Voice 16 - Neil Boyd - Designing and Perspective

/ Neil Boyd / Arts & Culture

Neil Boyd posed the question whether the understood qualities of an architect as captured in a Royal Institute of Architects paper, namely an aptitude for design, ability to apply a methodology, undertake analysis, have a mathematical bent, show empathy for communication and grasp IT, were the whole story. His take on it was that what we do out-with our professional lives plays a huge part in shaping our architectural experience and contribution, blending on the one hand the hard skills identified above with a broad range of softer perspectives. It is in the end these softer aspects that determine the sensitivity of our architectural output. In the spirit of investigation Neil explored those more ethereal qualities that have influenced his practice.

First of his three influences was art, in a sense the provocateur in his toolkit.

Arts fundamental role, he pondered, was to enrich awareness by drawing attention to different ways of looking at the world, and for Neil in particular, the craft of delivery and delight in small details. At its simplest art teaches you to appreciate the small delights but it was, he said, not all plain sailing. You need humility and compassion in the search for your art. The ability to overcome disappointment is integral to art - what sadness teaches is the need for resilience in the face of challenges.

The second grouping of qualities can perhaps be seen as his lifebelt in the face of these obstacles and that is our relationship to nature at its rawest. As a climber, the Scottish terrain and exposure teaches perseverance. When climbing through the mist with limited vision and asking yourself why do you do it - the answer is in knowing the reward is about the long run - not about it being easy. Nature has scale and spirituality which can never be underestimated. Neil gave two life lessons, one about a climber who thought the Himalayas too big to love, a hammering home of the need for respect, and the other on how when being relentlessly battered by the elements his climbing group found a rough built shelter on the hill just at the point of disillusionment. Someone had built the shelter knowing what was required in that wild place, we can with caution hold back the might of nature.

If art is the quest and nature the necessary hurdle, then the fuel is travel. He recalled the time he spent in Nepal working with people - building stone walls of a school, bonding through working relationships with people. Travel tests the rigour of your thinking, by being exposed to other cultures what we accept as a western norm can in other locations be understood in completely the opposite way. Our culture is not necessarily the only one with integrity, we need to constantly challenge our position lest it be blindly ignorant or narrow minded.

Neil's broader perspective allowed him to tune into what others don't see, in an example, his stair with seating pods every four steps for our High School of Dundee building grew out of how pupils currently occupy the existing stairs at break time. He began to see things differently, that you could build a vertical playground for conversation, an art inspired tower, sheltered from the climate and a place to travel in the imagination for the young pupils.

High School of Dundee