I had a dreadful sense of foreboding as I closed the door to our studio in Waterloo at the start of the March lockdown. I knew I would miss the exchange of ideas and the casual conversations about our business, about design. I worried that the technology to work from home would measure up. I’ve never been a fan of working from home. I need colleagues. It’s all I’ve known. Whenever one of my Partners over the past 35 years is “working from home” my first thought is “day off”. I fear I may even have expressed that view from time to time. It’s my background. Work means going somewhere to work. Yet here we are 9 months later and although some of us have ventured back to the office, I’ve changed. We all have.
I was lucky to have the perfect lockdown project to work on as part of a team evaluating and rewriting Network Rail Design Standards. I reorganised my home studio and settled into a new routine. I also signed up as an NHS volunteer and found (no surprises to anyone who knows me) I’m great at fetching, carrying and delivering and absolutely useless when asked to call someone who just wants to chat. I’ve always found volunteering essential for my wellbeing. I’ve tried meditation and other more passive pursuits but my mind is always racing and I prefer to be doing something different. I worked with a fantastic group of people at the Foodchain for 12 years most weekends and it helped me grow.
In April and May I became morbidly fascinated and tearful as the daily cases, hospitalisations and deaths began to rise. Astonished at the unpreparedness, the incompetence, the mistakes. Watching the country I love become the worst affected in Europe. Cycling kept me sane and I decided to incorporate architectural destinations to my expanding routes. This included an examination of social housing and the contrast between those of us lucky to have gardens and those with appalling external spaces -often those keeping us fed, safe, well and alive. Our clapping seemed scant reward. This pandemic has highlighted huge inequalities. My hope is that we learn from it, that the world is a small, precious place and we all have to act together to enhance it. I think we will.
To escape the nightly bulletins and the constant analysis of cases and deaths, without theatres, restaurants, cinemas and galleries as a distraction I launched into projects I thought would have to wait until retirement. The most ambitious is a play about talent, ambition and legacy based on the rivalry between Michelangelo and Leonardo (but could also be about Norman Foster and Richard Rogers). I’ve loved it, the research, the writing, the whole creative process.
I have also learned screen printing at the weekends. My first attempt was to superimpose a drawing of the WCCA new home of Temple Bar on the 1746 Rocque plan of London. Again, I have loved the whole process though there is still much to learn. Whilst printing I was introduced to www.RadioParadise.com broadcasting out of San Diego which like listening to Bob Harris 24/7. Bliss.
What is finished is a children’s book written for my first grandchild Margot Poppy born during lockdown in New York in September. I will have to wait to see her and read it to her. Like the vaccine she brings new hope and new promise in this fascinating fragile world but also a reminder that we need to respect it.