If you had a DeLorean time machine and could go back 30 years to the start of Nash Partnership, what bit of advice/guidance would you tell your younger self?
a) Context is everything
b) Look outside yourself
What inspires you in the world of architecture, urban design and planning?
What inspires me most is how we can learn the lessons the natural world has to teach us. The natural world’s architecture is contextual, sustainable, has no waste, has infinite recyclability, is functional, glorious and incredibly beautiful. I puzzle endlessly about why the built environment achieves these qualities so little of the time – that’s the challenge for architecture, urban design and planning.
What is your favourite and most respected piece of design that is non-architectural?
Without doubt it would absolutely have to be boats. The amount of visual pleasure I have had from looking at boats is almost beyond belief. And boats of all sizes. I love those stubby shapes of tugs, and Thames sailing barges, as well as those glorious continental steamers in the alpine lakes. It’s the way the freedom designers have is modified by practicality, operational efficiency and tradition.
What was the most rewarding project you worked on?
The projects on my shortlist are probably those that taught me the most. I love the synthesis achieved in the design and construction of Orchard House, a modern, simple building that used traditional materials and had tremendous contextual integrity. In my very early years, I was very lucky to be asked to handle the design, planning reuse of the 19-acre Longfords Mill industrial village in the South Cotswolds. A project of housing for the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust at the Coalport China Factory was the most pleasing model of relationship we achieved between client, planning authority, community and developer, involving the least compromises in its delivery – a rare kind of satisfaction.
Bradford’s town centre was perhaps the most satisfactory planning resolution for a challenging brownfield site problem and delivered an extraordinary quantity of community benefit on so many fronts. But I would not stop there. Although I played a smaller part, our large-scale housing schemes of Starvehall Farm and Ensleigh give me real pleasure. Our work in South Gloucestershire has taken me right back to my very first reflections of Bristol when I came down for my university interview in 1970 and I wondered how a place could be so suburban!
If Nash Partnership were an animal, what would it be and why?
I would say an octopus, as it’s intelligent, adaptable, able to squeeze through small spaces, not flashy, multi-limbed, and willing to explore dark places…
What is the most significant challenge/opportunity for architects and planners in the next ten years?
I think our most significant challenges ahead lie in evaluating and managing the impacts urban living have not only on natural resources but on the uneven lives of their residents. As we move into the big data era, we will have the possibility of understanding, measuring and managing these impacts really well. Ideally, the forms of management will be self-regulating and on a positive upward curve around closed cycles of resourcing materials, food supplies, water quality, etc. It’s surprised me through my career, particularly recently, that the quest for sustainability has not been more directed to the urban scale metrics which lie within our grasps.