Voice 14 - Joanne Hemmings - Engagement

/ Joanne Hemmings / Creative Workspace

Joanne continued our ’40 Voices’ series with a series of thoughts on engagement, clarity, buildings that last, character and craft, collaboration and teamwork – a set of architectural cardinal points forming an informal primer:


Buildings form a frame in which our lives occur. It is the reason that we build them – as ultimately a backdrop for our lives to be played out – as places where stories accumulate and people meet. For this reason, people need to be at the centre of all our architectural endeavours, and on a professional level need to be deeply embedded in the process in which our buildings are conceived, commissioned, designed, built and used. We believe that engagement throughout the design process – from the client body, through all the key stakeholders and user groups – is a key driver in ensuring that aspiration and built reality are as closely aligned as possible and that the built artefact is as valuable as possible.


A lot of good architecture has clarity at its core – clarity of idea, of thought, of detail. Clarity is ease of understanding – of accessibility to the mind – of identifiable image and icon. Clarity can be one of the most difficult characteristics of buildings to maintain throughout the sometimes-messy process in which they are developed and delivered – but one of the most important. Without clarity, we are lost at sea, struggling to understand where to go, what the intention is, what our relationship to this environment should be. Clarity puts us at ease, provides legibility, ease of movement, and a means of communication.

Buildings that Last

Some modern buildings are not designed to last, but thrown up quickly, with a wafer-thin building envelope and little consideration as to their contribution to our common environment. These are not buildings that generate much more care and goodwill than they present, and about which few tears will be shed once they reach the end of their lifespan after a few decades. Buildings that people care about - buildings for and about people, show that if you build well, with care and respect, these can remain in use even long after their initial function has passed – a power station that becomes a gallery, a granary that becomes an art college – and are retained as part of our common culture.

Character and Craft

Similarly, as when seeing a building that has been carefully conceived and designed so that it ‘gives back’ to its environment, occupiers and those who simply have to walk past it, there is an embodied sense of common goodwill in environments that are well crafted. It is an uncommon opportunity for a building user to come in to contact with those who have constructed the environment in which they live, work or spend their free time in, but to construct a beautifully crafted space for others is a generous act, one which is evident and tangible to those who come into contact and see it.

Collaboration and Teamwork

Architecture, of course, is an act of teamwork, every time – there are no buildings, or very few, conceived of and realised by one individual. On that basis, the act of construction is by definition a communal activity, part of our shared societal built output, and is fundamentally collaborative. If the aspiration is to build to last, as we believe is our responsibility as architects, part of the social contract of our profession, then the products of our activity are passed on to the next generation of occupiers, caretakers and activity. On that basis the appropriate, spirited thing to do is, clearly, to pass on buildings of clarity, character and craft.