Can Buildings Inspire People?

Last month I found myself in front of a group of Sudanese college principals, vice principals and senior staff. My task –to explain what I do for my College clients. But also to impart something for them to take back home.

When I thought through what I do for a day job (valuation, landlord and tenant, dilapidations claims and asset management ) i realised it wasn’t going to transfer well. In fact, I quickly realised that much of what I do was just not done in Sudan.

My ‘class’ was incredibly polite and compliant. They listened intently, but were clearly lost – our western world was poles apart from what they do. Trying to explain the complexities of valuing buildings that have no real value in a true market sense was not a great title to start with!

It had been suggested to me that they enjoyed workshop sessions. It took me some time to try and come up with something that I thought I could ‘control’, but also that might give them something to take away!

One of my ‘hobby-horses’ is good architecture. Or at least a dislike of ‘average’ architecture. I think architecture should inspire – always, but particularly in the education sector. I should set the record straight here – I am not a ‘Poundbury’ person!

My question was ‘can a building inspire people’ – and if so, how. Simple really!

There is no doubt that a building can be inspirational. What emerged from the workshop was that you don’t always need to have a Libeskind or Gehry building (that would be great though).

EMP Seattle - Frank Gehry

EMP Seattle - Frank Gehry

Some of the messages that emerged from the discussion was that some simple things could help. The most obvious perhaps is that of ‘colour’. It is well documented that colour can affect mood. It can ‘uplift’ or ‘relax’. This is not an expensive solution and can be incorporated in a building easily. But, we also explored ‘detail’ – concentrating on details can have great payback. Obvious areas including signage and branding – making sure there is a simple consistency can make a difference to a building. And finally, ‘quality’ scored highly. The quality of a finish makes a building user proud.

Paul Smith Store - Los Angeles

Paul Smith Store - Los Angeles

Whilst you cannot always get 100% buy-in from building users (there will always be a disenfranchised group) – constructing or altering a building so that users notice it will generally make them feel good.

And perhaps that is the answer. Great architecture is where the users or occupiers feel good about their surroundings. And that in itself should inspire?

And three simple messages from my Sudanese students – colour, detail and quality. They can make a difference we believed collectively – and they were going to take those things home.

Abel Collins – stone laying

For the last four years or so I have been involved in a fantastic organisation in Nottingham – The United Charities of Abel Collins.

This is a Charity that is 300 years old this year. We provide accommodation for elderly and needy people. We have 59 houses and bungalows.

I got involved via Business Champions – who were looking for someone to help them with some ‘property issues’. Within a few months I became Chairman (I hate the term ‘Chair’!). All was going along smoothly and I managed to sell off three properties – two residential homes in Chilwell and a commercial investment in Peterborough.

With the cash raised we decided to build some new properties on our Derby Road site. And so started an interesting process. We had a competition for the scheme and this was won by Marsh + Grochowski who designed some very modern homes. Tendering followed and we chose local firm Thomas Long to build the bungalows.

We have constructed four 2 bedroom properties – with high green credentials. We will be at Code 4 – which has been challenging – and includes a green roof, underfloor heating, high levels of insulation, rainwater heating and a number of other features. The work will complete in mid October 2009.

The stone laying ceremony took place today – and my name is set in stone…except that it was spelt incorrectly. Fortunately they had just missed the final ‘t’ from Garratt – so the error is easy to correct!

Stone laying at Abel Collins

Stone laying at Abel Collins

I am really pleased with the end product – even if the build period has been challenging. The general reaction of the residents was one of surpise and delight. Some thought the architecture was a little challenging!

The official opening is set for 20th November – and The Sheriff of Nottingham – Leon Unczur is doing the honours.

So the build is coming to an end and I will be thinking about our next project. We have some spare land – and I fancy building a large outdoor ‘play’ area! But we also have an old boiler house which could be used for some guest rooms.

updated image:

The corrected commemorative stone

The corrected commemorative stone

Robin Hood – review

I guess we are all recovering from our trip. There has been some good press today in the NEP:

Nottingham evening Post article

We still have the report to write – for presentation to the Greater Nottingham Partnership and also the Sheriff’s commission.

I saw an article on the rather excellent TED channel ( by Daniel Liebskind – he uses 17 words to inspire his architecture. I have in mind that we too may have a list of words. Whilst this has not been finalised there are some obvious ones:


As the list develops I will post it here.

You can see some of the details of the trip on John Lyles excellent blog – and you might even find some of my pictures…

John Lyles blog


Quite a stir in Boston!

I ‘guest blogged’ for John Lyle – one of my co-tourers on the USA trip – along the lines of:

“The Freedom Trail”, Boston is a historic walk which runs for 2 ½ miles and takes in 16 sites.

It starts at a Visitor Center on the edge of Boston Common (a sort of Central Park thing) – and then weaves through the old part of the town.

You have a choice of DIY or escorted. Both follow a red brick or painted line in the pavement and eat each interest point there is a brass plaque set in the pavement where you stop and take in the sight.

the freedom trail brass plaque set in the pavement

We picked up a $3 map and guide – which is badly laid out and reminds you of the old paper origami maps – easy to take apart but impossible to put back together! Fortunately it wasn’t raining – we would have had a soggy mush to help us along.

The first stop was very impressive Massachusetts State House – complete with real 23ct gold topped roof. Not sure Nottingham is ready for this! It cost $133,000 in 1798 – five times over budget.

We then meandered through the ancient streets until we happened upon the Kings Chapel – built originally in 1749. Inside it houses the oldest pulpit in the USA, but the best feature were the individual pew boxes – which were sold to wealthy families! Washington came here in 1789.

pews in the Kings Chapel Boston

Back on the Street we continued towards the USS Constitution and stopped by the site of the Boston Massacre in 1770. The site is marked by a stone circle – we were somewhat underwhelmed by the monument. It’s a traffic island!

Out of time we opted out of the tour at this point and headed back into town. So our impression. It’s a great idea – and the pathway is something that can transfer. But the destinations are mixed and we walked past a few. At the Kings Chapel we were invited to part with cash; so if you do this at each tour stop it can be quite expensive. The guide was expensive and rubbish – it would have been a liability in rain. It also very clearly marked us a tourists and I couldn’t help but wonder about being targets as we concentrated on finding things. If I am really honest we got bored. I (as a surveyor) found interest in the buildings but the story seemed a bit disjointed. Perhaps we would have been better with the uniformed guide tour.

It seems that this was not the thing to say, and has much of Boston up in arms! This was not my intention!

boston blog

The one thing that made me smile though was that one person agreed and said that the tour was known amongst school-kids as “The Boredom Trail”. I rest my case!

By Tim Garratt Posted in Robin Hood Tagged Boston, Freedom Trail,

Welcome to my new blog

Hi – and welcome to my new blog.

This one is personal!

Having just returned from the USA I have plenty to blog about! We have been looking at world class attractions with a view to bringing some of the best ideas back to the UK – for a new Robin Hood attraction.

I am also Co-Chair of the Abel Collins Almshouse Charity – a 300 year old Charity providing homes for needy folks in Nottingham We are coming to the end of a £650,000 new build project – four new bungalows designed by the Nottingham based firm Marsh Grochowski.