Meet the Builders: Alan Dempsey
Introducing The Building Society member, Alan Dempsey, Founding Director at Nex.
In our Meet the Builders series, we introduce some of the fantastic people and organisations that make up our community here at The Building Society. They include a wide variety of practices in the built environment who are responsible for ‘building’ and communicating the projects that define our rural and urban landscapes – from designers, engineers and planners to surveyors, developers, photographers and artists.
Tell us a bit about you…
I’m the founding director of Nex, a creative team of Architects, Urban and Interior designers, and programmers. We’ve been based at the Building Society since May 2021.
My professional background combines both architecture and engineering. I studied architecture in Dublin, Bogota and at the AA in London, which was interspersed with periods working as an engineer for contractors on the construction of a few of London’s most interesting recent buildings. I suppose this reflects my openness to interdisciplinary collaboration.
In my own time, I enjoy collecting books and art, cooking and attempting to cycle evermore improbable distances on my bike.
Nex is a creative studio that designs buildings and spaces defined by place, people and atmosphere. Our diverse portfolio includes award-winning culture, education, workplace, leisure, and transport projects that share a focus on their relationship with the city and landscape to create a meaningful public realm. Some of our current and recent clients include the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, The British Museum, the RAF Museum, British Land and Cadogan.
Our ethos has developed over the past decade to also focus on designs that successfully integrate planting into buildings and places. In reinforcing connections between human, natural and urban systems, we aim to make the city and its inhabitants a little more ‘wild’. The benefits of this are manifold – from individual wellbeing to community gain and increasing biodiversity.
Thinking about the larger relationship between architecture and nature has also led us to think about the relationship between buildings and the city. Our work has often been enriched by finding ways to incorporate the public realm into our schemes to create new value for both the project and the wider community. We were delighted this approach was recognised recently when we won the AYA Public Realm Architect of the Year in 2020.
Tell us about an initiative you’re proud of…
This last year I’ve been reflecting on how incredibly lucky I’ve been to have had the opportunities I’ve had and the role I’ve made for myself in London. I’ve been looking at how I might contribute my skills in a meaningful way. To that end, I recently took on a new role of Board Trustee and Non-Executive Director at the Chelsea Physic Gardens.
The CPG is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world tucked away right in the middle of London. It was founded by Hans Sloane, who’s collections contributed to the founding of both the Natural History Museum and the British Museum.
What’s extraordinary about this garden is its core mission of communicating the importance of plants and biophilia to our wellbeing, our industry, and our societies. It continues to be relevant because it’s work underscores our interdependence with nature and perhaps shows ways that our cities can become greener and lusher.
I’m looking forward to working with the charity and the talented management team over the next few years to help them implement a significant programme of capital improvements.
At The Building Society we are united by a purpose: to engineer a better society. Is there one particular change you’d like to see in the way things are done in the built environment?
Circularity. I want to see circular feedback principles introduced into the buildings we make and the way we design them. Nature is circular, our building industry is linear. This must change.
In respect of the buildings we make, we have been introducing circular economy principles into our work over the last few years – for example: the recent workplace project for 1000 people that we completed for British Land at Regents Place. Our approach of recycling and remanufacturing existing fitout reduced the carbon impact of the project by 70% compared to a typical CAT-B approach.
We also need to change the way we design things. We must move from a linear process of ‘design and make’ to a circular approach of design, make, learn, and redesign. Almost every other design industry has benefited exponentially from continuous monitoring of the performance of their products to improve the design of the next iteration. In our industry, we call this post-occupancy-evaluation, and it isn’t done with the consistency and rigour that you find in other industries. We should stop thinking of it as a billable service and understand it as a core function of our research, business development, and marketing.
Favourite thing about working in a coworking and collaboration space?
When I first encountered the Building Society, I was drawn to the shared ambition to create a space for interdisciplinary collaboration and collegiate dialogue. It reflects a vision that I had for Nex, whose name came from Nexus – seeing our studio as a connection or a focal point in the design collaboration process.
With the acceleration of changes to our working practices that we’ve all experienced over the last 18 months, I realised that the successful workplace of the future will be less about desk spaces and more about combining great spaces for collaboration and quiet corners for reflection, all supported by excellent technology.
The Building Society offered this wrapped up with a vibrant culture and shared interests. As we return to our workplaces with more frequency over the coming months, I would love to see this culture strengthen further. We want visitors to the building to walk in and immediately get the ethos and the energy of the place. Socially, our team has also enjoyed meeting others at games nights and exploring the local pubs in the evenings.
What are your desert island essentials?
Book: The wisdom of Marcus Aurelius and the imagination of Ted Chaing
Music: Esbjorn Svenson
Luxury item: A pencil.