After a buzzing welcome reception at our City of London venue, hosted by partners Grimshaw Architects, proceedings were kicked off by a warm introduction by the President of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Fernando Pérez. As he aptly remarked, we all have an opinion on infrastructure because we all use infrastructure. The event was fabulously attended, and our four speakers delved into the emerging areas of infrastructure design and innovation which, in the words of one speaker, are starting to shape our collective human experience of where and how we live.
Grimshaw Architects Chief Executive, Mr. Jolyon Brewis, started by asking why design was important to the functionality of infrastructure. He pointed to Battersea Power Station as an example of something that has carried with it both its original functionality as a utility, as well as an important sense of character and identity which has lasted the test of time. He quipped that he wasn’t proposing that we return to building infrastructure as if they were great cathedrals, but rather to reignite that spirit which takes such projects beyond the bare bones of functionality and strives to contribute characteristically to the community which it serves. One example was a Grimshaw project in New York, where a hybrid functionality is being innovated in a water treatment facility by developing much of the unused land on the site into a golf course.
Mr. Ignacio Clopes, Managing Director for UK and Ireland at Ferrovial Agroman, branch of the infrastructure giant Ferrovial ( Patron of the Chamber) , chimed in. He spoke of the need for developing “smart infrastructure”, where again New York was used as an example of how a disused, industrial-era raised train viaduct running through the city was converted into an enormous public promenade featuring landscaping and flora. Not only had it been returned to public use in an iconic way, it also provided a very pleasant way in which to traverse that section of the city.
Our final two speakers; Mr. Gavin Franklin, Project Manager of Crossrail, and Mr. Enrique Rico, Head of Railways at IDOM, were keen to offer their perspectives. Mr. Franklin’s main focus was on the dichotomy of “collaboration”, something which he had experienced both positives and negatives of whilst presiding over one of Europe’s largest infrastructure projects – a project so large that it had actually first been conceived half a century ago.
Although this process of collaboration was admittedly time consuming, he encouraged the merging of good practice between designers and engineers. As he put it, whilst civil engineers build the big important holes in the ground, with the customer experience a very distant concept, the architect just bridge that gap, working from inception to optimize the service user experience. Finally, Mr. Rico expanded upon his work within IDOM, indulging the audience with an insight into the world of rail infrastructure, citing Poland as an example of a country moving towards the modern era by investing heavily in improving this area.
After a pensive and banterous Q&A session, the speakers and attendees retired to the atrium to mingle whilst enjoying drinks and some Spanish-themed hors d’oeuvres. We sincerely thank Grimshaw Architects, as well as our speakers, for a successful and highly engaging event, and we very much hope our attendees enjoyed it too.