Infra-Structure and Safety Nets: Our Duty to Provide Resilient Security

Paul Hyett challenges design leaders across the globe — regardless of their political context — to meet the real needs of our planet and its peoples.

The Scene

Luton airport, just after midnight, awaiting a family of Ukrainian refugees, my friend stooped to chat to a thin, hooded person slumped in a corner.

The Man

“Mick,” just 51, looked frail and elderly. Shivering, pale, gaunt and with most teeth missing, he cut a Dickensian figure. And he stank.

Sheltering on trains for warmth by both day and night, service cancellations (consequent on rail strikes and plummeting sub-zero temperatures) had driven him to seek refuge at airports. Until, that is, he iswas unceremoniously expelled: iIt’s not only busy commuters who are inconvenienced by industrial action!

Mick refused the offer of food: Eating made him nauseated. Dirty as he was, an awful smell emanated from his breath. An oral abscess? Perhaps bronchiectasis? For this and so much more, Mick needed urgent medical attention. The average life expectancy of London’s homeless population is just 46.

He also refused money. Pride and dignity there! What he really craved was resilient security, a place of respite providing support for as long as necessary — something that, despite our welfare state’s bold efforts, we still seemingly fail to provide for our most needy. Sadly, the divide between rich and poor continues to grow here: 10% of our people currently hold half the country’s wealth. It would take a U.K. nurse 21,000 years of salary to amass the fortune of our new prime minister — nurses’ pay in the U.K. remains shamefully low. The global picture is even more nefarious: The richest 1% own half the world’s assets, and they get exponentially more prosperous by the hour.

The Family

“Natasha,” “Darya” and “Yulia” (respectively, grandmother, mother and eight-year-old daughter) finally emerged from security looking as exhausted as they were bewildered. Lives upended, family torn apart, home destroyed, savings plundered, lucky to escape with their lives; they also crave resilient security.

The Agenda

For an architect, the term resilient security would normally prompt consideration of agendas such as protection of intellectual property, establishing a robust reputation and secure market share, perhaps even ensuring that quality assurance protocols minimised risks of claims and litigation. Or it might be to do with keeping pace with developments in information technology and procurement or developing new design responses to the challenges of COVID-19, or the “woke” agendas. But the kind of suffering described above rightfully challenges our own selfish focus.

Since these are far from normal times, I focus my agenda and take my cue from last September’s DesignIntelligence International Leadership conference in Madrid, entitled “Our Collective Responsible Response to Crises,” and the subsequent Lisbon World Architecture Festival. During the conference, an architecture dean reported her students’ growing interest in more economically, politically, and socially oriented agendas. Reinier de Graaf and Ana Pinto da Silva (the latter well known to DesignIntelligence) gave brilliant keynote addresses that illustrated the compromising impacts such agendas hold for architecture.

De Graaf offered a shocking sequence of PowerPoint images, the first comprising a map configured to collectively show the respective extents of the world’s democracies, those parts subject to totalitarian control and the areas that he described as being under pseudo-democratic control. That is, claiming democratic legitimacy in circumstances where its essential culture and values (such as the peaceful transfer of power) are under threat. He then posted further images that charted the proportion of the world’s eight billion people that reside under each and quantified the proportion of the world’s wealth attributable to each category. You got it: Wealth and population are both rapidly shifting to the nondemocratic settings.

All of which poses a significant question: At this nanosecond to midnight, for the eco-agenda, and against the need for socially responsible development, how do the challenges vary for building professionals around the world in terms of designing for resilient security against their disparate contexts?

Wherever they are located, their burden is immense: As reported during my own Madrid presentation, in 2015, American architect Ed Mazria, co-founder of the China Accord, advised that by 2035 some 80 billion square metres of new building will be constructed across this planet.

At this nanosecond to midnight, for the eco-agenda and the need for socially responsible development, how do the challenges vary for building professionals around the world in terms of designing for resilient security against their contexts?

That was the equivalent of 60% of the world’s then-total current building stock to be built in just 20 years, by one generation of designers — and we are already five years or 25% in. If you want to know what that looks like, visit

The Responsibilities

Who will these 80 billion square metres be built for? How will they be built and for what purposes? The markets will determine most of that. Meanwhile, irrespective of political context, our fellow professionals haven’t the proverbial “snowball’s chance” of delivering the ecologically and socially responsible work needed without the effective regulatory framework of incentives and constraints that should be routinely provided by governments. Within democracies, that would require a renewed trust and belief in “government” and, across the international political divides, it requires a will by governments of all persuasions to work collectively and in common accord.

Sadly, the endemic mistrust of the state on the part of electorates, and their apparently expanding blind commitments to unfettered freedoms and deregulation, remain the order of our day. So, within democratic contexts, any worthy efforts toward much-needed development and programming policies are routinely undermined by the noise and chaos of the current political debate, the constant abuse of truth, and the same culture of short-termism that triggered the 2007 financial crisis. Together these issues routinely sabotage any sensible assessment of our circumstance and render all but impossible those basic steps so necessary to pursuing architecture’s essential agenda — resilient security.

Changing Agendas. Basic Needs.

Before any higher aspiration, the earliest purposes of construction were shelter and security: shelter from the weather in a place secure from intrusion. Hence, the Stone Age cave with fire at its entrance, and walled cities providing gated security overnight for those who worked the surrounding land by day. Indeed, resilient security was one of the primary purposes of construction from the outset: The city walls should not be breached, the house walls should never blow down, the gates and doors must always hold fast. Only when those basic needs were dealt with could architecture pursue its higher goals. The awful truth is that despite the incredible progress thereafter, we are fast regressing once more toward an agenda of simple survival as we face rising sea levels and an increasingly inhospitable man-damaged environment. Against that, the growing economic gap between the masses and the rich can only aggravate the socio-political challenges ahead.

Today, as we try to make sense of our world post-globalisation, we can do little but acknowledge the grim plight of Natasha, Darya and Yulia as they flee Putin’s tyrannic, ill-disciplined and vicious army. Surely, we can do better for Mick in his undignified loneliness and misery.

That possibility takes me to a wonderful passage in Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel’s “The Tyranny of Merit.” In it, he suggests that the continued pursuit of “equality of opportunity” for all, as routinely promised within our liberal western democracies by politicians of all persuasions, is no more than a cruel diversion:

“If, in a feudal society, you were born into serfdom, your life would be hard, but you would not be burdened by the thought that you were responsible for your subordinate position.”

Whereas, in a meritocratic society, it is:

“Difficult to resist the thought that your disadvantage [is] at least partly your own doing, a failure to display sufficient talent and ambition to get ahead.”

His conclusion that “a society that enables people to rise, and that celebrates that rising, pronounces a harsh verdict on those who fail to do so,” brings us to two simple questions: How harsh should that verdict be, and do we prefer to live in a society that accepts, but limits, the extent of inequalities, whilst providing a “safety net” for those least able to provide for themselves?

Little doubt what Mick would say!

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Fairness vs. Power

Sandel’s argument, distilled, is the reason why resilient security must ultimately shake down to delivering that fairer socio-eco-political context, one in which we can create architecture better geared to serving our wider society in as utilitarian a fashion as possible. That is, ensuring the ongoing supplies of sustainable hospitals, schools and homes that our citizens so need, including, even, somewhere for Mick. But unless we temper the excesses of our market forces, re-establish some trust in politics and begin to get some accord around truth, we will have ever more difficulty in designing and building what our societies really need. Those with power and money have always enjoyed the ability to deliver their architectures: the pharaohs, the emperors, the dictators, the religions and, recently in free market economies, big business. However, the emerging clash in the west between increasingly unrestricted market forces and the needs of our planet and its people is variously testing democratic governments to their limits, so much so that the famous Churchillian quote, “Democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others that have been tried,” might well come under renewed scrutiny.

Indeed, unless our democratic systems mature and “step up,” they will fail our planet at its time of gravest danger. It’s even conceivable that an enlightened totalitarian system might do better! But irrespective of context, for the sake of humanity and our ecology, construction professionals across the world must turn their efforts to the long overdue call for resilient security.

Paul Hyett, PPRIBA, Hon FAIA, is past president of the RIBA, co-founder of Vickery Hyett Architects and a regular contributor to DesignIntelligence.

221109 – WAF November 2022: ‘Sold a Pup…’

I gave a talk at an international conference last month entitled ‘We’ve Been Sold a Pup’…. It caused an extraordinary stir and, to my surprise, split the room into two apparently irreconcilable factions, more of which later herein….   

The term ‘Sold a Pup’ alludes to a swindle. It comes to us from English Medieval times and the practice of farmers selling live piglets at market. Traders would take the cash and hand over the sale securely incarcerated, no doubt occasionally kicking, securely tied up (and, I suspect, gagged) in a ‘poke’ – or as we know it today, a sack – hence the term a ‘pig in a poke’.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous dealers often substituted a much less valuable dog (sometimes even a cat) for the pig. By the time that the unsuspecting buyer had arrived home and discovered that he had been ‘sold a pup’ the seller had already moved on to the next town.

I used this phrase in the conference in connection with Design and Build contracting, suggesting that the design professions and the public had been hoodwinked into accepting something which is both unfit for purpose and not as expected. Tough words? Of course, and to my mind rightly so. Many will of course disagree suggesting that I am rekindling long settled arguments, but I hold my ground on this one: the rash of litigations pertaining to cladding failures is ample proof of my point. 

In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, the IEAP (Independent Expert Advisory Panel set up by Government on 6 July 2017) requested the BRE to set up a testing programme in which combinations of different types of polymeric insulation, and of stone wool insulation, with ACM samples of different categories (1, 2 and 3) would be assessed in terms of the combustibility of their respective polyethylene cores. Those tests, and their timing, can be summarised as follows:

  • 28 July 2017 – Test 1: ‘ACM category 3…with… foam insulation with fire breaks and cavity barriers in place…’. 
  • 2 August 2017 – Test 2: ’…ACM category 3…with…stone wool insulation’
  • 8 August 2017 – Test 3: ‘ACM category 2….with…PIR foam insulation…’
  • 11 August 2017 – Test 4: ‘ACM category 2…with….stone wool insulation…’
  • 14 August 2017 – Test 5: ‘ACM category 1…with…PIR insulation…’
  • 21 August 2017 – Test 6: ‘ACM category 2…with…phenolic foam insulation….’
  • 25 August 2017 – Test 7: ‘ACM category 1…with…stone wool insulation…’

In simple summary, of these six tests, three combined ACM of respectively categories 1, 2 and 3 with stone wool insulation (Tests 2, 4 and 7), and three combined ACM of respectively categories 1, 2, and 3 with differing types of polymeric insulation; these were:

  • PIR (polyisocyanurate) with category 1 ACM (Test 5)
  • PIR with category 2 ACM (Test 3) 
  • What was referred to as ‘foam’ with category 3 ACM (Test 1)

An additional PF (phenolic foam) test was for some reason also carried out with another category 2 ACM sample Test 6).

The results revealed that of the seven tests only three (Test 4, 5 and 7) yielded results that suggested that such a cladding arrangement could ‘comply with the Building Regulations’. The other results confirmed that the tested system ‘did not comply with the Building Regulations’. And that’s just in terms of design. 

Ask any forensics architect, façade engineer, or fire specialist worth their salt about construction standards and they will tell you that behind those glistening facades, be they new building or over-cladding work, lies all too often a disgraceful labyrinth of shoddy workmanship. All too often, investigations reveal missing cavity barriers, cavity barriers installed ‘back to front’, combustible insulation substituted, in breach of contract, for the mineral wool otherwise specified, and even plastic ‘thermal cavity barriers’ installed around windows in the (I suspect) mistaken belief that they can inhibit the passage of fire within a cavity. And if that’s the outside, why should the inside of buildings be any different or better in terms of workmanship?

So, how is such a shambles possible? Well, of course the manufacturers, testers and certifiers of the multitude of new products that replace traditional building materials have much to answer for, but there is no escaping that new forms of procurement, and the shifting of authority as well as the upsetting of work sequences for the design teams, have contributed much to the disgraceful situation in which the construction industry now finds itself. I am referring of course to Design and Build procurement. 

Let’s revisit the origins of D&B which are largely forgotten. I take you back to circa 1978 when – I kid you not – inflation in the construction industry peaked at 28%. That against general inflation of 16%. Thus, a contract sum agreed at, say, £1,000,000 would at the year’s end routinely rise to £1,280,000 even without the instruction of any variations. This was all accommodated under special forms of contracts that incorporated ‘with fluctuations’ provisions. Essentially, the original contract prices, across the board, would be subject to an automatic calibrated increase that would be ‘pegged’ to the inflation that had occurred in the intervening period.

In due course it was realised that delaying tendering, and thus a start on site until all drawings, and a full specification plus Bills of Quantities had been created, had become a very expensive process and pressure grew to tender, and ultimately let contracts, on abbreviated design an specification information. 

Some of you might even remember in your early careers preparing full information – virtually down to ironmongery and colour schedules for decorations – at the tender stage. That is all but unheard of now on any but the smallest of projects.

The Contractors of course tendered against such abbreviated information cynically: winning was all that mattered. Thus, knowing that the abbreviated contract documentation would be ‘full of holes’, they tendered at below cost, confident that they would recover losses through their claims. For some time therefore, savings achieved through getting onto site early against abbreviated information were usually lost in their entirety and more against successful claims.

To counter such claims contractors were eventually forced to assume the responsibility for design and specification variations through the adoption of D&B contracting. Under these arrangements contractors would be required to accept responsibility for all design work done BEFORE as well as after their appointment.

And so that was the start of what we now know as ‘Design and Build’ which, if truth be told, amounts to nothing of the sort. I proffer this view on the basis that D+B, as operated within the UK construction industry, amounts to nothing more than a process by which risk is carefully packaged and passed downstream, all too often to companies and people with inadequate training or resource to assume the responsibility involved. Accordingly, work processes are dislocated and disrupted, and the quality of constructed output is compromised to a point of disgrace.

There are of course notable exceptions: those few D+B contractors who take their responsibilities with appropriate seriousness, who resource properly, and manage effectively ensuring adequate time at the right time for all stages of the design and specification work to be delivered to standards of excellence worthy of our industry, and qualities of construction that reflect an honourable discharge of contractual duty. 

But if we are honest, how rare is that? 

Think about it: if the public was asked to board an aeroplane designed and constructed to the standards of the buildings that our industry delivers, they would fly empty, supposing that they were even cleared to fly. Likewise ships. 

And so back to the conference. I dared to tell this story; to catalogue the failures, and to suggest some remedies. My proposition was simple and two part: 

  1. Design and specification work must be prepared by professionals who are properly trained and who have authority over their own work. Would you allow a project without medical training to oversee a surgical team’s work? 
  2. Those same professionals must regain their role in checking that the work, as designed and specified, has been properly carried out. And they must have the power to condemn bad work and withhold certification against which payment would otherwise be made. Adopting that Paul Finch mantra: ‘no responsibility without authority’.

But, I suggested, to do this work properly architects must be trained properly and that training must start in the schools. I went on to refer to the steady drift away from technical training that has been endemic in the academic ivory towers of modern architectural education. And then, of course, all hell let loose: the academics in the room….Heads of School and Deans amongst them, were outraged. Not for them they said….its for practice to teach this, post graduation.

One even suggested that architecture should not be seen as a vocational course!

Yes, and pigs can fly….

Honey, We’ve Shrunk the World

Paul Hyett reflects on IT’s distortion of time, interval and distance. Can design benefit from its impact?

The Old Rules: Where and What? 

Since time immemorial, technology has had a huge impact on  the where and the what of architecture and building. From the  earliest days of urban settlement, beyond any Stone Age decision to bunch a few dwellings around a space for market and  trade, the where of town and building location has always been  dictated by issues of accessibility. 

This was very much the case in England. Early internal trade  depended heavily on shipping. For centuries, sturdy little craft  braved the coastlines, especially down the country’s east side,  before plying their way up the estuaries and rivers as far as their draught depths would permit. Thereafter, further haulage relied on horses (or oxen) and carts. The Ouse and mighty Trent at Hull, and the Thames out of London, were the key river routes  inland from the east, and the Severn, Avon and Mersey offered  access from the west. 

As the Industrial Revolution advanced, the cost of shifting raw materials and finished goods became evermore critical. Transferring loads to wheeled transport only exacerbated expense, so  a series of brave, complex civil engineering projects involving  systems of weirs and locks were undertaken. These were de-signed to ensure sufficient depths and enable water navigation farther up riverways and deeper inland, for example to Nottingham and beyond.

Such initiatives were complemented by an intense parallel  programme of canal construction. At its peak, this campaign extended over 4,000 miles, linking rivers and positively impacting trade and manufacturing while connecting growing towns and cities across the country. Emerging industrial settlements expanded along navigable waterways. 

In the 19th century, newly invented railways scythed their ways  through fast-growing suburbs, improved supply lines of raw  materials and components, and serviced outward markets. What  was their impact? Even greater influence on the where and the  what of building across our towns and cities. 

When oil replaced coal and straw as the power source, new  tarmacadam roads came into their own. Once again, building  typologies and location were influenced by innovations in transportation methods, always in pursuit of speedier door-to-door journey times, and for freight-goods, minimal double handling. 

The principal generator of these changes was economics: A dollar invested in a product must be returned, with interest, at the earliest possible time. Nothing has changed; newly made goods  cannot be allowed to accumulate interest debts and erode profits  

during a slow journey to market. As a result, the where of township growth, if not the origins, was  always determined by the technologies and reaches of available  transport. In America, the form of urban design (or lack of it)  was dictated by the available space (usually more in the U.S.  than in the U.K.) and by the internal combustion engine; the  impacts of emerging transport technologies drove development.

New Technologies 

To complement all this, construction technologies emerged in the latter half of the 19th century that enabled even denser city centres. These were: 

• The elevator, which facilitated the development of tall, steel framed buildings. 
• The availability of electricity to power artificial lighting. 
• Mechanical ventilation, which enabled the “deep plan”  building (notably without lightwells and internal court yards). 
• The emergence of wafer-thin curtain walls and lightweight  cladding systems that reduced loads on frames and foundations while yielding super-efficient floorplan “footprints.” 

Clearly, the impact of technology was profound, causing a complete inversion of social hierarchies. From the Romans through  to Haussmann’s Paris and Edwardian London, the cheapest  rentals had always been at the top of buildings otherwise inaccessible except by stairs. This established hierarchy was quickly  reversed as elevators and escalators offered effortless vertical  mobility and created optimum values for the now newly desirable penthouses with views! 

Occasional efforts were made to blunt the powers of market  economies on location, but with little effect. One of the most  heroic was the modernist Brynmawr rubber factory, designed  against a progressive social agenda to provide local employment  up in the mountains of South Wales after World War ll.

But the costs of hauling raw materials up, and finished goods down, the narrow winding roads proved prohibitive and Brynmawr, with its generous clinics, creche, canteens and class rooms, was closed. In the meantime, Wolfsburg triumphed in its efficiency as a manufacturing base for the Volkswagen Beetle and dispatched German exports via Hamburg, while other U.K. locations, such as Derby and Linwood, also proved too expensive as manufacturing bases for the U.K.’s export markets. As ever, the long shadow of basic economics impacted the what and the where of architecture and urban design.

New Rules

But today the basic rules have changed again as a new technology has emerged, previously inconceivable even in the mind of Mary Shelley and her fellow science fiction novelists of the 19th century. This new technology continues to evolve and make its full impact felt. It is now beyond doubt that its influence will exceed that of all previous transport and building innovations combined. 

Its impact is twofold: it “shrinks” distance (reducing demands for movement and transport) and reduces space requirements and therefore demand for volume and new building. 

This powerful new force is, of course, the “wireless” transmission of sound, images and data. Consider these time and distance comparisons:

• When John Adam travelled eastward from the Chesapeake Bay in 1778 as envoy to George Washington, it took him and his son John Quincy some seven weeks of sailing to get to France. 

• In 1866, a mere 88 years later, as described in Simon Winchester’s wonderful book “Atlantic,” the British ship Great Eastern laid the first permanent telegraph line across the Atlantic Ocean. Courtesy of the brilliance and determination of Cyrus West Field, the adverse impact of distance on  communication had been largely curtailed. 

• Fast-forward to the 1950s. Sports fans could by then watch  the Australian Open tennis tournament at their local cinemas. Technology had distorted distance. Spectators no longer had to be there to see the event unfold. The “exchange”  was one-way and limited, but conventional interaction with  fellow spectators had been forever dislocated by technology’s  newfound capacity to transmit experience to remote loca tions. “Virtual” had commenced its assault on “real.” Hitherto unimagined forms of remote socializing would stream  forth as new norms.

Deconstructing Time and Space 

Even though there were still significant delays as pre-digital film  reels had to be transported and then laboriously copied and  distributed to movie houses around the country, the processes  continued to accelerate. By the 1960s we could watch sporting  events live on our TVs, broadcast directly to our homes (albeit only in black-and-white). In the 1970s good quality colour was  affordable, and by the 1990s we could further deconstruct time  by recording, “fast-forwarding” and replaying our favorite sporting events all on our own device. Two decades later, we could  even “deposit” information on the “cloud” — a shared global  storage network. 

Against today’s norms, those were the “Dark Ages” of information technology. More recent evolutions have since transformed every aspect of our working and personal lifestyles and interac tions. The rate of progress has been exponential. We now take  for granted the experience of riding “live” in Lewis Hamilton’s  Mercedes Maclaren or partaking in an outpouring of shared  grief during our late beloved Queen Elizabeth’s funeral from as  far afield as Auckland and Soweto in the southern hemisphere  to Montreal and Balmoral in the north. We also take it for granted, in international businesses, that we can dial into conference  calls or workshop sessions, one after another, and again shrink  time courtesy of videoconferencing software, such as Microsoft  Teams or Zoom. 

It is clear after only a few millennia of scientific and technological progress, our species has effectively conquered the limits  distance had hitherto imposed on communication. The world has shrunk in real terms as we quickly morph into an age of augmented and virtual realities and immersive experience. One might say, “Honey, we’ve shrunk the world!”

Assessing Impacts 

But what will be the impact of the IT revolution on the where and what of building? 

To start, the need for local and long-distance business travel has  been slashed overnight. That is a game-changing development with extraordinary impact for the what and where of our building programmes. Since COVID-19 accelerated the effectiveness  of virtual exchange, I have been participating in online conferences, meetings and workshops, as well as design reviews and  joint design charettes with delegates from around the world on a  regular basis. 

At the international scale, such practices have saved millions of  tons of aviation fuel. The all-time high for aviation fuel consumption was 2019’s use of 95 billion gallons. The COVID years  saw that same rate fall to 52 billion gallons. Increasingly sophisticated and available IT will enable us to reduce those levels  further. 

As we search for solutions, the IT and communication revolution provides our best hope for saving the planet. We have the  technology. Now, in the words of the ever-gracious President  

Barack Obama, we need only to “do the right thing!” And as  President Ronald Reagan, that most genial of American presidents liked to say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” 

So, buckle up for the ride. It’s time for designers and builders to embrace these powers and employ others creatively as we seek  greater impact and influence. The world may be smaller, but it desperately needs our help.

Paul Hyett, PPRIBA, is a past president of the Royal Institute of  British Architects, co-founder of Vickery-Hyett Architects and a  regular contributor to DesignIntelligence.


Safely back home

Published in World Architecture Festival Q3 2021

If you have yet to make your first post-Covid visit to another country, let me forewarn you: from start to finish you will be challenged. There’s no doubt of course that we had become accustomed to easy inter-country and inter-city movement, but what I have just been through in preparation for, and during, my first foray into mainland Europe since my December 2019 visit to WAF ‘Amsterdam’ has served only to reinforce my memories of those halcyon days, pre-Brexit and pre-Covid, when travel was as simple as it was cheap, and as hassle-free as it was pleasurable.

I had been invited to join a two-city workshop organised by Design Intelligence which started in Rome and rolled on to Venice….

First, I had to obtain a so-called NHS ‘Covid Vaccination’ Certificate. This involved an application to the NHS which, with laudable efficiency, sent the document electronically. Herein of course lies the first real problem: if you are anything less than IT savvy, stay at home – you won’t make it. Indeed, the level of IT knowledge and competence now required for travel renders most of our older folk severely disadvantaged: SAGA be aware; many of your 2.7 million customers – and certainly those without a smart phone, or the like, will need nursing all the way through this one! And you will need patience in abundance. I was just about IT-savvy enough to fight my way through this IT roller-coaster, but I certainly lacked the patience which led to many a stumble, and occasionally heavy falls as, short of the ability to show the right information in the right form (electronic or paper) my road ahead was blocked…..

……. Yes, blocked, and non-negotiable. Show the necessary document or stay there, stay out, or go back. Anything except go on. I kid you not: I have seen couples separated; the elderly left behind; and siblings split between parents who made it ‘through’ and those that didn’t.

When my NHS Covid Certificate arrived, I printed a copy for incorporation into my newly prepared ‘hard-copy’ travel file, and duly transferred an electronic copy to my i Phone ‘wallet’ (remember that you have done this – I forgot; more of that later). This strange little form, issued under our wonderful NHS logo, contains the simplest of information: name; date of birth; period of validity; dosage status (one jab or two!) date of ‘Dose 2’; vaccination product; and, of critical importance, the ‘Bar Code’. The NHS use a two-dimensional barcode called a QR code which is supplied by the Denso Corporation. Better than the old linear one-dimensional versions used in retail, it can carry much more information. However, be careful: if you print a copy, the paper version often fails to register with the mobile scanners used in airports. It is therefore essential that you always carry your electronic version with you on your Smart Phone. Oh, the trials of modern post-pandemic life…. things will never be the same again.

Next, and before I travelled, I had to arrange my Covid Tests which must be carried out within 48 hours of travel and certified by a registered laboratory. These are not cheap at £110 per test: you also need proof of a pre-booked test scheduled for within two days of your return….so that’s another £90. Think about it: that’s £400 for a couple’s holiday abroad. Good-bye cheap travel!

In my case it was a knife-edge as to whether I would travel or not on the allotted Sunday. Tested on the preceding Friday morning at the local pharmacy my certificate, which was due to be issued electronically on the Friday afternoon, had still not arrived on the Saturday morning. Multiple phone-calls to the chemist led to investigations which initially suggested my test had been lost (and it was too late to do another). But mercifully, around 5pm on Saturday evening, success; sample found, and the certificate arrived: I was good to go.

I arrived uncharacteristically early at Stansted: I had layered in contingency time for every possible ‘hiccup’ along the way. But no, all was easy….no queue at check in, and I was able to quickly produce i) my passport, ii) my RyanAir electronic flight ticket iii) my Passenger Locator Form and iv) my PCR Test Certificate as issued by the laboratory. Each of these carried my very own QR Code and again, I kid you not, if any one of these goes missing, you’re going nowhere. But all mine was in order, so I whizzed on through passports and security, and all was good until I was stopped by one of their grim eateries: no access without my Covid Vaccination Certificate. Easy: I produced once more my electronic version and I was in.  

The remainder of the journey was without incident, and no real problems at Rome arrivals except, on my first trip out of the UK since Brexit, I was saddened to be split from my European ‘family’ and channelled into the non-EU line. And it took forever: as other European travellers joined the fast-moving EU queues, I shuffled slowly forward with seemingly everyone in my queue being subjected to lengthy questioning. It took me one and a half hours just to get through passport control.

All the certificates had to be produced again at the hotel check-in late that Sunday evening but no hassle, I dropped my bags and made off to a restaurant. There I was again required to show my vaccination certificate; a ritual that is currently required pretty-well everywhere in Italy.

The conference was great: more meals, regular proof of Covid status being required, but all good, then off to Venice by train. Here again, serious documentation protocols: identity and Covid status certificates to get into the station, and again through the ticket barriers, and again on the train itself. My electronic version often didn’t work with their hand-held scanner, so frequently much rummaging in my case, and then my briefcase, until I found the appropriate paper version.

And on and on all this went as we progressed through the Venice protocols of hotel check-in and entry to restaurants. And my word weren’t they strict on the River Buses: no mask, no boarding. No argument.

All this is of course for our individual safety and our collective good, but it reminded me of a trip I took to China way back in 1978. At that time the country was pretty-well closed to foreigners and very different from the China I recently lived in for three pre Covid years. Whilst Europe remained very colourful (the Chinese back in that immediate post Mao Tse Tung era wore only blue denim jackets and trousers irrespective of age and sex) I remember that the Chinese nationals needed a special pass to travel by train from city to city. Indeed, without that travel within China was barred. Courtesy of Covid 19 that situation now pertains across Europe: no pass, no train travel, and no movement across national boundaries without a ‘Passenger Locator Form’. I know this is as wise as it is necessary for the common good, but it certainly gives governments a very clear grasp on where we all are.

Indeed, nothing like it has been witnessed since the Nazi machine swept across Europe….

Per chance, as I travelled across Italy on this latest trip, I was reading a biography on that most evil of the Nazis, Reinhard Heydrich. His killing apparatus was efficient to chilling effect and all without any of our modern-day computerised paraphernalia. All by paper the SS ‘machine’, with its incredible administrative efficiency, established and maintained the most sophisticated human data base ever hitherto seen which was all too often, for vast swathes of the population, ruthlessly effective from the point of invasion to their execution or extermination. There, of course, all comparison ends because, whatever the irritations, we fully understand that the benign governments of Europe are gathering and maintaining this information in the interests of its citizens. That fact affirmed; we are nevertheless being monitored in terms of our movement as never before in peacetime Europe.

Those ultimately responsible for the Nazi atrocities were of course brought to trial at Nuremburg and the worst of them were sentenced to death by hanging. Sadly, for them that process was carried out with a bungling incompetence and inefficiency that contrasted starkly with the ruthless and efficient competency of their evil regime, all due to the Americans. For it was they who insisted that ‘their’ hangman be charged with responsibility for the first 10 top-level Nazi executions.

And so it was that Master Sergeant John C Woods was to deliver justice. Sadly, for those that he executed, he had neither the training nor the experience of his British counterpart, the infamous Albert Pierrepoint, who used to carefully assess the weight of his charges to calculate the rope length, and thus a ‘drop’ sufficient to break the neck causing virtually instant death, without severing the head. Unlike Pierrepoint who carried out over 400 executions in his 25-year career, Woods was clueless: he was also an imposter….

Abandoned by his parents shortly after birth, he had dropped out of school in Kansas to join the US Navy. Finding that career unsuitable, he deserted, only to be caught and tried. He was then assessed as a ‘constitutional psychotic’ and dismissed, thereafter bouncing from one job to another until, at the outbreak of World War 2, he was drafted into the US Army as a combat engineer, eventually arriving in Normandy following the D-Day landings. There, death sentences of its own military for grievous crimes such as rape and murder were effected to maintain discipline, and Woods answered the US Army’s call for a hangman during the invasion’s advance across Europe, apparently bungling a number of executions along the way.

Regrettably, he had lied about his experience at interview claiming to have been an executioner in his home state of Oklahoma. Thus, it was that Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Foreign Minister who went to the gallows first (Hermann Goring having committed suicide) would take fourteen minutes to die. Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel would choke for nearly twice as long. And so on….

There was of course a cruel irony in the fact that the leaders of such an efficient killing apparatus should be executed with such bungling inefficiency, but this is an episode for which the allied victors can draw no pride….And so, however tempting it might be to liken the current frustrating paperwork and bureaucracy that frustrates our movements through and around Europe in these Covid charged times with the likes of Europe under occupation, never forget that behind the current initiatives lie Governments who ultimately care for their people’s wellbeing, one and all. These are indeed good times….and it was very nice to be back ‘in Europe’.

Colour on our streets

Published in World Architecture Festival Q4 2021

It’s astonishing that colours seem to have all but vanished from our roads. I mean proper colours like reds, greens and yellows, or those lovely deep maroons and blues once favoured for larger sedans. Everywhere you look nowadays, be it on the motorways or in the side streets, just about every car has been finished in one of those seemingly infinite shades of greys, or silver. I admit to there being occasional black or white examples amongst them, but you rarely see any ‘cars of colour’ anymore. Walking home recently I counted only two (one a sort of khaki tan, the other a metallic olive green) in a street of over 40 parked vehicles. Even the Toyota garage nearby had only three coloured options on a forecourt otherwise adorned with some 45 motors up for sale in their predictable tones of grey.

I simply don’t understand what’s happened: no-one has decreed this; no law has been passed. But there certainly cannot be any doubt that car manufacturers are pandering to public demand – they know their market! They know what people want…So what is informing this seemingly insatiable desire for the colourless car? And whatever happened to the predilection for bright primary colours that adorned the Morris Minors, Minis and Austin 1100s of those far off days of the ‘60s; or the sherwood greens and royal blues so favoured for the big Jags of the same era; or the reds and yellows much loved for the Avengers, Cortinas and Capris of the ‘70s and ‘80s,

Remember Inspector Regan’s first car? Interesting story there: Ford originally supplied a blue Consul GT ordered for the first Sweeney series back in 1974, but Thames TV swapped it for a metallic orange-gold model that they thought would stand out better against the drab London background: those were the days of the miners’ strikes, and the three-day week! And then there was John Thaw again, subsequently cast as Inspector Morse, with his burgundy Mark II Jaguar and its rather incongruous black vinyl roof. Never a grey car to be seen in any of those films. The old BMC swatch below shows the variety and richness of colour choices for the cars then produced by that plethora of British manufacturers.

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BMC Colour Chart of 1960’s

The current mass penchant for grey can be tracked back to the Germans and those BMWs of the 1980s that came to dominate the executive car market here in the UK. Yep, that is surely where it started, with the emerging preference for gun-metal finishes and their association with fine machinery and precision engineering. All of which reminded me of a passage in my 1994 M.Phil. thesis entitled ‘Architecture under Siege’ wherein I was bemoaning the uninspiring offerings of the UK house builders.

There I noted the peculiar dichotomy of the home-buyers’ evident fondness for traditional vernacular house styling with their contrasting love of contemporary car design. I described the executive’s run home from work in his flash modern carriage as he departed the city, dashboard lights sparkling and instruments silently monitoring and reporting – I italicise because marketing strategies for such machines then targeted men: goodness; how times have changed!

Such interior designs were of course no more than props, pandering to male egos through their suggestion of a functional complexity synonymous with the control systems more commonly found in Boeing cockpits. Likewise, the external form and language of the new generations of colourless cars were uncompromisingly expressive of purpose: sophisticated engineering was celebrated in unambiguously precise detailing. All was ‘machined’ to perfection. Such cars oozed technology, their quality impeccable, their performance assured.

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BMW: Synonymous with Engineering Sophistication

In similar vein the executive’s abode of that period would become ever more ‘technical’ in its equipment: we increasingly expected to be ‘welcomed’ home to sensors that monitored security; gates and garage doors that opened automatically, temperature management systems that ensured comfort; discrete sound systems that ‘piped’ music anywhere and everywhere to order; and wands that offered remote control to all communication systems. Indeed, by the eighties, Le Corbusier’s ‘machine for living’ was available, courtesy of the UK housebuilder, everywhere from the dense suburbs of our cities to remote villages right across our land – except of course that the housebuilders’ offerings didn’t look like a machine at all. Modern in terms of internal function and equipment yes, but modern in their architectural expression; decidedly not! Same old vernacular, ever smaller windows – UK housebuilders’ styling was nothing but a trip down memory lane…and a bad trip at that….

And the house buyer’s apparent demand for that cottagey vernacular would remain stubbornly consistent until, it seems, just the last few months. But suddenly, perhaps even courtesy of Covid, people are taking a fresh look at their homes. I kid you not: next time you walk our suburban streets, keep your eyes peeled and look around to see what’s happening to those dull, non-descript homes of the post WW 2 era….and even some from the ‘20s and ‘30s. Many houses, and even bland single storey bungalows as well, are getting a serious makeover; what can only be described as a total face-lift. What’s driving this no-one knows but, somehow, individual houseowners are, en masse, beginning to embrace a refreshingly modernistic styling. You will see this particularly expressed in grey replacement window frames, stylish but contemporary front doors, modern and bold fonts for house numbers, and of course, white render…. and lots of it.

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 Billericay ‘Semis’ Undergoing Makeovers

Mock leaded lights are out; big panes of clear glass are in; white plastic window frames with their dirty mitred corners are out; crisp grey aluminium frames are in; mock Corinthian columns: no thanks. And a big no to the imitation gas streetlamp.

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 Identical Woodford Houses – One A Recent Makeover

Such ‘cottagey’ styles their little dormers, leaded pane windows, and functionless chimneys were of course always a veneer, a sham, and a lie. But at long last all this seems to have run its ghastly course, and housebuilders may now have to play catch up as a myriad of private owners have, through their individual retrofit programmes, set a new direction in taste and style for the housing market. What they are doing may not be great architecture, but at least it shows a growing public interest in a new language for the domestic abode….an interest that is spreading super-fast. And what we see in a thousand individual makeovers today will be in demand for the new housebuilder’s offerings of tomorrow: so, watch that space! And expect some good, confident, architect led stuff.

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Three Woodford Green Makeovers

All of which takes me to a recent visit to the VETTii Factory just west of Venice a few weeks back. Specialists in kitchen and bedroom fitted furniture this firm, one of the largest of its kind in the world, has taken the art of efficient manufacturing and combined it with a laudably accountable sustainability agenda which puts responsible production, recycling, and minimisation of waste at the very heart of its slick and stylish operations. Every day 187 articulated lorries leave its main factory gates loaded with newly manufactured products bound for markets across the world. What is it about those Italians, now the eighth strongest economy in the world, that enables them to grace all they design and produce with such breath-taking style?

In their showrooms we discussed the bold colours that are now finding their way into the finishes of the company’s fitted kitchen and bedroom furniture. In response to my question about just what informs their choice of new colour offerings for their products, I was surprised to learn that it all starts with the fashion industry shows for ladies clothing…. they in turn traditionally influence the car manufacturers and lastly, with a three-year lag, the furniture industry follows. So, as we see houses going all white and grey on the outside, it seems that we can expect some real splashes of colour beginning to emerge to the interior fitouts. Again, that would seem to me to be none other than very welcome!

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  Fashionable Makeovers Will Set New Agendas for Housebuilders


Published in Design Intelligence magazine, Q2 2022

‘You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today’. Never were those words of Abraham Lincoln more prescient than now….

For the architect the terms professional and authority are synonymous with responsibility. The former establishes the obligation, the latter facilitates its dispatch.

In its narrowest sense professional relates, of course, to the standard of service expected, both in the context of law and ethically. The opening lines of any Barrister’s examination of an architect in an English court will run something like ‘….and you were, at all times during the service that you provided, a professional, registered architect’. This sets the benchmark against which the service as delivered is to be measured – that is of a reasonably competent architect. Not a brilliant architect, note, just a reasonably competent architect, albeit often, where the appointment terms so stipulate, one that carries experience in the design of buildings of similar scale, complexity, and function.

Yet against the limited confines of contractual duty, there is a much higher calling to which architects should aspire. I was alerted to that on day one, semester one, year one of my training when our tutor threw the gauntlet down by demanding that we never forget that beyond any contractual duty to clients, we would carry a responsibility to the users of our buildings, and to the public who would pass them by, every day, evermore.

I never forgot those words, but how important they have proved to be in the context of the two biggest external factors that have to date affected my career: climate change and the Grenfell Tower fire.

The former is of course universal in its relevance; we live in a finite environment and the collective impact of the buildings that we design must be controlled in terms of their effect on the environment. This we all now know, and surely all now accept. And despite the undeniable progress within the construction world, we all know that there’s still a long way to go. In fact, we have only just started out on that journey….

But, in terms of responsibility, the point is that irrespective of any contractual duty to individual clients – that is, to those who pay us – we have, as designers, a wider duty to the public, and to future generations, to ensure that our buildings are ecologically sustainable. The problem here, however, is that whilst we can encourage, we don’t have the authority to impose sustainable architecture. That is why enlightened and progressive building regulations are so crucial. The architect has a standing obligation to comply with code, so therein lies the authority to ensure that any design solution is responsible in terms of the eco-agenda. And whilst this may matter little to the paying client, or the person or organisation to which we are contracted, it certainly does matter to the wider public, and to future generations to which we owe a responsibility but to whom we have no contractual obligation.

So much for the design responsibility to those who may not use our buildings but who are nevertheless affected by their performance. Here in London a recent and dreadful tragedy has served to place into the sharpest relief the responsibility that my tutor insisted was ours to carry evermore on behalf of those who actually do use our buildings……irrespective of whether they had commissioned them. The fire at Grenfell Tower back in June 2017 has led to the largest and most far-reaching Inquiry ever undertaken in the UK (and probably worldwide) into the function and operation of the building industry. Its Chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick is soon to commence work on Phase Three which will deal with Recommendations, and whilst it is not for me to anticipate what they may comprise, we can all safely anticipate that they will be as wide in scope as they will be profound in impact.

Many commentators expect that whatever recommendations are forthcoming, the issue of authority will come to the fore because responsibility for the design, sanction, construction, and inspection of any building must carry with it the authority necessary to ensure that the standards of safety, as set, are delivered. Which brings me to Winston Churchill’s words, equally prescient in this context: ‘… have no right (to) ask me to bear responsibility without the power of action.’  For power of action, of course, take authority.

All of which brings me to the responsibility that we, as architects, carry as leaders, both in our firms and within our industry, to those whom we train and those we employ. That is, that we must ensure that through our programmes of education, and thereafter within our offices, those coming into our profession are properly equipped to discharge their responsibilities, both competently and effectively. That means that they have the know-how, as well as the time and the fees, to enable them so to do. But it also means that they have the authority to ensure proper delivery of their work and critically, back to my tutor and his ‘call to arms’, that they have inculcated within them that wider sense of duty that goes way beyond any contractual obligation to a paying client.

We owe that to all who use, and will use, our buildings…..

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…..