The making of this book, Drawn Thought, started as a way to capture sketches that lead to impactful building projects, putting them in the public eye as objects of interest. It has found its own feet in time, however. Recognising a more purposeful task, it sets out to encourage other engineers to think a bit differently about the world in which they work. Writing this book has certainly helped me by allowing me to reflect back on my own journey. I hope these reflections will help others too.
Since mid-2019 my own journey has taken a further turn. Awaking to the Climate Emergency that is now upon us all, I have devoted my time to engaging with others across the construction industry to help us respond positively and rapidly to mitigate the harm and accelerate the move towards regenerative design - design that seeks to restore us to a state of harmony with the natural world. In particular I am proud of my part in the development of www.constructiondeclares.com that captures the growing commitment of the industry in the UK and increasingly internationally.
And I can see now that the kind of immediate co-creative sketching that I have explored in this book, and that is shown in the select excerpts through this chapbook is of great value when used to synthesise complicated and interacting ideas far beyond the design of a building. I have found that sketching has allowed me to capture complex ideas from across, many disciplines and use this to help me understand things better and, through sharing, help others join in and find their own clarity. What I developed through my building design work has helped me design solutions to more abstract and more vital issues of the present time.
Climate Emergency demands that we look at design from many more perspectives—through different lenses. We have to find ways to achieve the necessary balance, meeting the fundamental needs of humanity whilst nourishing the rich natural resources of the planet that provides us with life. From this newly found perspective, I can see that this new, yet fundamental, story needs simple narratives and simple imagery so that everyone can join in. There is so much that we have to change but it can only happen with the will of people—so many people. Co-creation and ability to communicate through “drawn thought” is a crucial part of this transformation to a regenerative way of thinking. It has to be a shared endeavour.
I realise now that I find it quite easy to have ideas, but it is hard to decide between ones that could fly and ones that should sink without trace. I am also a lot happier imagining things than putting in the hard work to realise them. This would explain why I need help from so many people so much of the time. I couldn’t have achieved a thing without them.
Other people help me stimulate ideas, to help with decisions, and ultimately to help make things happen. Recognising this is important. It means that this book, though it has my name on the front, and contains my words and sketches, is the product of many others whom I have had the good fortune of working with. This includes architects who invited me to join in creative debates, engineering colleagues at Buro Happold who were crucial in adding ideas and all the proper details, and clients who had the enthusiasm to let the projects happen. Without all these people, even these quick-fire doodles would not have happened. I often need a kickback from others, a critique, a comment, an additive conversation. These conversations are addictive to me, and I can see now that they are the cornerstones of my career. They are additive conversations built off drawn thought. I now understand why Ted Happold used to call me into his office—when I was a mere twenty-year-old—to talk things through with me. He needed those conversations too. Perhaps we all do, to be creative. I am eternally grateful to everyone who has invited me to take part.
There are very many people I would like to thank. Limiting this to a single page, I would like to mention:
Sue, my best friend since we met in 1975 and my wife since 1981. She has always been my best supporter and critic in equal measure.
Ted Happold, Ian Liddell, and Michael Dickson at BuroHappold who guided me into the profession and gave me opportunities to succeed.
Frei Otto, who gave me—as junior engineer—time to talk and whose vision of natural architecture became my guide.
Lord Foster and his fabulous office of architects, who encouraged me to take part and asked so often, what does the engineering say we should do?
The Founding Partners of Buro Happold, who allowed me to do what I wanted to do by starting a great engineering practice, where we could explore new ways of doing things with a desire to change the world.
All the brilliant engineers at Buro Happold, with whom I have worked for the past forty years. Most notably, George Keliris, who joined us from Imperial College in 1999, and with whom I have worked for around twenty years. He gave every project his all. Letting me push the boundaries, we always found a way to make it work.
Finally, I must thank Charles Matz for the conversations, the support, and the trust that has allowed me to see things very differently. Without him there would be no book, and the sketches would still be hidden on a shelf somewhere.