Sustainability & Diversity
If you had a blank canvas now, in terms of creating a building from scratch, what would it look like?
“We actually have one in Shoreditch, which we are building from the ground up. I think it is our first ground-up building, and I am really pleased because it’s all about sustainability. It’s a full timber building, which is pretty groundbreaking in Shoreditch. More and more people are all getting conscious about our footprint in the world and it is something that cannot really be denied any more.There is an element of tick boxing around sustainability, but I think it would be great if there was a genuine sustainable response in terms of architecture in this next phase. In terms of the interiors, I am all about the human. Especially in terms of the designers we choose to collaborate with, we try to find people who really understand the human experience. I think the human can be lost when you are trying to establish ego in a space. Trying to be trendy, or trying to force a certain material into a project, you lose the human element. I love working with designers who get it.”
Architecture has been so male dominated, Zaha Hadid was a great antidote to all of that. She caused a great deal of controversy just by virtue of the fact that the male dominated establishment didn’t like where she was coming from. Yet she created groundbreaking buildings like the London Aquatics Centre, which is like no swimming pool I have ever known. It’s got incredible light and is just a joy to be in that space. That’s a rare sensation to get, when you are in a building and it feels special to be there. It elevates experience.
“It’s really difficult to find women and people of colour who are leading businesses. I am desperate for more of that, because they are the people who will bring the change, they know how to design for difference and diversity. I am telling you it is still a struggle to find the right people.”
Nasim is of Iranian Australian heritage and is also young for a business leader, so she is talking from first hand experience. I mention that in our recent In Conversation with Yinka Ilori, and that he felt that although change has been slow, there are many things to be positive about, and if we can’t progress diversity in design in London, then where?
“It is the place to make change. A particular young member of my team is blown away by the fact I am in the position I am. Not long ago, she didn’t think it would be possible. Recently, we were working together on a project to design an office for diverse people and she brought so many insights to the table. I use this example a lot, but she analysed how we design our showers. Her ethnic background means that she doesn’t wash her hair every day, and our showers are rainfall showers. She explained that walking into those showers would make her think – how I am going to navigate this? I had a similar experience because I wash my hair a little less too, but someone else on the team washed theirs every day. So we quickly realised we needed both a rainfall shower and a flexible head shower. It’s a tiny thing but it makes a world of a difference to somebody. If you don’t have a diverse range of people in decision making positions, then there is no way that change is going to happen. It’s not a big deal, it’s such a simple change. There are so many little things we can do to improve people’s experience.”