Gordon Simpson RIBA – Architect
My interest in Architecture began the moment I saw the ‘blue prints’ that described the three extensions to our family home, that my parents undertook through the 1970s when I was a child. It was a modest introduction by any reckoning – a semi-detached ex-council house that over a number of years acquired a double garage, two bedrooms, a porch, and an enlarged lounge, kitchen and dining room. My fascination with the built environment has continued throughout my adult life, through seven years of professional qualification at Sheffield University and now some twenty odd years of architectural practice. I feel very fortunate to be a practicing Architect and it is a privilege to be able to pursue my vocation rather than to work!
When I think about architecture and construction it seems to me that it is perhaps one of the most fundamental of all human creative endeavours. Certainly that is how it was taught at my university, where we were encouraged to study the writings of twentieth century Existentialist philosophers Martin Heidegger and Christian Norberg-Schulz, who believed that to ‘dwell is to exist’. Or was it the other way around? Anyway, suffice to say that for me the whole process of designing and building our environment is an expression of the very essence of our humanity.
My architectural training has given me much more than the technical know-how to design a building. It has also given me a broad aesthetic appreciation of our world, one that informs all aspects of my everyday life. Whilst a good building should be functional and fit for purpose, a truly great building will be one that delivers to more than these simple practical needs. Our lives are enriched by beauty, the play of light, the flow of space, the materiality of a surface, the framing of a view. But as the saying goes ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, and it is precisely for this reason that I believe that the role of ‘client’ is so important and central to the design process. Whilst the great Modernist Architect Le Corbusier once described buildings as “machines for living in”, there is no doubt in my mind that when it comes to living in a space poetic considerations should be on an equal footing with the pragmatic.
When it is said that a building design is only as good as the brief, it is in recognition of the central role that the client undertakes throughout the design process. After all, as the end user of the building, it will be the client who is the final judge as to whether the design is a success or not. A building cannot be designed in isolation as there will always be the specific and unique contexts to consider; whether they are the physical constraints and opportunities of the site, the budget, the available technologies and building materials, or the aspirations of the client. In this respect the best buildings will always be personal, providing the client with a bespoke and individual design response and an inspirational environment in which to live. In the final analysis, I believe that the measure of a truly successful design is the extent to which the building exceeds all of the client’s expectations.
Through my career I have discovered that great buildings are rarely, if ever, the result of the endeavour of one person, but are instead the product of a team of talented individuals. My experience of successfully delivering very large healthcare and education projects has taught me that the team does not need to be large. Indeed, with appropriate and complimentary skill sets, a very small design team is capable of delivering a very large multi-million pound project at the highest level. When it comes to design and construction, I now know unequivocally that the quality of the team effort will always exceed the sum of the parts. This is a belief that is firmly embodied in my working practice, where I seek to surround myself with experts who have a proven track record in each of their respective fields, giving me a rich pool of innovation and creative talent from which to draw.