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Thoughts for the Weekend & this Week’s Links

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Build, Destroy & Reflect.

This week marks the start of term at the University of Southampton. For a few weeks, I am Sir, occasionally Professor, until they work out it’s okay to go with Carl. Those who persist with the whole ‘Sir’ thing are sometimes reminded to use my proper title: Lord. Most get the joke, and titles are dropped. Only once has it backfired, with a student from Singapore calling me Lord for the rest of the year.

In January, I took a group of students to meet a real Lord as they’d designed an insect farm for his estate. Well, actually, he’s an Earl. The 12th Earl of Shaftesbury, to be precise, but he’s good with Nick. Even though he’s Nicholas Ashley-Cooper, he seems to be called Nick Shaftesbury in the village unless some gravitas is needed. I once persisted one step too far in an email negotiation with the estate. I’d crossed the line. The title was wheeled out in writing: ‘Lord Shaftesbury insists….’ It put me back in my box.

Since 2009, I have held the official title of Senior Teaching Fellow. In this first week, as in every other year, I work with first-years to design, build and test bridges that carry baked bean cans. The winners hold the most cans and take home the beans. It’s always great fun, but there is some serious learning: Teamwork and design. Over three days, they go from tentative pencil diagrams to an 8-foot-long timber bridge with intricate bolted connections. It’s amazing to see design and creativity at work. They start by presenting three options modelled at a small scale. Listen to feedback and develop a refined version, taking the best bits from each. They then get 24 hours to build before we test competitively to destruction in front of all the other groups.

It’s the same process I follow in practice and is a process that is repeated in all their design projects. By the end of four years, they can design complex buildings and structures and confidently present them to real lords.

In speaking to past students, one thing they value highly is the weekly design tutorial. They receive honest feedback on their design efforts. You must gauge your audience and warm them up over a few weeks, but I like going in for the kill. You can get straight to the point. If it’s rubbish, then they appreciate being told. It is important to help them understand why and outline the next steps. The challenge with being a young designer is being brave enough to show what you’ve done. It’s scary; you’ve put your heart and soul into it, then risk being told it’s not really that good.

In many ways, testing the structures in front of the rest of the year could be seen as public humiliation. It is brutal when your bridge takes four cans before it breaks, and you’re the worst. No hiding. But there are always lots of laughs, nail-biting and applause. We are building a team spirit where creativity can flourish. There are ‘adults’ in the room with titles if needed. But this project begins a culture of trust where we listen to each other and where it’s safe to talk openly about our ideas. To test and fail and be supported to have another go, informed by listening openly to others.

This week’s web links include a nice pub, the latest revival and the history of a sandwich.

Feel free to let me know if you have any comments or suggestions. You will always find me at carl@carlarchitect.co.uk.

All the best

Carl's signature

This Week’s Links:

This seems like an extreme effort to hide your TV, but it’s interesting. Why they plaster it is beyond me.

A Belgravia pub tucked away.

The World’s 13 Most Beautiful Villages You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.

A minimalist Paris apartment – love the kitchen

A CD revival is upon us.

The history of the BLT:

Main image credit: Baked Bean Bridge testing

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