I’ve been thinking today about control, the ultimate desire of many a building designer. A memory resurfaced about another trip I made some years ago to the Royal Armouries in Leeds. It made me smile so I thought I’d share it.

It was a week after the building had been unveiled. Just enough time for the designers and contractors to have left, and for the occupants to start putting their own finishing touches to their new home.

Two huge granite columns flank the main entrance. It’s an imposing castle like facade. No human friendly scale here. Turrets and forts spring to mind. Its all steel, glass and masonry. Imagine the distress the architects would have had then, to see one of their granite columns imaginatively encircled with a large piece of A2 paper displaying the opening times scrawled in marker pen. It was literally cellotaped around one of the columns.

Now I was younger at the time. I’d been taught in the old architectural way. You come up with a big idea and then push it through in as complete a form as possible regardless of what else came up along the way. I remember smirking at what I thought of as a naive mistake on the part of the designers. I resolved to work harder to eliminate this sort of thing from my own work. Control must be everything.

Here though is the problem though. You can’t eliminate this sort of thing. This is life in buildings. I see time and again the futility in trying to design everything. Unfortunately my profession brings out the worst and most anally retentive traits in some of those that practice it.

What would a military general do here then? Perhaps he’d realise that you can’t fight an invisible enemy. The desire for control is unrealistic. Most of all he’d know that change is inevitable. Given the flux and flow of reality, perhaps we should wait when designing some parts of buildings until we can see what moves will be played out by the occupants. Then we can commit to a course of action that compliments the situation.

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