We want to hear what you think HS2 needs to do to be a great design client.  

In my experience a great design client is one that does not simply pay lip service to design but uses it as a tool for problem solving throughout the process.

Mark Major, Principal, Speirs+Major

If HS2 gets the go-ahead, it will be the single largest investment in our railways Britain has ever seen. The scale of the challenge, but also the ambition, is vast. Delivering world-class design across the whole experience could set the benchmark for design-led infrastructure across the globe and create a lasting positive legacy. To get it right HS2 must not only commission great design, but create a strong working relationship with its design teams. So what would it take to achieve this?  

Our role

HS2 asked us to investigate how they could be a great client for the huge number of designers and architects who would be working on the scheme if it goes ahead.

In response we contacted our network of multi-disciplinary designers  from across the industry - from the teams that worked on London 2012 and Crossrail to those who have already been involved in the early stages of HS2. We also reached out to those who have worked with clients to successfully deliver design quality on a wide range of projects. We asked them all the same question: what do you think HS2 needs to do to be a great design client? 

Their answers are below. Have a read, watch the film and join the conversation. What do you think makes a great design client and what do HS2 need to do to be just that?

What we found out

There were eight clear themes from the responses that we received. Here they are:

1. Create a legacy

The industry hope HS2 will be far more than just a railway. By its sheer scope it will leave a massive legacy so it must set a level of ambition that will live up to its potential.

This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to effect change and regeneration and we have to have something which we will be proud of for the next couple of centuries.

Atam Verdi, Director of Aspinall Verdi

As designer Wayne Hemingway said: “HS2 will be a good client if it realises that great design stems from assembling a multi-disciplinary team of expert designers and thinkers who care about being part of a legacy. A legacy that makes the lives of millions alive today, and the millions to come in the future, better.”

2.  Be crystal clear - but not prescriptive

“Establish a clear vision”, says Selina Mason, Partner at LDA Design. Crystal clear briefs and coherent objectives are key to any successful relationship between a designer and their client. Those who responded to our survey were united in urging HS2 to produce “clear and unambiguous outcomes that they require of each element of their project”, as noted by John Devlin, Director, John Devlin Consulting Ltd. However, clarity should not be interpreted as being prescriptive.  

Do not create absolute rules for design, instead rely on the quality of your engagement and review process to mitigate risk whilst allowing room for unique designs to flourish.

Jim Heverin, Director, Zaha Hadid Architects

3. Architects and engineers must collaborate

There was not only a call for different disciplines of design, engineering and planning to be present but also for a breaking down of the silos between these disciplines that can result in badly designed and built projects. In particular, collaboration between architects and engineers was identified as key by many people.

Designers and constructors tend to withdraw into their own territories. HS2's success as a client will depend on devising mechanisms that ensure there is a genuine connection between what is designed and what is built.

Professor Hanif Kara, Harvard School of Design and Design Director AKTII

4. The environmental impact is key

HS2 will link ten of the UK's biggest urban environments. Central to the idea of legacy is the project's impact on the environment. Atam Verdi was very clear that during the design phase the designers should consider not only the specific project but the “sphere of influence which the new stations and interchanges will be in”. The legacy-building aspirations extend to the natural environment too, as Paul Watson, Strategic Advice consultant, Planning & Urban Design Solutions, put it: “if we create a rail line screened by a line of trees, we will have failed.”

Utilise it as a design and planning project with ecology roots. Create a wider green infrastructure project to reconcile the loss of existing ecosystems, and respect future biological conservation and landscape values.

Kay Richardson, Freelance Chartered Landscape Architect and Urban Designer

5. A user-centred approach is crucial  

There was widespread agreement that the only way to achieve the legacy desired is through a user-centred design approach. From stations to rolling stock, overhead lines to bridges and tunnels, graphics to advertising and commercials, the design process must be entwined with the user experience at every stage.

Keep design at the heart of the programme. The need to maintain continuity and protect the customer experience is fundamental.

Paul Raindle, Programme Management Consultant

This approach should manifest itself through a combination of strong leadership and procedures which embed design. Pam Alexander, Chair of Cabe at Design Council, called for a “coherent and exciting vision that allows great architecture and design to respond flexibly to people's needs, while delivering the coherence that comes from a single masterplanner of distinction”. The appointments of design experts at board level and a design champion with a direct line to the chairman to promote this vision are essential.

Further practical measures were recommended to ensure that the procurement and ongoing review of the project maintain a design-first perspective and that creativity and unique solutions are encouraged. Suggestions ranged from open design competitions, to regular consultation with local groups, to a design review system comprised of multiple panels working on both a national and local level.

There was keen awareness of the aspirations of the public and the need to live up to those aspirations, right down to the detail of individual stations and the surroundings.

A train station is the travellers' first experience of the city or town. The design should rise to the occasion and not be dominated by retail outlets or car parks. Each station must make a strong appropriate contribution to the local townscape.

John Lyall, Lyall, Bills & Young

6. Be transparent

Central to the approach that is being recommended is a tough, collaborative and transparent consultation process. One that acts upon people's input and takes them seriously. John Prevc, Partner at Make, notes that consultation will never please everyone, but it can “start to break down the fear that secrecy can bring”.

7. Be ambitious

To demonstrate its pedigree as a client, HS2 will above all have to show ambition - ambition to achieve an exceptional result. They must stay true to their long-term vision that looks beyond the immediate demands of the project, and aspire to create a positive legacy for generations to come. Their ambition should create an environment where creativity can thrive. As Andy Cameron, Director of Urban Design, WSP Group put it: “Go big or go home”.   

8. Trust your creative team

“Listen to the experts as they will have a depth and breadth of design based experiences” says Paul Raindle, Management Consultant and the Design and Engineering Program Manager (Olympic torch) for London 2012.  It’s essential that those who take on work with HS2 have time, freedom and the trust from their client to allow them to create to the best of their ability.  As Jim Heverin, Director, Zaha Hadid Architects, puts it: “good design is much more than quantifiable metrics so you need time to engage in the design process and to trust in the judgement of designers”.

Give the designers freedom to design!

John Devlin, Director, John Devlin Consulting Limited

Share your thoughts

We want to hear what you think makes a good design client. We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

The development of HS2 is an emotive issue for many and we’d encourage you to contact HS2 directly if you feel strongly about it. This discussion is just about what’s involved in being a good design client. To keep it focused we may remove comments that are not directly related to that question.

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