Richard Absolutely. IT is going to have an immense impact – what we have seen so far is just the start of it. In industrial revolution terms, we’re at the steam engine stage.
Will this make for radical changes in the built environment?
Peter Yes. Look at transport: in the next decade, we’re going to run out of road space unless we cover the country in tarmac.
So, where do we go? I don’t think the train is the answer. What will probably happen is that cars will become train-like, and will be electrically guided along the roads, bumper to bumper. In effect, it will be a train with your own personal capsule. You’ll be able to plug into the highway you want, fall asleep at the start of the journey, and wake up at the end.
So, huge changes in IT and transport. But how will this affect architecture?
R I think, slowly, the whole idea of having a workplace and a living space will become more mixed up. With so many people working on laptops, you can see much more mobility.
P The office is already becoming a club rather than an office. The aim of most offices now, particularly in the intellectual end of the industry, is to bring people together to talk and learn. So already you’re getting office gyms, hairdressers, coffee bars – and that will become more commonplace. And a lot of drudgery will go because the work will be done by computer.
When you say drudgery, how does that relate to the sort of work you do?
P I think we’ll see huge advances in 3D design, which will simplify the whole process. When we get into 3D design properly, then we’ll be able to download design information directly from the manufacturer. It’s already happening, but it will be enormously streamlined. We’ll do our ordering from the model, and our detailed design from it, too. You’ll build a model and just be able to build on that.
R And by modelling it, you’ll have a lot of choice for the same basic cost. The new systems will enrich diversity, rather than standardising everything.
How are construction methods and materials going to change?
R The workforce will be reduced on site.
P We are doing a lot more prefabrication to try to reduce staffing levels. For the guys on site, it’s not a great environment to work in.
So, do you think we will see more prefabrication?
P Yes. We just haven’t got the labour resources; people don’t want to be hairy-armed builders.
There are poor architects, just as there are poor doctors. Doctors can bury their mistakes; we can’t
R People want to be in the service industries. It’s much nicer to be doing PR work than wielding a big hammer.
You’re doing a job together at Chiswick Park – a business park. Are you trying out new things there?
R Yes, we are trying to push back some of the boundaries – although it’s not going to be revolutionary. It’s more urban than Stockley Park [the business park near Heathrow Airport] where we also worked together, and higher density.
P We are reducing the workforce on site. The buildings are more modular.
Prefabrication has been talked about for years – will it actually happen this time?
P I think we made the mistake of going too modular. This time, the emphasis is on keeping it simple, using simple components that can be brought to site and assembled.
Do you see materials developing in the next decade?
P There’ll be a new generation of materials. In the next 10 years, glass will change dramatically. You’ll have much cheaper photovoltaic glass, so that will change the way you deal with facades. And aerogels [extremely lightweight materials] will be used for insulation. Air-conditioning will also change dramatically.
R A lot of those things are here already, but they’ll become more available. You’ll be able to dial the colour of your facade if you like.
P Biophysical materials will start coming in. You’ll start growing materials that will be self-repairing. They’ll be related to plastics but much tougher.
What about the green agenda?
R Everyone is becoming more conscious of it. There is now an agreement that environmental issues have to be on the agenda.
P What we have to do is find new [sustainable] energy sources. They are available – fuel cells and solar power, for example. A lot of solutions are nearly there. But once we have changed and found an efficient form of energy, our views about current energy use will also change. At the moment, we are being very conservative because we’re frightened of the effect of burning fossil fuel and the amount of pollution it creates. Once we are freed up to use energy, because we’ve got genuine renewable energy resources, then that will also have an effect.
R I think we will probably see nuclear fusion out of water in 10-20 years.
P I’m a sceptic in the energy debate at the moment. I think we are concentrating on the wrong thing. I think we are trying to make buildings more and more low-energy to the extent that they will become inefficient in other senses. What we really have to do is solve the energy problem.
There are some intellectually good architects. The rest are just good at mimicking what their clients need
What about the firms that construct the buildings? Will they change?
P Yes. Some contractors have started to change. They are getting much more interested in design and how they can input into the process. The idea that a contractor blindly takes a contract and takes all the risk and tries to put a building up without really understanding it … well, the brighter contractors are already understanding that it doesn’t really work. I think you’ll see bigger, more integrated construction companies.
P Ownership is irrelevant.
R They could be foreign, they could be based here. I think the word foreign is perhaps the wrong one because we are already European.
And the work that you, Richard, are doing on the regeneration of cities, as chairman of the government’s urban taskforce, how will that dovetail with these developments?
R In a sense, it’s all the same argument. What we are seeing is a greater empowerment of the individual and community, and therefore the end of a paternalistic society. And what the Third Way is about, if you like, is finding a mixed way of solving problems. In terms of environment, for example, it becomes a green matter as well as a community matter.
Do you think it’s going to work? Do you think cities are going to become very different places?
R Yes. There’s going to be as much difference between the industrial city and the post-industrial city as there was between the agrarian village and the industrial town. The forms will be different, they will be much more affected by changing life patterns. The average age of women having babies is 30. Nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce. These are immense changes in life patterns, but we are still building four-bedroom houses. No one has taken on board what that means. It’s not the end of society; it’s a new society. It reflects a very different form of living.
P Single-person households will have a major impact because they will mean there’ll be more interaction between people in cities.
R You’ve only got to look at the proliferation of cafés to see this happening. Put that alongside the new living patterns, including a life expectancy of 100 years, and you have some amazing drivers for change.
What about the architect’s role? Will that change?
R [Laughing] Never! But I would like to think that that role will be more widespread and be better understood. And I think that standards will get higher rather than lower.
P That’s one thing that has to change. We have a lot of mediocre buildings and a lot of architects that can only be described as mediocre. And I think society will begin to understand that there is a lot more to design than the Calvin Klein label on a pair of jeans.
P There are some intellectually good architects. The rest are just good at mimicking what their clients need.
The government can bring a lot of good to society through design
R There are poor architects, just as there are poor doctors. Doctors can bury their mistakes; we can’t. But clients also have to be more aware of good design.
P I think standards will improve. Richard made the point that clients are becoming more aware. So are people generally. If you walk down Bond Street, there are some stunning shops. And they’re turning into exciting spaces. Shops are no longer about the “pile ‘em high” approach. Shops are becoming museums, with one or two elegant items on display, and the rest hidden away.
What will be the major influences on design and construction?
R Government. If the government attempts to understand what the problems are, it can bring a lot of good to society through design. The National Lottery has done an amazing amount for many cities. It shows that by using a moderately simple system, you can change the patterns of living.
Which individuals will influence design?
P Stuart Lipton, as chairman of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, is the obvious one. But there are members of government who are very interested in design, and I think that everyone’s awareness is that much higher. Contractors will have to become interested. If you take Japanese and US contractors, most of their leaders are very interested in art and architecture. Interestingly, if I wanted to meet a top architect in the USA or Japan, I’d do it through a contractor. I wouldn’t here. If I wanted to get into Foster’s office, or Richard’s, I can’t think of any contractor who could introduce me. Richard has his list of close confidants. I don’t think he’s got any contractors on it.
R No, I suppose I haven’t. There is is a tendency in society to push people into holes, if you like. So, contractors are stereotyped as bully boys.
P Education has a big part to play. We all have to specialise between arts and sciences too early. People in contracting are generally brought up with a much narrower intellectual view on life. A third of those who sit the Institution of Civil Engineers’ professional exam fail because they can’t write an essay. If you can’t write an essay, it probably means that that you can’t articulate a debate properly. All I learned about art was through Richard and my parents.
Did you ever think about following your brother into architecture, Peter?
P I’ve always wanted to build from very early on.
R I’ve never actively discouraged my children to be architects. But I can see some disadvantages in doing the same thing as your father or your brother.
P The big saviour for me is that Richard is that much older than me – there's 14 years between us – and we’ve never really been competitive. He’s been more like a father to me. But even now I get introduced as Richard’s brother.
So you get on pretty well, then?
P/R Like all brothers, we argue. But we’re generally on the same wavelength.
Are you spending new year’s eve together?
P I’ll be hiding in a cottage in the Cotswolds. [To Richard] I suppose you’ll be at the dome?