Chairman's corner

Chairman’s Corner, Simon Robinson

Simon’s working association with the built environment spans his whole career and has covered all aspects of building services construction and design. His working life began as an apprentice electrician and once this was complete, he quickly moved into contract management before finally moving into building services consultancy. In his current role as a Technical Director in WSP UK Ltd’s Group Technical Centre, Simon now spends his time guiding colleagues with technically challenging projects. He is an active volunteer with a number of Institutions and has helped to author industry standard guidance for building services engineering.

March 2013

Built or Natural – Is it the same thing?

It’s easy to take the built environment for granted. Our houses, offices, road network, public transport, retail outlets and leisure facilities are accepted by many as the landscape in which they live. As Chair of the Built Environment sector, my first blog really ought to focus on these things.

So I’m going to talk about the Lake District.

I love the Lake District. It has wonderful scenery and a calming influence on me whenever I go there. I should go there more often. Okay, maybe the weather could sometimes be better but as a Yorkshireman, I should be used to rain. We think of the Lake District and any other national park as a natural environment, the antithesis of the concrete and steel which supports most of our daily lives and yet its ‘natural’ description depends really on how you define ‘natural’. Like most of the United Kingdom’s countryside, the Lake District has been moulded by us over the centuries and very few of its landscapes are actually natural in the truest sense.

I’m sure some of the people who work the land in the Lake District don’t see its beauty first. They’re more likely to focus on the potential it gives them to earn a living and keeping it ‘natural’ for the rest of us is a low priority. Most of the United Kingdom has over the centuries been ploughed, mined, quarried or grazed. I suppose a truly natural landscape in the Lake District would be covered in dense vegetation with significantly more trees rather than the barren landscape we cherish so much and even call beautiful.

If we look at the carbon footprint of our ‘natural’ environment, we see some interesting statistics.

The Lake District National Park has done some excellent work in identifying the impact of the area on the wider environment and identified the biggest contributors to it’s carbon emissions. Visitors travelling to the area account for around 41% of emissions and road transport accounts for around 33% with tourism including hotels, pubs and restaurants accounting for 25% (1)

Those of us who live and work in the built environment should take heed of the excellent work being done by the Lake District National Parks in identifying and addressing a problem, many of us didn’t think they had.

Just as the natural landscape has evolved to suit the needs of its occupants over the years, our towns and cities will adapt to reflect changing lifestyles and business requirements. As with the Lake District, they reflect the people and cultures who live in them as well as architectural fashion. Master planning on vast scales has created elegant cityscapes, some of which we now treasure, and some we don’t!

It may be stretching a point to suggest that in a few hundred years, people will look back at images of our current towns and cities and consider them natural, but that of course depends on where the next few hundred years takes us.

In the shorter term, maybe I should stop going to the Lake District and do my bit to help bring down those carbon emissions!

(1)    Source:

May 2013

Tourists, the Tube and new training shoes

As I travel to London regularly, I inevitably spend time on the Underground. Perhaps not enough time though to have become one of those people who sees it a necessary but rather unpleasant part of their daily commute. It’s certainly as diverse a mix of people as you could ever find and all integrating in one way or another with the built environment. I’m sure the same can be said of any subterranean transit system around the world.

Two things generally go through my mind when using the Underground. Firstly why can’t we harness all that wasted energy that makes us feel even more uncomfortable down there?  Secondly, why do tourists wear new training shoes?
Granted the two questions are pretty diverse and you’re probably wondering what goes through my mind. That’s a fair point, but in some ways they are linked. We know the Underground can be an uncomfortable experience; be that over-heating or the daily record breaking attempts at “how many people can we fit on one train?”

When I say tourists wearing training shoes, I really mean those who from their demeanour would clearly not normally go anywhere near a pair but for their holidays and they have made the purchase especially for the occasion. They have taken the decision that comfort is perhaps the most important thing and that decision be it sub-conscious or otherwise, suggests they wouldn’t find holidaying in a city very comfortable in their normal attire.  So much so that they have chosen to purchase footwear purely with that in mind.

Comfort is something we take for granted. It’s one of the reasons we have a built environment in the 21st century, so to actively change our behaviour to feel comfortable in it seems at odds with our goal as built environment engineers.

What we need is training shoes with built in fans!