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Architecture Inspiration From Gherkin Designer

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Old Boy Robin Partington returned to Bolton School to present the awards at this year’s Senior Boys’ Prizegiving, but also found time during his visit to speak with Year 5 and Year 6 boys at Park Road, the Junior Boys’ School where he was once a pupil himself.

Robin is now an architect: he is the man behind the design of the ‘Gherkin’ and other iconic buildings from London’s famous skyline. He talked to pupils about the fun he has in his daily work and about what it means to be an architect.

In his fascinating talk he discussed the idea that drawing is something that someone can become good at with enough training: he encouraged the boys never to give up trying if they want to achieve something. He told the story of Frank Lloyd Wright, an American architect in the 1930s who was commissioned to build the Johnson Wax Headquarters. He decided he wanted the main work room to feature lots of columns which were thin at the bottom, wider at the top, and capped by large ‘lily pads’. Although the building inspectors at the time said that this wouldn’t be safe and asked him to build a test version, insisting that the test it with ever increasing weights, he believed in his design and eventually the columns were built, and the room is still in use today.

Robin also talked about the extensive use of models in his work. It was amazing to hear about how both physical and computer modelling techniques are used to determine different features of the building, and how these help to refine ideas by trying them out. Robin explained that architects must often scrap what doesn’t work and start again, and must always test everything before going ahead with the final version. This resilient attitude and openness to failure in the pursuit of success was an important message at the heart of his talk.

He also discussed the collaborative nature of architecture, from building a desk with specialist metalworkers and a chandelier with Venetian glassmakers from the island of Murano, to designing the famous ‘Gherkin’ building alongside many different colleagues.

Finally, he talked about taking inspiration from nature, which he described as the best designer of them all.

The Year 5 and Year 6 pupils were very interested throughout Robin’s informative and inspiring talk and had lots of questions at the end.

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Robin speaking to pupils about the design of the Gherkin

Robin speaking to pupils about the design of the Gherkin

Discussing the use of models to test out different ideas

Discussing the use of models to test out different ideas

Talking about the collaborative nature of design using a chandelier as an example

Talking about the collaborative nature of design using a chandelier as an example