SPGS ‘The Review’
My old school, St. Paul’s Girls School in London, asked that I write a short article for this edition of their quarterly Alumni paper. And here it is.
A couple of years ago, I was invited to speak at an event called “Architecture: Empathy and Technology” and was surprised by how little we had considered ‘empathy’ in design in both my graduate and undergraduate studies. We were always taught in, what I see now as, a patriarchal concept of ‘The Omnipotent Creator’: we built small, formally seductive models that looked great from above but spent little time considering personal and individual experiences that are shaped every day by all aspects of the architecture around us. Architecture has certainly changed in this respect and moved to a place that is more about experience. Instead of technology pushing us further away from that it has actually given us the tools to design spaces from the inside out, play with tactility, with surfaces, with affect and impression.
My own career started firmly planted in the world of omnipotent designer: I spent ten years working on stadiums, arenas, and theatres. I thought about how to move crowds through enormous spaces, and how to mold form into event architecture. There’s certainly value in this but I knew there was a more social and political aspect to the world of architecture and jumped at the chance to design different building types and shadow the thoughts behind different functions and uses. Now in my architectural practice, our projects are broad in scope and type. They run the gamut from office interiors to retail to gymnasium buildings to theatres to animal shelters. In all our projects we consider experience at the human scale and strip away preconceptions with a desire to do things better, putting thought and empathy into everything. Possibly the most radical in all of these is the approach we’ve taken to animal shelters. Here, we were confronted with a building type that sorely needed reinvention and took on the challenge with enthusiasm. We redefined the prototype to create welcoming and comfortable environments that consider the animals, the visitors and the staff, rejecting the ‘shelter-as-prison’ mindset.