If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 23 May 2011

Great Design

I work in a building which could not have been worse designed for its purpose. People approach the site down a road and are halted at a barrier. One of our jobs is to check who they are and what they want, and then let them in or redirect them as appropriate. From the office, a window looks up the access road, but there is an electronic sign built right in the line of sight. If a car arrives at the barrier, there is no sign it is there apart from the noise of the engine. To see whether there is a car there, it is necessary either to climb on a chair and look out of a tiny high window, or leave the office and walk the length of the building to get a view out of the main window. There is a CCTV camera, but it looks down (not up) the road so that we can see the cars we have let through, but not those that are arriving. The design of the building probably doubles the work of simply managing and controlling access to the site.

But the jewel in the crown of stupidity is the design of the windows themselves. They are meant to open inwards, but pillars holding up the roof are so close to the opening lights that you can only open them an inch.

Closed ...

... and open.

This one blocks two windows, quite an achievement.

Ah, some fresh air.

This building was purpose-built and designed by specialists employed by one of the biggest construction companies in the UK. Remember that when anyone tells you they are an expert.


  1. "..... pillars holding up the roof are so close to the opening lights that you can only open them an inch."

    You misunderstand, Richard.

    Should a visitor (who by your own admission) may not have been noticed by the 'Guards', reach the building, then that simple Security Feature prevents then sneaking into the building.

  2. Grateful to you for that explanation, Joe. For full effectiveness, I suppose we will have to start closing the doors as well.

  3. "There is no sign it is there apart from the noise of the engine"

    Do you get many visitors in Hybrid/Electric cars?


  4. Funnily enough, yes. One guy turned up in a Toyota Pious. He ended up getting out and knocking on the door. I dealt with his query and he got back into the car. My ghast was truly flabbered when the car moved off in complete silence, and then a few yards up the road there was the sound of a starter motor and then an engine. It took me several seconds to piece together what had happened.

  5. I like those yellow pillars - that's the mark of an architect. A structural engineer would have left them natural or magnolia.
    Those windows look as though they would work if fitted with the hinge at the top and opening outwards - trust me it does happen but the client rarely opens the window before accepting it (because people with that sort of authority don't open windows!) Building management (I've done that as well in my portfolio career) has a significant proportion of working around problems like this. The CCTV could perhaps be sorted with a mirror if the camera can't be moved round.

    How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand is an excellent book on the subject.

  6. It would make a lot of sense for them to open outwards with a top hinge. I suspect this may be the answer: not a design fault but simple cackhandedness on the part of the muppets who put the thing together. The camera could easily be moved - but no-one has the authority to sign off such a radical change to original spec, so it will stay as it is. It would need moving as well as turning, and that involves ... drumroll ... expense. So it won't happen.

    The book sounds fascinating. Seriously.

  7. I'm surprised the building passed the fire inspection. Windows are supposed to be alternative escape routes in case of fire. It sounds like a Labour PFI job.

  8. Don, I don't think so. Fire regs are based on doors (number of and width of) and the angles between them. I've never seen windows mentioned, except in extreme cases like static caravans, where a large opening light MAY be considered as a viable exit route in an emergency. Perhaps the photos don't show it too well, but these windows are only about 12" high - a slim, fit person like yourslef might be able to slip out that way, but I certainly couldn't.

    And, much as I would love to blame Labour even for this, it was a purely private sector balls-up.

  9. I studied in a sixties-built faculty building. Sitting in a very constrained site, it has an "exciting" and "innovative" design whereby the third floor overhangs the second, and the fourth floor overhangs the third, thereby creating a lot of extra space that would not otherwise be there. It won awards for its architect, so it must be good?

    Certainly, everyone thought it was. Until they tried to clean the windows from one of those those little cradles that hang from the roof line.

    When I went there, the exterior of the building hadn't been cleaned in 25 years. The only way is via a cherry-picker - did I mention that the site was very constrained... as in "impossible to drive a cherry-picker into"?

  10. Probably something which the boy who sharpened the pencils in the drawing office noticed straight away, but didn't dare to mention to the 'experts' in case they thought he was ignorant.

  11. The windows in our office don't open fully either, but we've always assumed that's to stop staff committing suicide... ;)

  12. @ Julia - do you work for Steve Jobs, by any chance?


  13. @JuliaM - like in Travelodges? I always thought that was the reason for the window-chains in those rooms.

  14. " a slim, fit person like yourslef might be able to slip out that way"

    Ha ha flattery will get you everywhere lol

  15. One guy turned up in a Toyota Pious.

    Hang on.

    You let him in?

    Why didn't you tell him to f*** right off back home and take his earth-destroying rare-resource-wasting polluting heap of cr@p with him?

  16. That kind of decision is way above my pay grade.


  17. Now that I like!

    You have no idea how often I have wanted something like that to happen.


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