The process of creating great architecture always involves collaborations between different members of the design team and, invariably, one of the most critical of these is between the architect and the structural engineer. As an engineer, I believe fervently that an elegant structural solution is a prerequisite for an architectural piece of note. When synergy develops between the architect and structural engineer, great things become possible. This principle has always been at the heart of our philosophy as structural engineering and architecture were two of the original four professions included when the practice was founded.
Successful design collaboration begins with an appreciation of and confidence in each other’s skills - call it mutual respect - together with a strong shared concept which both parties can own. Of course, a good personal relationship is also essential but it isn’t simply a case of encouraging each other and occasionally patting one another on the back. In the effort to achieve the optimum balance of art and function, it will often involve challenging each other and both parties need to be prepared to compromise without diluting the concept.
Owen’s Park Campus Redevelopment, University of Manchester, UK
The Owen’s Park Campus Redevelopment at Fallowfield for the University of Manchester is a recent design collaboration with a newly developing architect relationship. The masterplan includes a total of 3,250 new ensuite study bedrooms but of all the proposed buildings, the Student Services Centre is the most exciting. The striking exposed laminated diagrid timber roof forms a dramatic backdrop over the internal spaces, the dynamic expression of which helps in creating a landmark beacon. It is a defining structure within the campus, attracting people and acting as a focal point. Throughout my career I have firmly upheld the conviction that ‘God is in the detail’ and in all my projects have endeavoured to craft simple, practical and essentially elegant details. This building is no exception.
Boxpark, Croydon, UK
With co-located professions, the engineers and architects interact on a project at the earliest opportunity because they work alongside each other, eat their lunch together and, ultimately, understand what’s really important to each other. This level of understanding and mutual respect for each other’s skills helps foster strong and successful creative partnerships. Personal relationships between architect and engineer which mature over time – these are the ones which will lead to better buildings.
Another recent successful collaboration which has the benefit of a long-established architect / engineer relationship is Boxpark in Croydon. Shipping containers are an intrinsic component of the Boxpark brand. For Croydon’s newest eat/drink/play venue we took 96 of these iconic components, modified and adapted them and then stacked them up to three high around a central events space with a simple profiled polycarbonate clad canopy overhead.
Boxpark Croydon, UK
The concept is straightforward and robust reflecting the linear nature of the containers. It produces a raw industrial aesthetic, a symmetrical geometry of unrivalled parallelism and a pared down materiality. Much design effort went in to resolving interface details and junctions so that the final piece is perceived as being deceptively simple - a good thing! As a result, Boxpark Croydon is indeed a special place and we are proud of what our team effort has ultimately delivered.
When synergy develops between architect and structural engineer, great things are possible.