or; Does a client really need a building?

Back in the 90’s, when I designed buildings for a living with Crampin and Pring Architects, we had a client, Tim Hopwell, He owned a frozen food distribution business and had a string of cold stores around the UK. Hopwell’s needed a new branch in Sheffield so after completing their Nottingham headquarters C&P was employed to extend and refurbish a cold store that they had acquired on the outskirts of the city.

I came up with what I thought was a quite innovative solution to a series of technical problems that affect these industrial buildings. The common issue is that damaging ice builds up in the inaccessible void between the inner insulated core and the outer weatherproof cladding. My solution was to solve this giving the building an external structural frame and creating high speed ventilation chambers between the wall and ceiling/roof layers. It looked interesting from the outside (imagine a tall Reliance Controls building wrapped around a shed) and dealt with an inherent cold store defect.

So far so good. But this was a more expensive solution than Tim had been used to paying for, so he quizzed me about why it was costing more than he expected. The solution made sense to him but he then went on to explain his thoughts on buildings and his business.It was an salutary lesson that has remained with me.

Tim explained that his business was selling frozen peas, and chips, and fish fingers. It paid the wages, put roofs over heads, and put petrol in his Lexus.

Tim wanted to sell frozen peas, and chips, and fish fingers – he didn’t want a building!

In fact, if he could sell frozen peas from the middle of a field he would. He needed a building to do it, but he didn’t want a building. My bubble was well and truly pricked.

There is a valuable lesson here for those of us in property when we consider what our clients and customers motives are for what we do. It is very easy to become tied up in the day to day issues of what is a complex business without ever seeing the core purpose  that we are fulfilling.

It was a valuable lesson in what motivates the people who use and pay for our buildings. A building needs to fulfil its purpose first and foremost. Once that’s done we can make them beautiful.