What do you enjoy most about collaborating with artists, architects and sculptors?
Artists have clear ideas and being able to talk directly to them is like having an insight into their creative process. It's a very visceral connection. In the early days, I did a piece of work on a very large cast iron structure made up of segments. The segments represented a tiny part of two spheres that nearly touched each other. Eventually, I said to the artist, “What is it?”. And he told me it was a story about how our lives exist in different worlds; be it work, home, your partner or your sport and hobbies. Once I understood that, I just thought, wow, that is a fantastic concept. When you really understand the artist's thought, you're more likely to be sympathetic to how you contribute to the design process. Understanding the object helps us to do the engineering and this can be applied to every conversation with an architect about their design, and what they're trying to achieve.
How would you describe your role when you are working on these projects?
My role when working with architects is to communicate on a deeper level about the engineering and to describe what it means for the building, the design, the shape and the form. Our involvement with public art, artists and sculptors tends to be about contributing to what the object is and how the materials behave or function. We also advise on safety, erection and assembly methods. We might say this would be better in this material, or we think a particular element could be done differently. It’s very much a collaborative process, and we work with the artist to find a solution together that satisfies the creative ambition of the artist whilst ensuring the project is technically sound and buildable.
Why is public art so important in our towns and cities?
If you look around some of our greatest cities, like London, Paris, New York, Chicago, those public spaces have frequently been enhanced with the highest quality of public art you can imagine. In Chicago there are pieces by Picasso, Kapoor and Miro, in London we have work by Richard Serra and Antony Gormley, for example. They are tangible assets that enrich cities and contribute to what they stand for. One of the pieces we did last year was a lens-like structure on a residential development in Harrow (a borough in London). It was quite modest in a way, but a unique design. It’s an idea, a thought, and has a real quality about it that enhances that space for everyone.