Reflections; Collaboration – a conversation about change

Published on 8th July 2021 by Allan Murray

"I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society." Henry David Thoreau

Reflecting on our BOA conversations this month’s blog post is by guest and collaborator Allan Murray.

What has always been interesting to me, having worked in a large internationally renowned practice, a large commercial practice and 3-10 small practices in both the USA and UK, is how intimate the process of design really is. In my experience, the beginning of the design process usually involves only a few people, two, three, “a huddle”. The teams expand of course, but the initial discussion, the engaged conversation, the creative act is always an intimate thing. There is something deeply personal about what we do, the intensely cerebral nature of ideas, our visual and phenomenological memories, the first speculative touches – pencil (or now the iPencil) gestating into more and more confident strokes. The quiet search doesn’t need a practice of 100 or 50 or even 20 to be creative. Henry David Thoreau talked about having three chairs in his house – one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society. I like this metaphor applied in architecture; the idea is often borne out of an internal discourse, but it is the architectural conversation that helps us to challenge, balance and mature our thoughts and it is the necessary wider dissemination and communication of ideas that involves the symbolic ‘third chair’ of society.

What has surprised me while collaborating with other creative people in smaller practices is how little I miss the resources of a larger practice.  A small practice can discuss big ideas – there is no limits placed on our minds. We no longer need cavernous drawing studios and physical drawing boards, but we do still need the intimacy of the drawing. I’ve been astonished (as an old dog as it were) how well personal mobiles, iPads, iPencils, software programmes and other integrated technologies allow us to share a metaphorical sheet of paper. To draw within the same space is so important, it is deeply empowering and fecund that we can now converse on so many different levels and through different mediums.

Collaborating with others is going to be more and more ‘a thing’ as we evolve as a profession. Inevitably we are already finding more interesting ways to work together, to express ideas, to share and transfer thoughts, drawing on ideas from disparate sources.  I believe that in a few years’ time, we will find that the practice of architecture has changed significantly. It is an exciting time for architects, we are curious creatures, experimental by nature and hard wired to be at the vanguard of change. It is the very definition of hubris to predict what our industry will look like in the future, but we can confidently say that architects, will always be in the thick it!

In our next reflection, Allan will discuss how we have put this collaboration into practice in some recently completed projects we have worked on together and how these came about.

Allan Murray is a successful, highly experienced architect and urban designer. He has been Executive Director of Allan Murray Consultancy, a specialised design advisory practice for over 7 years. He was also the CEO, director, founder and lead designer for Allan Murray Architects since its creation in 1998 until 2020 when he made the practice into an Employee Owned Trust. Allan led the architectural design and philosophy of the practice including Civic Trust and RIBA award winning projects such as the Missoni Hotel, Edinburgh St James, Boroughmuir High School. He also set out the design philosophy of the practice until it's transference to an Employee Trust.

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