Board Blogs: elevate the mundane with design thinking – Graham Ross

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In a series of blogs, members of the A&DS Board explain what inspires them, their policy priorities and what they wish their secret built environment super power would be. Here Graham Ross, an architect, partner at Austin-Smith:Lord and depute chair of A&DS, gives his reflections of being a part of Architecture and Design Scotland. 

What inspires you day to day about being a board member of A&DS? Anything that frustrates you?

A&DS is tasked with being national champion for architecture and place-making throughout Scotland. So, in my role as a Board member, being part of a small, talented team seeking to fulfil that ambitious remit is a privilege and a big responsibility.

In Scotland we are blessed with many stunning buildings and places. We have local talent exploring innovative ways ensure that new design emulates the best of what we already have. However we also have big challenges facing our built environment.

Many town centres have been in decline, there’s too much poor quality housing, a pressing need for climate change adaptation, for public procurement reform, diminishing public sector budgets, and a continued lack of appreciation of the importance of design.

We must ensure that everybody, including senior politicians and those responsible for procuring buildings, understand the significant added value good design has for our environment and communities. We must ensure that design talent is nurtured and retained in Scotland and that can only happen if design is appreciated, valued and central to how we improve our places; cities, towns, neighbourhoods, buildings and landscapes.

What things/activities has being a board member of A&DS enabled you to get involved with? 

In over ten years on the A&DS Board I’ve been involved in a wide array of interesting and inspiring activities including: discussing national planning frameworks and city regional planning; canvassing opinion on the updated architecture and place policy; advocating the benefits of design to communities, local authorities and national agencies; helping celebrate and showcase the best of Scottish design through supporting exhibitions, judging competitions and awards and working with A&DS’s exceptional team in delivering our Corporate Plans.

Being an A&DS Board member demands having a strategic overview but also offers opportunities to work with A&DS staff and our collaborators to deliver projects that start to face in to the challenges outlined above.

From your perspective, what are the best projects or activities A&DS has done? Why?

A&DS undertakes an incredibly broad array of work all across the country. Amongst the most impactful activities A&DS have delivered thus far have been in advocating the benefits and helping secure design excellence in new Healthcare and Education projects. Hopefully the lessons learned can be applied across public investment throughout Scotland.

Other highlights have included the delivery of the Stalled Spaces Scotland across the country, the culmination of our first 10 years of A&DS in the DECADE events and the exciting community outreach achieved via the Say Hello to Architecture initiative during the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016.

What future work is A&DS involved in that particularly interests you and why is it important? 

A&DS’ new corporate strategy places a focus on improving housing and street design. In meeting the significant challenges to deliver thousands of new homes across Scotland we have an opportunity and duty to ensure that they are well designed so they are adaptable for an aging population, energy efficient, affordable and located in the right places to meet the demands of existing and new communities; from city centres to rural landscapes.

It has to be a shared ambition, which A&DS should champion, because if we can get that right then it will have the most significant impact in the wellbeing of future generations.

If you could make built environment policy … what one issue would you tackle first?

Ensure that we have a public sector procurement system that values the design professions, enables innovation and provides a ladder of opportunity to new and emerging talent. This would sustain the existing pool of collective design expertise which should be given the chance to thrive to benefit us all.

All public buildings and infrastructure should lead the way and be of an enduring high design quality. We can only elevate the mundane to being elegant with enlightened design thinking.

What built environment super power would you like to have? 

To ensure that design and design-thinking become pivotal to ensuring Scotland thrives. If we can become a ‘design nation’ that infuses policy, planning, procurement and places with design excellence and intelligence then we can elevate our collective prosperity; socially, culturally, environmentally and economically.

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