Architect presents slice of work life

The conference season brings a lively series of design reviews, lectures and publications for the planning professional, reflects Tim Stonor.

Three months ago, this column was written in a lazy chair and hot sun. Today, it is on a slow-running train to Cannon Street. I am comforted by the thought that the week will end at the Academy of Urbanism's annual awards lunch. With that carrot before me, I count 23 separate meetings in the next week.

There are at least three high-pressure events, including a masterplanning workshop, a design review panel at the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and a meeting with architects in which I will recommend significant changes to the layout of a large project in a major UK city. I will have dinner with the heads of our branches in Boston and Tokyo and with the academy at the Dorchester.

Looking back over the past three months, I am pleased to see that my carbon footprint has been smaller than usual - just two flights, to Stockholm and Londonderry. The latter was almost certainly offset by speaking at a climate change conference. My upcoming trip to Bahrain has been postponed so I may end the year on a personal best.

In the past three months, I have sent 1,218 emails and received more than I can calculate. However, the nature of evidence-based planning is such that not all evidence is useful. One tangible fact has been the approval of Crossrail and the wave of work it has generated. This was soon followed by a rise in tricky town-centre retail commissions.

While the former is the result of political decisions, the latter is the product of the private sector's summer-to-Christmas window, the time available for important things to happen between holidays. It is not quite as short as the post-ski, pre-Easter window, which can be just a few days. In between times, I am grateful for overseas clients who work to a different calendar.

The conference season is now well under way, as are the accompanying events. First was the publication of the Urban Design Compendium, a handsome tome to which I have made a contribution, sitting on the sounding board and enjoying the efforts of Roger Evans and his team. The next publication I am watching for is guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence about public health and the design of the built environment, which I have helped draft.

This time of year also heralds the start of the academic term. In London and Stockholm, I have given two lectures to large groups of students. Demand for urban design is enormous. The diverse audience included architects, town planners, landscape designers and sociologists, but I would have liked to have seen a few more transport planners.

As for today, it is a full morning of regular practice reviews looking at finance, marketing, projects and human resources. Over lunch, we will discuss strategies that may cover technology, partnerships and research. Today, salary reviews and recruitment take priority. With every strategy come necessary questions about staffing. Just at the point where it all seems impassable, we make a decision and it is time to head home to the more nuanced subtleties of two small children.

- Tim Stonor is managing director at Space Syntax Ltd.


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