The architect director spent 10 years building her start-up company into one of the biggest practices in the UK. Now she helps to build stadia all over the world 


Favourite building: the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. Lindsay’s first stadium project

Why did you choose construction as a career?

I have always been very interested in creativity, art and making things. Architecture seemed like a good way to combine these while also building a career and being part of a profession. Making a building is the ultimate Lego set!

I was absolutely certain that I wanted to work in an industry that was stereotypically male-dominated and that I would earn enough money so that I didn’t have to rely on anyone else.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?

BDP Pattern Lindsay Johnston

Helping to build Pattern from a start-up company, to eventually being acquired by BDP, one of the biggest practices in the UK. We are now called BDP Pattern. The whole process took around 10 years. I’ve been lucky enough to work on many stadia projects all over the world and it has been a privilege.

What has been the biggest challenge of your career to date?

Same answer as the last! – building BDP Pattern into the success it is today. 

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Legislate to make sustainability compulsory – there need to be clear rules and enforcement at a governmental and global level.

What is the most helpful advice that you have been given?

I can’t think of any eureka moments of advice being given to me during my work life. Therefore it is important to be self-reliant - pay attention and learn as much as you can from others. You must be willing to move out of your comfort zone.

Name your favourite building in the world?

For me, it’s the Etihad Stadium, for Manchester City FC. It was the first stadium project I worked on so it has sentimental value as well as being a very iconic English Premier League stadium.

One of the things I was responsible for was setting out the overall geometry massing in 3D using Autocad! I would sit for hours at night with a structural engineer, I would tweak the geometry, then read out the 3D coordinates of the nodes. And he would type the coordinates into his structural software, and tell me if the building was still structurally sound and efficient. Then we would push it a bit more, trying to make the masts lean back as much as possible. Nowadays software has advanced so much but it’s still an exemplary and beautiful stadium. I can’t believe it’s now 20 years old!

Heydar Aliyev Centre, Baku

The Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan: admired for its complex geometry, continuous flowing curved line on the front façade and simple palette. All have similarities to stadia design

Which famous building do you most dislike?

Everyone is entitled to their own taste, I am not keen on pyramid-shaped buildings, but the Timsah Arena in Bursa in Turkey has to be one of my least favourite. Is it a stadium or a giant inflatable?

Which famous building do you wish you had worked on?

I haven’t visited it, but I love the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan, by Zaha Hadid architects. The complex geometry, the continuous flowing curved line on the front façade, and the simple palette all have similarities to stadia design.

What single piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in your profession?

Make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. Put the team’s interests ahead of personal interests. Teams make buildings, not individuals.

Who do you most admire in the construction industry?

Zaha Hadid. Not only did she change architecture, she is also an inspiration and role model for women and ethnic diversity.

Timsah Arena, Bursa

The Timsah Arena in Bursa, Turkey. Is it a stadium or a giant inflatable? 

What is it like being you (and doing your job)?

I work hard, and probably should have a better work-life balance. But, on the other hand, I really enjoy being an architect, and it is rewarding. The added satisfaction is that people in the construction industry have a building to show at the end of all their hard work.

Do you have a life philosophy?

There is no point in worrying about things. Either sort them out, or accept you cannot control them.

What do you think your best quality is?

I never give up.

What trait do you most dislike in yourself?

My urge to organise, tidy and make lists.

And in other people?

Apathy, sloppiness, not caring.

Name three things that you like

Travelling; watching my kids play sport; Scottish beach combing and walking

Tell us about a secret skill that we don’t know you have

I love making stuff in my spare time. I’m always doing DIY. And when I’m not doing that, I’m making or restoring things – artwork, clothes, lighting, furniture. And, when I’m

not doing that, its gardening. I am trying to grow Shitake and Lion’s Mane mushrooms in a log – fingers crossed.

What is your most prized possession?

A postage stamp of one of the stadia I worked on. A CGI of one of the buildings we designed for the Pan American Games in Peru was put on the Peruvian national postage stamp. The stamps were sold out when I went to the Pan Am Games, but I managed to buy a couple on stamp collecting websites a year later. It’s kind of cool.

Early bird or night owl?

Night owl. Life is too short to waste sleeping.

What is your favourite food?

I love all food. I’ve worked and lived in many different countries and would eat anything to be honest.

What would your superpower be?

It would be good to be immortal, or a time-lord. Life is short, and come to think of it, mine is probably already half gone. Carpe diem!