure. The issue of whether force majeure applies will surely become critical.

Pickavance estimates it will be six to twelve months before we see these claims coming on stream in construction disputes around the world. Much confusion will surround multitudes of scenarios where contracts were already in varying degrees of delay before COVID circumstances began to impact progress adversely. Architects whose fortunes are inextricably bound up with Design and Build procurement will be particularly exposed here.
Ultimately, this will only escalate the cladding crisis that has already consumed the world of construction insurance. We need to mature in our attitudes towards insurance…. it’s essential as a profitably functioning insurance market is one of the cornerstones of our industry. Allford has serious work ahead of him on this issue.

Nettles Grasped
To put all these challenges into further perspective, let us go back to an RIBA presidency even earlier than Sir Lancelot’s. Just over one century ago John William Simpson took office. Like Allford, Simpson, also the son of an architect, faced the fall-out of a global pandemic.
Spanish Flu became the worst healthcare disaster of the 20th century. It was so named because, unlike allied and axis powers, neutral Spain had no censorship imposed on reporting outbreaks there. But the disease didn’t start in Spain.

Some historians trace its true origins to Kansas and the illness, on 4 March 1918, of US Army Private Albert Gitchell. From there it spread rapidly across the Atlantic to the trenches of Europe – in the last months of Word War 1, 84,000 American soldiers were deployed to join the allied war effort in March 1918 alone. As with Covid, both the USA President and the British Prime Minister – Woodrow Wilson and David Lloyd George – would catch the virus and survive and, as with COVID, a second and far more lethal ‘wave’ of the pandemic followed shortly after the first. Ultimately, 675,000 Americans would die, and some estimates put global deaths at up to 50 million. The toll in the UK was around 228,000. In comparison, UK COVID deaths already number 106,564 .In this respect Allford is destined to lead the architectural profession in its response to the worst pandemic in a century. If history repeats itself, it will also be the worst pandemic of this century. Unlike Keay, whose profession embarked on a rapid course towards a majority of its membership being in state employment by the early 1970’s, Allford, courtesy of Mrs. Thatcher, will preside over a largely privatised profession with less than 1% in state employment. However, notwithstanding these statistics, some believe that the RIBA’s broader membership has never properly thrown off its state employee culture, arguing that despite notable exceptions among its leading practices, too many UK architectural practices have remained shy of the commercial sharpness and discipline expected by the development world.

Any residue of such shyness is surely set to change. We’ve received the shrillest of wakeup calls and Allford is set to turn all lights on as we face his call to arms to meet the churn in the months ahead. These crises may well spark a major cultural re-orientation of UK architectural practice. A yawn-ing vacuum openeth before us. Will we step into it, grasp the nettle, and stand to be counted? There is no doubt we should, and no one is better positioned to lead the process.

In so doing, Allford will do well, irrespective of Brexit, to look beyond our shores. The UK architectural profession already punches well above its weight on the international stage with some 10% of our £4.8 billion contribution to the national economy being in exports. Our biggest markets for architectural services are Asia, The European Union, the Middle East, and the USA with respective shares of 27%, 23%, 20% and 14% of our international revenue. These figures have grown rapidly with exports of professional services by UK architects increasing some 28-fold in the last twelve years.

The future is bright if we continue to grow these markets, and the demand is surely there: between now and the year 2035 the global market in construction is expected to be 80 billion square metres of new build. That equates to 60% of the entire current stock of building worldwide — to be added in just fifteen years. Of that 38% will be in China and 15% in North America. If the world’s design teams address the eco-agenda effectively in this work, the beneficial consequences will be incalculable. British architectural practices can and should play an enormous role in this challenge, potentially taking our export services up as far as five times their current values – that would be 50% of workloads to be export based.
Simon Allford’s presidency should be the stepping-stone to great days ahead.
Yes: cometh the hour…!

Pace and Place, Planet and Purpose: Reinvention Required

First published in Design Intelligence 23 Dec 2020, by Paul Hyett


If Christopher Wren had walked into my father’s new office, he would have felt very much at home. Albeit a small practice, like architects’ offices of all sizes across the country and around the world, the basic tools of the day were very much as they had been down the centuries: refined but largely unchanged.

Sir Christopher would have been familiar with Dad’s drawing board, T square and high draughtsman’s stool, his pair of compasses, dividers, the multitude of pens of various thicknesses, the pencils from hard to soft, and the many other fine instruments required for making those marks on paper intrinsic to the processes of design. Those marks slowly and surely became ever more clearly defined until, ultimately, they were copied and transported to the site where skilled craftsmen would translate them into reality.

The staff and dumpy level used to assess terrains, the tape measures, scale rules and set-squares, the brushes and colour washes, erasers, dusters, draughting tape, drawing pins and lettering stencils – even a plumb-line: Sir Christopher would have been “good to go” without a word of instruction or explanation. Or perhaps not quite: it was 1972 and Britain had just “gone decimal.” Not only had shillings and pence been abandoned, but our beloved feet and inches had been replaced with metres and millimetres, and our pounds and ounces had given way to the kilo.

But Wren would have mastered such changes in moments and taken just minutes to come to grips with the telephone (securely connected to the wall by wires) and the little battery-operated calculator — great for doing those complicated calculations. And, of course, the electric kettle and the fluorescent lights would have been welcome comforts — to say nothing of the heating.


Fast forward another fifty years and this most revered of architects would be completely lost in my office of today. So intensive and extensive are the learning and training necessary to operate current IT systems and equipment that the process must begin pre-school. Generations of professionals of all disciplines are being left behind, floundering and incapable, as system and communication developments accelerate along an exponential curve.

For the drawing board, wonderful paraphernalia, and instruments in Dad’s office, substitute the modern computer screen and its array of programmes: Revit and Rhino; systems like BIM and parametric design; Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp and WeChat for communication. For archives, plan chests and the multitude of filing cabinets, take The Cloud. For physical state take cyberspace and virtual reality. Such changes and radically new equipment and methodologies transcend previous innovation of practice: the architect’s office has been completely reinvented over these last three decades. The journey to reinvent the architect’s office started with Rubenstein and Barnaby’s word processing in 1979; then progressed through the fax machine (common from the early 1980s but invented back in 1846); the mobile phone (1985); CAD (1989); websites (1991); Google (1998); screen sharing (2014); and all the other contemporary tools that have transformed design and construction from physical to virtual processes. 

The breath-taking scale of this reinvention is now being further accelerated, courtesy of Covid-19. As has been noted far and wide, we are entering a new “norm” from which there will be no return. The pre-COVID office that, despite its systems, technologies, and virtual connections within and beyond, had stubbornly endured as both a physical reality and an institution, cannot and will not survive. As a hub where workers occasionally meet in real time and place? Perhaps. But as a work setting, with the restrictive demands of assembly and nine-to-five entrapment? We are witnessing its death throes.

Just as our towns and cities have suffered the upheavals of shopping centres and out-of-town malls replacing the High Street, and the disinfecting choreographies of mail order and on-line food delivery have replaced our shopping excursions, so our commercial landlords face the imminent collapse of that hitherto bastion of investment: the office. We are witnessing the phenomenon of collaborative assembly dissipate into a dislocated corporate condition: the virtual office matrix. 


This is where we designers must shift from a reactive assimilation of the skills necessary to survive and compete in the digital world of an office environment that has been reinvented and virtualised around us, to the proactive role of using our programming and design skills (our ‘stock in trade’) to reinvent the very essence of towns and cities as we currently know them. 

In this respect, everything is up for grabs, and all norms will be swept aside. To quote Brennar Bhandar, even “the conceptualisation of wealth as a fusion of the value of land with the value of people,” initiated through the thinking of that father-founder of the modern political economy, William Petty, will inevitably be challenged as never before.  

Our recent dalliance with globalisation; the ability of multi-nationals to shift materials, production and capital around the world in pursuit of obedient and competitive labour sources; the desire of our large corporates to provide services tax-free across borders — all these agendas are up for review and revision. So too is the essential purpose of our cities and their buildings. As IT-savvy urban populations relocate to their new sub-urban and rural home platforms, the dinosaurian fabric of the commercial city will be rendered increasingly redundant. For architects, urban designers, planners, and engineers, the challenges are immense: our cities need to be reinvented in terms of programme, and their existing fabric must be retrofitted to new purposes hitherto unimaginable.  

Despite the extraordinary impacts of IT that now threaten our essential concept of place, the challenges can only intensify as the very notion of freedom — so beloved by the West — is threatened by the escalation of a multitude of factors, such as monitors, sensors, barricades, business closures, and masks. Against all this we will see the increasing phenomena of migration not only from strife and economic catastrophe, but also increasingly consequent on climate change, as our global populations continue to grow exponentially:

Taking one million years to double from two and a half to five million in 8000 BC, the world’s population doubled every thousand years thereafter through to 1650 AD, when it reached five hundred million. It doubled to one billion less than two hundred years later in 1805 AD, while the next doubling took only until 1930. By 1974 it had doubled again to four billion. Today, the global population is nearly eight billion souls.

So, here we find ourselves, at a second to midnight. Population growth attenuation, education and sustainable lifestyles have emerged as challenges against which our politics appear increasingly unable to cope, the eco-systems of our world struggle, and disorder threatens from every side. 


But our resolve must not falter. Just as the developments in information technologies and communication have prompted the reinvention of the very ways we work and live, so we must now reinvent our relationship with both planet and place. As never before, the very purpose of our cities and their buildings needs reinvention. Now cities must accommodate their functions as safe havens and adaptive organisms. 

DesignIntelligence has never been in greater demand. 

All Change?

Originally published in Panstadia magazine, Q4, 2017

I get mighty irritated by fans who struggle to get out and take a pee during soccer games. Unlike American venues UK soccer stadiums were not designed for this: we have narrower tread depths and the assumption is that spectators will sit tight during play and not disrupt their neighbours through constant ‘calls of nature’. But these calls are getting more frequent as beverage sales rise and bladders strain: drink more, pee more and pee more often. Simple as that!

Revenue enhancement is another driver for change: facility managers want to get people there earlier, retain them longer and sell them more food and beverage.

American football may offer lessons: the match is a festive occasion rolled out over a longer period. Two things are key: first that food and beverage is available for consumption, and indeed often sold directly into the bowl DURING the match which in turns assumes a move towards ‘grazing’ – eating and drinking across the entire time spectrum of the event. Secondly, it operates against an extended match time which comprises 4 quarters of 15 minutes each, played out over some 3.5 hours.

Linked to this is the increasing interest in reducing ‘time wasting’ by players under which our model of 90 minutes of play against 105 minutes of attendance has come under challenge. Studies have apparently shown that out of any 90-minute soccer match only around 60 minutes of the ‘play’ time involves true play. At present ‘our’ clock continues to tick after goals have been scored and during ongoing referee/player disputes. New proposals, if adopted, for video replays to determine uncertain referee calls will serve only to further delay proceedings and further erode time.

So, goes the thinking, why not split our precious traditional soccer game into two ‘30-minute halves’ played out against a clock that would be stopped during disputes, after goals and in many other circumstances such as player substitutions and video replays?

The implications of all this would be profound and who knows where it would end? For example, tv adverts will set the time for restarts after goal scoring (as in America) and I would predict with confidence that before we know it we will be playing two 30-minute halves over 3 hours and more of real time.

If this were to happen the impact on stadium design will be profound even perhaps leading to an increase of terrace depths from our typical 750mm to 1100mm and more to allow spectators to pass along the seating rows during ‘down-time’ or more radically, permit the introduction of ‘in-seat’ hospitality services.

Also, the extent of food and beverage services and the length of concourse concessions and numbers of points of sale, together with the extent of toilet facilities will all be ‘up for grabs’. Currently designed to meet peak half time rushes, venues would need less in the way of numbers of toilets even though more visits will be made over a longer period. Likewise, food outlets will be able to deal with steady demand uninterrupted by playtime, so less speed of service will be required and less demand will be placed on staff numbers and bar lengths as fewer people work over longer periods meeting steadier and higher demand.

Will this happen? Who knows…watch this space. And watch those waist lines if it does!

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.