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I was a schoolboy in London in the Sixties of the last century when I was inspired by a number of great buildings to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. I was greatly influenced at the AA by the work of Cedric Price and Gordon Pask. On graduating I worked with a UK Government research group where we generated the first national design guides for Fire and Police stations. These were essentially parametric and largely relied on an Activity Data Method that was derived from techniques that were then used in operations research. I taught at Bournemouth College of Art during this period. I became increasingly aware of the shortcomings of ADM and decided to work with Stephen Mullin, who had started his own practice after being lead assistant to Cedric Price. I then became a partner in a design and build practice in California where I gained hands on experience of working with timber.
On my return to the UK in 1973 I was invited to run a Design Unit at the AA together with Ranulph Glanville. I taught at the AA until 1993 in various capacities. In 1973 I also joined the Douglas Stephen Partnership where I led the design team for a number of published buildings, mostly in the medical field. I started teaching at the Bartlett in 1993 where I led Diploma Unit 14, the Bartlett interactive Architecture Workshop, became the Director of Technology in the School of Architecture and reengaged with theoretical research that is ongoing. I handed over my role as Director of Technology to Bob Sheil in 2009 and Unit 14 to Paul Bavister in 2010. I now lead a Research Cluster in the MArchGAD programme. I also coordinate the written component of this programme. I have been an external examiner at The University of the Arts and the University of Liverpool and I am part of the RIBA architectural course validation panel.
I am currently constructing a small experimental house that explores some of my research interests. These oscillate between an analytical understanding and a visceral enjoyment of architecture.
My research is based in two areas. Both are in my view critical to the development of innovative architectural design.
I am interested in the way that the technology of building relates to the external environment. This leads to studies of passive and assisted passive ventilation systems, natural light and its intersection with artificial light, heating and thermal insulation and diurnal cooling.
All of these areas are crucial if buildings are to minimize energy consumption. Research in this area has led to ventilation strategies, which if widely adopted would have an impact on C02 generation and global warming. This is an obvious benefit.
A more intangible benefit is that through this kind of work it is possible to envisage environments where the natural world is not excluded from the built environment; where boundaries between the two worlds are ambiguous. I believe that an architecture that works in this way has the potential of offering a sense of delight to the occupants as it continuously changes in response to external stimuli.
The other area of research comes from a long-standing interest into the time-based aspects of architecture that relate to human occupation and building use and takes forward an early interest in cybernetics and building brief writing. This has led to looking at the use of buildings using performance analogies, especially those developed by Bateson and Goffman.
It has also led to an interest into the ways that buildings might ‘put on’ performances to entertain and enlighten their occupants. Some of the reasons for these investigations are the obvious possibilities that arise from increasingly cheap sensing, computation and activation devices that can be placed in the built environment. It is really interesting to experiment with these through design.
There is also a more theoretical to this aspect of my research. I believe that most attempts by architects to describe the observers and users of buildings do so by trivializing them. I am currently examining the ways that performers especially stage magicians ‘construct’ their audiences. It seems that these constructs are likely to be much more sophisticated than those generally used by architects and may be much more appropriate to an architecture which interacts in an active way with its occupants.