When we all pull together

Words:
Nathalie Baxter

Interdisciplinary design is the way ahead says RIBAJ Rising Star Nathalie Baxter, who is taking a degree in the subject at Cambridge

Nathalie Baxter on site with the contractor team.
Nathalie Baxter on site with the contractor team.

Architects have not yet exploited the potential of interdisciplinary collaboration, nor taken it seriously enough.

We can’t deliver our ambition without collaboration. High quality, innovative design solutions can only be realised with specialist support. If we simply create a vision, without fully engaging in our interdisciplinary teams and incorporating their expertise throughout the design process, the results are inevitably poorer.

It’s true that the complexity of interdisciplinary collaboration is high: increased health and safety legislation, technological advancements and an obligation to deliver more sustainable building solutions has increased the size of project teams. This, alongside the requirement to share knowledge and digital information more frequently, means we have to intelligently adapt our traditional approach to collaboration to stay relevant and effective.

Application of these interdisciplinary skills is increasingly important as we adapt and evolve our approach to suit advances in the tools we use to collaborate with. Interdisciplinary collaboration happens via two main platforms in tandem:  physically through meetings and in a digital world where we speak to each other via email and federate a 3D virtual world in which we are liable for our contribution. While new tools allow the architect to test and explore the physical impact of each disciplines’ contribution from an early stage, the integration of our 3D output requires a more consistent and tolerant approach to collaboration. And, as the software we rely on continues to advance, it is a challenge to keep up – without losing control of the end result.

  • Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme ‘Rollerball’ workshop at Whitworth Park School hosted by the DurhamGate Design Team, developer client and contractor.
    Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme ‘Rollerball’ workshop at Whitworth Park School hosted by the DurhamGate Design Team, developer client and contractor.
  • Nathalie Baxter at a working lunch with the City Electrical Factors’ client.
    Nathalie Baxter at a working lunch with the City Electrical Factors’ client.
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How do we as architects learn to overcome the hurdles to true interdisciplinary collaboration? It doesn’t feature significantly in architectural education so students don’t usually begin to explore the concept in the context of their training until Part 3. Interestingly, in the ongoing review of architectural education, there is a push towards increased practice-based learning to complement early academic study. I think this has a lot of merit but it would be good if the disciplines mixed regularly at early degree level.

The University of Cambridge has begun to address this issue by placing collaboration at the heart of its part-time masters’ degree Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE). I am the current academic scholarship student on this course, supported by FaulknerBrowns, where I am a project architect. The course brings together 18 built environment sector professionals from across the globe into a structured learning environment in which they share knowledge around emerging trends, opportunities and challenges within the built environment. These include sustainability and resilience, health and well-being, energy, efficiency, conservation and heritage, stakeholder engagement, and political and regulatory landscapes. Students gain an understanding of global perspectives on relevant issues while developing valuable skills in interdisciplinary collaboration and management which they can apply immediately to practice life.

As the architect’s role in the project team continues to be challenged, we need to be able to work with other built environment professionals without further eroding our own responsibilities. Collaborative behaviours cannot be taken for granted; if interdisciplinary collaboration is supported by an effective and timely procurement influence, project teams will thrive. I call on all architects to engage in this new but complex era of interdisciplinary design. If utilised effectively, it has the power to add value and drive innovation in all our projects.

Nathalie Baxter was a 2017 RIBAJ Rising Star, a scheme to recognise and reward up and coming construction professionals. Entries for 2018 are open here.

Rising Stars is produced in partnership with Origin Doors and Windows.


 

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