MBE ‘for services to architecture and innovation’

I have been awarded an MBE ‘for services to architecture’. What  services to architecture? I can only guess at what these include. I have dedicated my professional life to creating healing environment: for people, place and planet, and always aimed to give an affordable service. I was amongst the first [perhaps only 10 people] to design [and build and teach] sustainable architecture in Britain. Also the first to recognise that place affects the soul more than do buildings as objects. Indeed, in the 1970s, ‘soul’ was an unknown concept in architecture – and it’s still widely neglected today – so much so that in 1990, a reviewer described my book Places of the Soul as “from another planet”. [It’s now in 6 languages; other books in 3 more.] I pioneered a method of consensus design – which I’ve used for over 60 projects. From the paucity of information available when researching Environment and  children, I must have been an early advocate of child-friendly design. All these subjects I have expanded in books.

I’m disabled with MND [one-year prognosis 16 years ago] so now work from a wheelchair and cannot speak – so give ‘silent lectures’ [PowerPoint; I write and draw answers to questions]. Similarly, interviews are best in person, but can by email [much slower and less alive].

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Biography

In the 1960s, I studied architecture, then sculpture. I then taught architecture and realised that architects think about buildings quite differently from those who live in or amongst them. To architects, they’re dramatic, visual objects. To everyone else, they’re parts of places in which life ‘takes place’: multi-sensory ambience to feel good in. This led me to approach design as human environment.

The 1970 oil crisis exposed the fact that buildings use half of all energy - and cause half of all pollution. I sought to minimize buildings’ environmental impacts. There were around 5 eco-architects I knew of in Britain at that time - so perhaps 10 or 20. I was one.

Around 1980, I became aware of buildings’ impact on health [Sick Building Syndrome], initially from contact with Bau Biologie in Germany, then researching in Sweden [10 years ahead of Britain]. I added healthy building to my focus.

Throughout my career, I’ve never felt I could spend others’ money to indulge my design ideas. So I’ve always designed with, never for, clients and building-users. Around 1990, I met a Goethean ecologist who studied landscapes in a new way: physical, biographical, mood-evocative and embodying ‘spirit of place’. Her approach and mine meshed together. This developed into the Consensus Design Process – which I now always use as it bypasses competing personal opinions.

In this, we first study the place, with no thought about we’ll build there. What is objectively physically there? Everyone can agree on this. Then, how is it in a time context? For some projects, the place’s biography - from past to present, then extrapolated into the future – is crucial; for others, the entry journey’s sequence of experiences. Then what are the moods of its different areas? Are there calming, stressful, socially-vibrant, abandoned places? Then: what does the whole place ‘say’? In this sequence, everyone can agree on even this non-material ‘spirit of place’.

Design mirrors this place-study process: What should the project ‘say’? What place-moods would support this? What spatial-gestures, experience sequences would support this? [And/or how can development align with the [probable] unfolding future?] What forms and materials embody this mood-supportive experience sequence?

Normally, group-design produces lots of arguments. But here, every decision is servant of the previously agreed one. In over 60 projects, we’ve always reached a design everybody is happy with – and surprisingly quickly. For instance, consensus-designing a school master-plan, 3-unit early-childhood centre, classroom-block and entry experience with some 30 teachers and administrators took 9 days.

Unfortunately, few designers of zero-energy buildings care about occupants’ health; even fewer about places’ soul or spirit; fewer again about ego-free consensus. Most prefer competition to cooperation. My approach has, however, led to work in 24 countries – from Siberia to California, Scandinavia to New Zealand. This has taught me lots about designing for different climates - wet, cold, windy, hot, dry, humid – also that much microclimatic design starts outdoors, with planting and garden design.

Combining place-conscious design, sustainability, occupant health, consensus design and bio-climatic design can, I hope, produce healing environment: for people, place and planet. That is my aim.

 

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My best known buildings are:

Ffald-y-Brennin Christian retreat centre [Eisteddfod 1st prize]

Nant-y-Cwm Steiner Kindergarten [Architects Journal cover, May 1991]

Cynefn [house;  http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/look-snowdonia-hobbit-house-up-7224041]

Craft Workshop, Life Science Trust, Pishwanton, Scotland [RIBA Journal]