Building’s digital and audience director Phil Clark remembers Mel Starrs
You don’t need me to tell you the influence, respect and affection that Mel Starrs, who died last weekend, inspired during her short life. Just go on the tribute posted yesterday on her blog site Elemental — one of the first and best UK blogs on construction and architecture — by her partner Mark and read the comments. Search @melstarrs on Twitter https://twitter.com/search/melstarrs. Go to a tribute site that was created this morning by social media mogul Su Butcher.
The outpouring of emotion in the past day, frequently by people that hadn’t even met her, speaks for itself. It underlines her great quality, very rare in the industry she served. She was a brilliant communicator.
Mel’s rise as a key industry figure rode two defining movements this century: the digital revolution and the emergence of sustainability as a central concern for architecture and construction. Mel lived and breathed the first and diligently charted the second via her blog, which started in 2006. The blog and all her digital pursuits challenged any lazy assumptions or stereotypes that have been associated with those communication tools: that they are trivial, poorly researched and throwaway.
In fact I think some of Mel’s writings will outlast traditional media (books and, much as it pains me to say, magazines) on the topics she was expert in, which ranged from technical areas of sustainability such as BREEAM and LEED to planning and policy concerns, business theory and digital media. They combined rigour and a sure grasp of the detail without being dusty and academic, and were always underpinned by humour and warmth of spirit. Unlike some in sustainability circles Mel never displayed any exasperation or hurled brickbats. She calmly and assuredly engaged in the debate and never lost an optimistic outlook, which has been clearly challenging in the past couple of years.
I got to know Mel when I started blogging on sustainability back in 2007. I think I can speak for anyone that came across her when I say that there was an immediate meeting of minds. You immediately felt comfortable in her company, whether that was debating on blogs, bantering on Twitter, connecting in virtual events or, and yes this did happen, meeting her in person.
A memory sticks in my head of when digital and physical collided. I was on a train bound for Leeds to a green event and informed my Twitter followers of that fact (in the days when we got excited about that). Within seconds up popped a reply to inform me that one of said followers - Mel - was also on said train. We met and Mel took me to a favoured drinking spot in the city where she graduated and lived during part of her career. We bonded over a shared love of reading and indie music.
Both professionally and personally, her passing is a deep loss. As I grappled with sustainability in the latter part of the last decade she was an invaluable support and guide - this ranged from feedback, advice, judging a list of green gurus I compiled and participating in events my company organised. More recently she contributed articles to Building and was an invaluable help in compiling a list of 50 green leaders for Building’s sister title BD in March. I have no doubt that Mel would have upgraded from judge/adviser to a leader had her life not been tragically cut short.