Cricket and rugby have much to teach construction. Not least, as the last Ashes test so abundantly demonstrated, how to lose with dignity
So, at a time of great national depression as once again the Aussie cricketers put our boys to the sword, I find myself reflecting on how useful a sporting education is for Brits working in architecture and engineering.
At school, I was fortunate to play cricket and rugby in teams that only lost about once every two years. Winning became an inevitable consequence of setting foot on the field of play. Although a free grammar school, we beat even the most expensive public schools, with great glee. I suppose our esprit de corps, our athletic expertise and eventually our winning reputation generated its own potent aura of invincibility. This has been a useful lesson for me over the last 10 years as our little engineering practice competes with established global giants.
Sporting parallels abound in the building industry … it is amazing how many fine engineers are keen on rock climbing (delicate balance); darts (precision); and snorkelling (in a world of their own). I know architects who are keen on snooker (dressing in black); spin-bowling (politics) and the Argentinian tango (seduction). Our clients practice golf (a walk in the park); polo (spending time with rich people); and roulette (easy come, easy go). And as I know from experience, fee negotiations and Greco-Roman wrestling are practically the same.
The fact I can play cricket at my advanced age and with the body of a jellyfish shows that there is still something to be said for subtlety, surprise, determination, guile and blarney
Naturally, sport also teaches you how to lose with dignity. This is a very good thing for, say, RIBA competitions where your team may be competing against 100 others. The odds are stacked against you. Lose and your scheme, no matter how marvellous, will simply evaporate. Take, for example, our entry for the RIBA competition for the walking buildings for the Halley Research Station in Antarctica with Hopkins and Atelier 10.
In the end, despite reaching the last three, and with a late addition to our team in the shape of a pneumatic prototype made entirely out of Lego, we lost in a penalty shoot-out refereed by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw. All hopes dashed, doom and gloom all round. Hopkins’ perceptive Bill Taylor afterwards observed, in the fine tradition of English sportsmanship, “You know, in the end, we may have played it slightly wrong.”
We fondly imagine that the more of these games we play, the better we get at knowing how to win. But when English fast bowler Fiery Fred Trueman said “If there is any game in the world that attracts the half-baked theorist more than cricket I have yet to hear of it”, of course he hadn’t worked in the building industry.
Despite the late addition of a pneumatic prototype made entirely out of Lego, we lost in a penalty shoot-out refereed by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw
My own half-baked theory is that cricket and engineering are just two of many things that are all-consuming in the heat of the moment, indistinguishable in spirit. I still play Sunday cricket and I suppose the fact I can play cricket at all at my advanced age and with the body of a jellyfish shows that there is still something to be said for subtlety, experience, guile, surprise, psychology, determination, blarney. In building, too, it is not just physical prowess or youthful vigour that wins, it is talent and experience craftily applied, with gusto. With all this in mind, for our next architectural competition with Hopkins, the selectors made one or two strategic changes as we entered the race to design the 2012 Olympic velodrome. We had decided it was to be our only tilt at the Olympics, win or bust.
We went for it. In fact, the jury said something about our design team virtually riding into the final presentation in cycling shorts. Perhaps it was our carefully sprayed on Eau-de-Spandex, but this time our game plan must have been better as we convinced Chris Hoy and the other jury members, and won. Victory was very nice after the team got so close to the Antarctica job. Gold medal for velodrome design, and naturally we were all very sorry about the losers, although nobody can now remember quite who they were.
The level playing field of construction competitions is also like the sportsfield in the cathartic humour it provides, which is most efficacious at times of extreme duress. For example, when the velodrome was under intense pressure to justify its curves during value engineering, I received an email saying something like: “We are pleased to announce the marriage of Miss Cycling Stadium and Mr Architectural Portacabin. Their love child will be born by articulated truck”. Luckily, Mr Portacabin was left standing at the altar.
So, sport and architecture share important principles and can help each other along other. The marriage is nothing new: it is even said, if the French nobility had only played cricket with their peasants, their chateaux would never have been burnt.
Chris Wise is director of Expedition Engineering