Design thinking?

(Estimated reading time: just over 1 minute)

On Saturday we travelled across the new Queensferry Crossing.

It’s a lovely looking bridge (see Modern can be beautiful). And, it will last for more than 100 years.

Also, it’s claimed that it will be able to withstand winds and stay open in situations that would have closed the Forth Road Bridge.

So that all sounds good. Maybe even great.


The design of the roads to the bridge doesn’t seem to have been addressed. The queues that plagued the old bridge are impacting on the new one. Four lanes of traffic still reduce to two at the entrance to the bridge.

This seems like a lost opportunity.  Shouldn’t an iconic project have created a better solution to multiple problems? Presumably, the project objective was achieved – build a more robust bridge.

But what limited the vision?I know that more work = more cost. But is that the real – or only – reason?

The Scottish Government has been criticised whenever the Forth Road Bridge was closed to traffic. Yet, complaints about regular, daily delays for drivers barely register at a national level. Is the problem the difference between FUBAR and SNAFU?

Lack of vision, economy, oversight or cynical approach? Whatever the reason, it’s not great, and it takes the shine off an impressive piece of infrastructure.


Modern can be beautiful

(Estimated reading time: less than 2 minutes)

I was intrigued, and delighted, to learn that the Aviva building in Perth has been awarded A-list status. This recognises it as an iconic building. I don’t know how many people in Perth would name it as a favourite building; I don’t know how much resistance – if any – there was when it was built in 1983. 

It is essentially a series of concrete blocks. However, it was built into the hill in a sympathetic way. And it incorporated landscape gardens from the outset. I’m sure that the development of the trees and shrubs has helped to soften the edges.  I refer to it as ‘The hanging gardens of Aviva’. (See picture below.)

For me there is an important lesson here. This building is a functional office. It is not elaborate or ornate. Yet, it fits with its environment. It is comfortable in its location.

Fit for purpose, and fit to preserve. That’s not a bad model for architectural design, and for the design of systems and institutions in our modern world.

Tried and tested?

Or tried and trusted? There is a big difference.

‘Tried and trusted’ is reassuring – ‘We’ve used it before and we know how it works’. BUT also carries the risk of complacency, of failing to adapt to situations, of staying stuck in a comfortable routine (rut).

‘Tried and tested’ requires challenge. It risks exposing our assumptions and upending them. It means we might need to put more effort in and re-designing can be expensive. BUT testing builds resilience and confidence.

Testing needs to be repeated to avoid the elephant trap that is ‘tried, tested (once) and trusted (forever).

Worshipping in ‘the spaciousness of a forest’

Last week I wrote about Richard Holloway’s comment that ‘walking is the new church going’.  His comments resonated with me for a number of reasons.  One of the less obvious reasons was due to our recent holiday in Barcelona.

Amongst many other marvellous sights and experiences, we visited Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia.  Before our visit, it was on our ‘must see’ list even though I had some nagging doubts in my mind.  I was sure that the architecture and design would be fascinating – and it was – but I was a bit wary that it would simply be a tourist attraction, with none of the elements of church that I look for in cathedrals etc.

It’s fair to say that I was stunned by the atmosphere.  Despite hundreds of tourists being in the building at any time, there was a sense of respect observed by (almost) everybody that I came across.  Whatever your religious beliefs, I think it would be hard not to notice a distinct aura to the place.  The outside of the building is spectacular with wonderful details everywhere you look; the inside is breathtaking in its spaciousness and the way that light infuses it.

“The intimacy combined with the spaciousness is that of the forest, which will be the interior of the church.” – Gaudi

My conclusions?

  • If you’re in Barcelona, make every effort to visit the Sagrada Familia.
  • If you’re looking for a place to draw near to God, be open to possibilities.
  • A walk in the forest may be as good as place as any to find meaningful communion with your Maker.
  • Above all, your attitude towards worship is more important than your location.