Building designers should pay more heed to what users need

The future for London's skyline

The future for London’s skyline

These past two weeks have seen me playing and working in what I believe is fondly referred to as “That London” by those who live and work in the rest of the United Kingdom. Whilst resisting the temptations of the capital’s fleshpots, I’ve had the time to reflect on the design of public spaces and wonder at the architectural munificence that gave us, within a single square mile or so; The Shard, The Gherkin, St Pauls Cathedral and the engineering marvel of Tower Bridge (I also had the chance to sample Japanese octopus balls, but that, as the saying goes, is another story altogether).

Each in its own way is a striking addition to the built environment and in their time impactful in the same way as might be the landing of an alien spaceship. Visiting aliens, however, might hypothesise, as did I, at the vainglorious waste of space that a circular edifice embodies; at the way in which humans inhabit and interact with the built environment in a way no architect’s model ever envisaged. Lit prettily at night these monstrous erections present a more sympathetic spectacle, but with even migrating birds discombobulated, light pollution is an ever encroaching blight.

Should the universe throw our way an unbidden wonder, as it recently did, our urban denizens’ only glimpse of a sighting is likely to be on YouTube (unless of course by some happy stroke of fortune one such astral pebble knocks flat an as yet unoccupied carbuncle).

There are many more than fifty shades of grey in the spectrum of design. However, until a shift occurs in the way in which consideration is given to what the users of buildings and of public spaces need and indeed desire we will continue to be flagellated at the altar of designers’ egos.

Unless, that is, we threaten to publicly spank the designer of the next vanity project with a rolled up copy of Monocle…


Simon HeathSimon Heath is a freelance illustrator and commentator on workplace and facilities management issues and was formerly Head of Operations, Global Workplace Strategies at CBRE. For more of Simon’s worldly, wise and witty writing on all things work and workplace related, visit his blog at