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An interview with Sadie Morgan
Winner of the Building Awards’ Personality of the Year

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For the last 22 years, the best in construction have been celebrated at the annual Building Awards, one of the most important networking events in the built environment calendar. In 2016, Hays sponsored the most prestigious award of all: Personality of the Year.

The winner was the hugely deserving Sadie Morgan, design chair for HS2 and director and co-founder of leading architectural practice dRMM – de Rijke Marsh Morgan. The studio, which has worked on projects such as Battersea Power Station’s regeneration, Hasting’s Pier re-build and the multi award-winning Sliding House, is renowned for creating architecture that is innovative, high-quality and socially useful.

Sadie has been recently described as one of the most influential advisers on construction policy in Britain. In light of her latest professional accolade, Duncan Bullimore, Director at Hays Construction and Property, sat down to interview Sadie. During their discussions, Sadie reflected on her recent win, the difficulties of running a business, and the current challenges faced by the British architectural industry.

Duncan Bullimore: What is the most memorable thing that someone has said to you since winning Building Awards’ Personality of the Year?

Sadie Morgan: I have received lots of wonderful and fabulous feedback – and am pleasantly surprised by the number of people that have heard of this award! The most memorable feedback by far has been from my daughter saying: “That’s so cool mum!” As a working parent of two kids aged 17 and 19, it’s brilliant to be acknowledged by them.

You have been named as “one of the most influential advisers on construction policy in Britain.” Does this sit heavily on your shoulders?

Yes, I take my responsibilities very seriously. In my professional life, I enjoy giving advice and helping others. I try to cultivate a good understanding of people, and be empathic to their needs. It’s also important to be able to articulate the design of the concept to the needs of the people that it is required for. Every piece of construction impacts on peoples’ lives. It’s about where they live, where they work, what they see and how it makes them feel.

How would you like to see the relationship between architecture and other professions within the build environment develop over the next decade?

The relationship needs to be much more collaborative between the two. The approach to this relationship needs to be more flexible and adaptable, not least due to technological advances such as CNC robotics.

In your opinion, what new challenges can British architects expect to face over the next few years?

One of the challenges will be to compete with the offerings of companies from the USA. Some of these companies are fully vertically integrated, enabling them to offer a spectrum of services, as opposed to design alone. Tackling the housing challenge by innovation of design is also long overdue. One such solution could be the ‘flat-packed’ house that enables owners to fulfil the basic need for shelter with say a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom and then when they can afford another bedroom it could be simply added to the property.

What can architects do to overcome these challenges?

We need to think more like ‘renaissance’ people, and be increasingly diverse in our approach and skills. The future of jobs coming through will be in programming and robotics, and we should start to prepare for that now.

What is the hardest professional challenge you have overcome, and what did this experience teach you?

The most difficult challenge by far has been running a business. University can teach you to be an architect, but it does not teach you how to run a business. Your employees rely on you, and you need to help fulfil their careers and ambitions. I am immensely proud of my team, and very happy that our staff turnover rate is only 2%.

dRMM has an impressive employee gender balance, in a sector which as recently come under fire for its lack of females at all levels. What initiatives have been fundamental to this achievement?

We always take the best people on for the job. Currently, we have more female associates than male. However, I find that retaining women is the real challenge: ensuring there are no barriers to their professional fulfilment, such as fewer opportunities when a women returns from maternity leave.

What three qualities do you look for in applicants when growing your own practice’s team?

Tenacity, a sense of fun (they shouldn’t take life too seriously!) and self-discipline.

What advice would you give an 18 year old Sadie Morgan?

Make sure you appreciate the world and have a bigger view of it. Have a full, and fulfilled life. Work hard and play hard!

Despite operating in an industry that is not without its challenges, Sadie Morgan is optimistic about the future, advocating innovation, collaboration and diversity. People are at the heart of her professional ethos – especially those people with a strong sense of fun.

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