An Interview with Simon Conder

Judges Interviews

Simon Condor

Judging all the entries for the inaugural Creative Conscience Awards is proving to be a long process. It is also a deeply inspiring one. Not just because of the awesome quality of the entries we’ve received but because we also get to spend quality time with some of the creatives we most admire.

Aside from the judging, we’ve been chatting with those creatives about what inspires them and why they’ve chosen to become part of this ambitious initiative.

Here’s what Simon Conder, founder of Simon Conder Associates Architects and Designers had to say…

What is the single most interesting brief you’ve worked on during your career?

Without a doubt, it has been Ordos 100, a project in Inner Mongolia planned by Chinese contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei, which set out to build 100 villas designed by 100 architects, in 100 days. Each of us where allocated a site upon which we were required to build a villa to fit the space – there was no brief, no programme and no budget. A project like this makes you realise how incredibly difficult it can be to work without constraint. Whilst we Europeans struggled, architects from emerging economies just threw themselves in at the deep end. The project was part of a city that is being planned from scratch. It will eventually be home to 10 million people but, in actual fact, many saw this project as an art installation with people buying off-plan almost as if they were buying a piece of art. For me, the whole thing was a wonderful opportunity to build an ‘exhibition’ which raised the issue of sustainability in that part of the world.

Who has been your biggest influence?

Chrissie Charlton, typographer, graphic designer, letterpress printer and my greatest critic. She started off as a typographer and moved to letterpress as an antidote to the sterile output of computers.

What is the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I’ve always hated being told what to do so no-one has ever dared to offer me advice! I find education quite distressing these days – I learned as I went along and was never constrained by the big architects. I liked to think for myself – today, there’s not enough concentration on the power of imagination. There’s not enough individual, fresh thinking.

What advice would you give a creative student today?

Try to work out what you’re about and approach your work in a personal way that would be useful. Very few people have the strength of character to carry on despite all the odds and it’s very tough for people to express themselves – it all too easy to conform. Great architects like Norman Foster and Richard Rogers achieved everything by being true to themselves.

In this culture of fear and cautiousness, what is the future of design?

There are two aspects to consider. One viewpoint is that design is becoming more corporate than ever. Another is that, with all this technology to hand, we are now able to create in our back rooms. In my view, the best work comes from relatively small practices. Architecture is about teamwork and three or four people working together can deliver great work.

What is it about the Creative Conscience Awards:UK that has inspired you to get involved?

It took me back to where I started. Everyone was highly idealistic compared to now. To get back to design for a purpose that helps us all to survive and which helps our fellow human beings is easier said than done in world that has become so motivated by profit.

How does your creative conscience express itself in your work?

10 years ago, there were very little consideration of sustainability in our work – it was all about light and quality of space. NOW, sustainability is written into the law and, therefore, you have to produce a building that meets a certain set of criteria. It’s interesting to me, to take all the elements that are integral to a building and to design them in. It has given me a new reason for designing buildings in a way that harnesses natural energies.

Interview by: Kate Burton