It is a ‘disgrace’ that architects and designers are involved in perhaps only 5% of the £200 billion worth of the UK’s current round of infrastructure projects. It’s a disgrace for the profession, for society, and a disgrace too that politicians and procurers do not take design seriously enough.
So said Sadie Morgan at the latest Spiritland Talk in Kings Cross last week, the event where key figures talk through their lives through their musical choices.
‘We don’t have to build badly’, said Morgan, who warned that architects must not sleepwalk into irrelevance and is leading a charge to promote that design thinking is brought in right at the start of the process of building in order to save money and make our environments more attractive to people. ‘We have such a huge part to play’, she told NLA chairman Peter Murray at the event.
Former New Londoner of the Year, High Speed 2 design panel chair, Thames Estuary 2050 growth commission deputy chair, mayoral design advisor and de Rijke Marsh Morgan director, Morgan was the latest guest in the chair selecting tracks for her Spiritland session last week.
Morgan, who was also the youngest ever president of the Architectural Association in 2013, was brought up in a socialist commune in Sevenoaks, the first of its kind, where ‘care in the community’ was essentially born, she said, and where Morgan was schooled in life issues. ‘It was the most extraordinary place to grow up because you weren’t brought up by your parents…but the most wonderful thing about living there was that you didn’t rebel against your parents.’ Morgan’s own daughters also grew up there, and can now relate to many different ages and backgrounds as a result, while her father was an architect at the AA who gave up much of his personal ambition to look after the family. ‘There was a sense of “believe in yourself and do what you want to do”’.
Morgan studied interior design at the RCA, having already met Alex de Rijke and Philip Morgan, but the trio got their break when they won an architecture competition run by the Architecture Foundation. None were RIBA registered at the time of setting up, so they worked in Morgan’s father’s office, designing as dRMM and ‘having the time of our lives’, before Morgan’s father’s untimely death. ‘We didn’t really choose to create a practice and with all due respect we would probably never have chosen each other’, said Morgan. ‘But 23 years later we still talk to each other and respect each other.’
Key dRMM projects include the Eco Station, Kingsdale School, Centaur Street with Roger Zogolovitch (‘a bloody nightmare’ as an architect client), with the Stirling Prize-winning Hastings Pier the most high profile recent scheme. ‘We had nothing to lose. We came from nowhere’. ‘We were just totally driven by wanting to make change and transformation. It was super exciting and full of energy and life.’
Morgan believes that we should celebrate infrastructure like, say, the French do, and is a driving force behind pushing design principles in government circles, including at the National Infrastructure Commission. She believes that many clients are keen on the issue, many appreciate design, but that they often don’t understand that designs could be better and there is work to be done on making architects more relevant. ‘There’s a compelling case to be made. We just need to make it better, clearer and need to stop using complicated architectural jargon.’
The RIBA presidency has never appealed to Morgan, who believes the institute is ‘too entrenched’. But asked about her successful relationships with key decision makers such as Lord Michael Heseltine and Lord Andrew Adonis, who have helped progress her career more than any others, Morgan said part of the success was down to a few key things that others could emulate. ‘If you’re passionate, if you’ve got drive, and if you can convince, then you can get stuff done’, she said.
Sadie Morgan’s Spiritland music choices:
1) Dusty Springfield - Son of a preacher man
2) Prince - Kiss
3) Amy Winehouse - Valerie
4) Stevie Wonder - Living for the city
5) Sister Sledge - We are family
6) Aretha Franklin - Respect
7) Beyoncé - Crazy in love
8) Elton John & George Michael - Don’t let the sun go down on me (live version)
The next Spiritland Talk is with Michel Mossessian on Thursday 27 September. Tickets here.
Images from the evening can be viewed here.
By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ