Interview: Air Miles with Chris Harding

30 Aug 2019 by Hannah Brandler
Chris Harding BDP

Chris Harding is an architect and chair of BDP, a major international practice of architects, designers and engineers. He has worked on projects such as the Channel Tunnel, the Millennium Building for the All England Lawn Tennis Club and the Armada Housing development in Den Bosch.

Which project are you most proud of?

Mandi’s Indian Institute of Technology in the foothills of the Himalayas. This is almost certainly one of our most remote and technically challenging projects. It uses locally available materials and techniques to create a very special place for learning and research.

You design all over the world. How do you preserve the customs and values of a region?

This is very important to BDP. We have a network of 13 city studios across the globe and take our biggest inspiration from the people and places we design for. The world is a rich and interesting place and we are passionate about embracing its diversity. At its most basic level, we strike up genuine conversations with the people we work for (we are very good listeners!) and we carefully research and understand local customs as well as the climate and features of each site.

What is the most rewarding experience when travelling for work?

Food is a highlight and my waistline shows it. I always try and make sure we plan an itinerary that leaves plenty of time to eat regional cuisine and enjoy the company of those we are working with. Food is a wonderful way for people to come together and talk about design. I’ve convinced myself it’s part of my job.

What’s your indispensable travel gadget?

I am very pleased with my Briggs & Riley suitcase and shoulder bag which nearly fit in an overhead and are very easy to push around. My iPhone is indispensable and I marvel at the Uber app working almost anywhere.

How have technological advances affected the architectural sector?

We have entered the augmented age where increasingly humans and robots will work together on the design, construction and operation of buildings and cities. We use digital design tools to inform and illuminate conversations with clients. Immersive virtual technology is being introduced and we are planning a digital cave to test and experience designs as they progress. We are designing for off-site manufacture and assembly and our partners across the world are increasingly exploring the use of robots to mitigate the impact of an ageing demographic.

How important is environmental sustainability in your work?

Climate change and the accelerating pace of urbanisation is a key driver for our approach. We are exploring low energy design standard passivhaus for institutional buildings and are involved in carbon measurement and post occupancy research to develop an evidence-based approach to design.

Some of our most exciting projects are city scale visions in Southeast Asia. This allows us to come up with integrated approaches combining ideas about density, accessibility, pollution, green space and water. Cities of the future will be denser, greener, mixed use and connected and their careful design is fundamental to meeting the challenges of a finite planet.

How is the rising trend in flexible spaces influencing BDP’s design projects?

Our own studios have changed massively over recent years as we embrace collaborative and changing work styles. Flexibility is a big issue for our clients, and there is a shift away from the ‘one size fits all’ model towards spaces that can adapt and be personalised by the people that use them. In an era of exponential change we need buildings that will support this change and not stifle it. We are exploring several co-working, co-living projects in London and Toronto.


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