The Office Trip

Written By

Brian Park

24.8.2021 Thinking

With the roots of the practice developing through the 1980’s, the importance of foreign travel became apparent. The two weeks spent in Poland (see my recent article ‘Origins’) set the foundations for an appreciation of the importance of cultural awareness across boundaries. We could, of course, refer to the classic 1366 page “A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method” by Banister Fletcher as the recognised textbook of architecture worldwide – and we did – but what better than to travel together and experience other cultures, buildings and their context first-hand.

A trip in an old VW Beetle to some of the well-known historic towns and cities of England , with deviations along the way to several recent contemporary buildings in Norwich and Ipswich, was a start. Relatives in Germany (and therefore a bed-for-the-night) facilitated visits to some of the wave of new museums in major cities. Trips to the Baroque churches of southern Germany also allowed us to venture to Le Corbusier’s classic Ronchamp Chapel in France.  

That pattern of seeing and experiencing the historic while exploring the new was firmly set by the mid 1980’s. A visit to Barcelona (well before its designation as an Olympic venue) with a focus on urban spaces across the city by young architects was so inspirational, it resulted in a decision to formalise the culture of the office trip and we aspired to create a bi-annual opportunity for everyone in the practice.

As the experience of these trips built into a wide-ranging appreciation of other places, cultures and buildings, we encouraged everyone to participate in what became very significant events: developing our social interactions as a team, giving us all shared cultural experiences and contributing meaningfully to our practice of architecture back home in Glasgow and Scotland.

We could then apply what we had absorbed within and around our own city, country and culture … and we should do that together. Together was key. For many years we managed two trips each year …. sometimes one of these being within the UK for financial reasons but nevertheless important – social interaction as a team was of ever-increasing significance to what we were achieving.

Over 70 trips to date have allowed us to share these experiences together, with the added benefit of invited guests on many occasions: sometimes a client with whom we were working, on one occasion a former university tutor and mentor (acting as a guide as well as a guest in and around Prague) and, from time to time, an artist collaborator. We  have covered most European capitals, many other major cities and also events when destinations had European City of Culture designation.  

Travel broadens the mind in every sense. A weekend planned for Turin ended up as a great few days in Paris as air traffic control issues resulted in flight chaos on the Friday morning. A trip to New York with dinner in the sun on the sidewalk in Greenwich Village (arranged by another employee relative with great insider knowledge) was wonderful …. the jet lag and trying to engage with work on the Tuesday morning less so!

In short, our office trips over the past 40 years have contributed immensely to our strength as a creative team and our appreciation for heritage, regeneration and new buildings created in response to their surroundings. They have provided us with endless sources of inspiration and instruction from our international predecessors and peers.

My thoughts as we move beyond the current restrictions are that, while remote working will be an element of the future (and has advantages), team interaction and travelling together – both in the literal but also metaphorical sense – is critical to continuing to achieve excellence in all that we do. We must build back to being able to play the home game together in our cities but also to travel to ‘away’ games where there is so much to be absorbed. I therefore applaud the recent office trip to see one of our projects nearing completion in the Scottish Borders and to visit an important historic building in the town (a football stadium, as it happens) followed by lunch together. It’s a start on the way back to full team strength

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Collaborating with: Gorbals Arts Project