A recent diagnosis has brought time into sharp focus in my life, but also emphasised that patience and thoroughness when faced with decisions - personal or professional - can only help to inform and strengthen the outcome

Sadie Morgan

If I think about the word time, “lack of it” generally springs to mind. If you do have time to read this then you’re most likely squeezing it in while eating lunch or sitting on a train.

Over the past four weeks, however, time has been brought into sharp focus in my life. At the beginning of May I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which prompted all sorts of questions about time: how much time have I got? How much time until I know what’s wrong? How much time will my treatment take?

For a woman in a hurry, the answer to any and all of these questions cannot come fast enough, but as my surgeon rightly points out, it’s worth having all the facts and preparing properly before embarking on treatment. And it is this insistence on taking one’s time and working out what’s the right thing to do that has made me reflect on time in all its aspects in my working life.

Ironically, the doctors’ call for patience and thoroughness is the same mantra that I’ve been extolling in my work as chair of the Design Panel of HS2.

Any designer worth their salt knows that most good design takes time, and taking time over things that will last a lifetime is something that we should all take very seriously indeed.

As a designer, you need time to imagine, to allow your mind to explore all the possibilities

HS2 will of course greatly reduce journey times between cities, but that is only the starting point for the value that should be placed on the personal time of any of us who use it. Each design decision must be taken as an opportunity to enhance an individual’s experience and to make it more productive.

As a designer, to do that you need time to imagine, to allow your mind to explore all the possibilities. I hark back to my daydreaming youth, with all the time in the world to imagine and invent a better view and surroundings to the one I was looking at. Any written, drawn or built form needs time to mature. I recently saw a video on YouTube called “Creativity requires time”, which illustrates perfectly what a few minutes’ difference makes to a child’s ability to draw through their imagination. Lengthen the time available, and a myriad possibilities blossom into a world of creativity and invention.

I am not negating the importance of brevity and succinctness – we all have deadlines, after all – but the point with HS2, as with all our major infrastructure projects, is that it must be designed to stand the test of time, building in a long life for a sustainable transport system. If that is the case, we must commit to take the time to design right from inception: to make sure the procurement documents are asking the right questions; that those working on HS2 look to its design leadership to champion design within the decision-making process; and that we give designers and engineers more time to develop research and new technologies that will last into the future. We cannot afford to rush into something allowing the lowest common denominator to be the legacy for generations to come.

The point with HS2, as with all our major infrastructure projects, is that it must be designed to stand the test of time, building in a long life for a sustainable transport system

And this has to be the same for all of our major projects. On the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), of which I am also a part, it is clear that planned infrastructure investment in the UK must extract every last possible ounce of design value in everything it does. It can only do this if there is a proper mechanism in place, and one which has had the consideration and dedicated time to get it right: time to ask the questions and digest the answers will help inform the decisions we make.

Which is why we’ve issued a call for evidence in which we’d welcome your contributions. This will directly inform the first stage of the NIA process to determine a vision of the UK up to 2050 and identify resulting long-term infrastructure needs and highlight priority areas for action over the medium term. For me personally, how infrastructure might be improved through design is of particular interest.

As for my own personal dilemma with time, while I wait for yet another appointment with my doctor, there is good news. The cancer that I have is very treatable, and although I now have to give quite a lot of time to my treatment, I can look forward to a better time to come.

There is also a strange crystalising of what is important in life, a surprisingly wonderful thing to come out of the darkness – a realisation of just how precious time is.

Sadie Morgan is a co-founding director of dRMM Architects. She is also the HS2 design panel chair and sits on the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission