Designing the built environment puts us at a unique intersection. We span technology, economics, local and global regulation, environmentalism, and the health and wellbeing of society. We craft the stage where lives – billions of them – play out every day.
The privilege, magnitude, complexity, and responsibility of this role can sometimes feel daunting. With every innovation, every development in how we work, and each impactful project, the need for more, better, newer seems to follow. The world feels fast, vast, and often out of control. Despite the pioneering developments they may feature, when designs for spaces take years to come to fruition, it can feel as though there’s always more that could be done.
So how do we combat that overwhelming feeling? How do we even begin to make changes that keep pace?
It is a constant truth that children have an inbuilt drive for discovery. As kids we behaved like ‘little scientists’ – eager to observe and ask “what if” about our surroundings. But, of course, as our awareness of the wider world expands, we become immersed in the practicalities of our lives, and maintaining our capacity for exploration becomes harder and harder. So we need to fight for it – encouraging each other to delve deeper whenever we can.
As engineers, we’re sometimes criticised for focusing on the granular detail too often: while it’s integral to successful buildings, it can sometimes be frustrating for those who are inclined to focus on the bigger picture...
But, when it comes to exploration, detail can be everything.
For explorer Ellen MacArthur – who features within these very pages – focusing on single issues out at sea is how she ultimately navigated those challenges that seemed too big to tackle: “You concentrate on solving your problems, or keeping the boat safe, or making sure you take the best route through the storm…”
The romanticisation and simplification of history has deceived us into thinking the world is advanced by lightbulb moments, by ‘big’ questions, and pioneering breakthroughs. In reality, it’s every new iteration, every focused piece of research, every small exploration that contributes to world-changing advancement. The scale and pace of our world – the very thing that often overwhelms us – makes this transformation possible. All we have to do is share these discoveries, journeys, and lessons… and continue to ask what we need to explore next, and – indeed – whether we need to redraw the map entirely.