Sadie Morgan Co-Founding Director of dRMM

Posted on 10 July 2020

“If you believe passionately in what you do and you’re doing a job that you feel that you’re good at then that’s the most important thing and stick to your subject, don’t try and be a brilliant economist you’ll fail in the same way that the brilliant economist will fail at being a great designer. If you respect yourself, others will respect you.”

Susan Freeman

Hi, I’m Susan Freeman, welcome back to our PropertyShe podcast series brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the world of real estate and the built environment.  We’re currently recording the podcast digitally so please do bear with us if the sound quality isn’t up to our usual studio standard. 

Today I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Sadie Morgan.  Sadie is a Co-Founding Director of leading architectural practice dRMM along with Alex de Rijke and Philip Marsh.  Over a twenty five year career Sadie has played a key role in the advocacy of exemplary design and architecture through her professional practice and advisory roles.  In 2017 dRMM won the UK’s top architecture award the RIBA sterling prize for Hastings Pier.  Recent high-profile projects include Maggie’s Oldham, Trafalgar Place at Elephant & Castle and Farraday House at the Battersea Power Station.  In her role as a design champion Sadie is involved in a number of advisory roles including chairing the independent design panel for High Speed 2 and is one of ten Commissioners for the National Infrastructure Commission.  Sadie is a Mayors Designer Advocate for the GLA and Non-Exec Director of the Major Project Association.  She is also an independent Non-Exec Director of Developer You and I.  She was awarded an OBE by the Queen in the 2020 New Years Honours List for services to design advocacy in the built environment.  In 2019 she was awarded an RIBA honorary fellowship for her significant contribution to architecture.  In 2019 Sadie was appointed to the Board of Homes England the UK Government’s housing accelerator which works to improve our neighbourhoods and communities and also in 2019 Sadie founded the Quality of Life Foundation, a new independent body aimed at raising people’s quality of life and wellbeing.  So now we’re going to hear from Sadie Morgan on her career to date and her high-profile roles which enable her to promote good design in the built environment. 

Sadie welcome to the digital studio.

Sadie Morgan

Thank you, thank you I’m very excited to be here, very excited.

Susan Freeman

So I think you were just twenty six and straight out of college when you founded your architectural practice dRMM along with Alex de Rijke and Philip Marsh I mean that was, that was very young what made you, what made you go straight for it?

Sadie Morgan

Well when I left the Royal College we were in a pretty bad recession as I remember so I don’t think there was thinking, probably there wasn’t much going on.  What happened was that there was this incredible woman who came to my degree show and I had made a piece of furniture it was like an installation and she had asked if she could buy it, it was a bed, a bed/wardrobe and for some reason unbeknown to myself because I was absolutely penniless I said “no she couldn’t buy it” at which I cursed myself for ever since because of course I still have it packed away in a shed somewhere.  Anyway she said “well if I can’t buy it perhaps you would help and come and make me some furniture of my own” so anyway I did that and then the furniture turned into a commission for her apartment and kitchen and she was really my first client and one of the most exceptional and wonderful people that I would it turns out ever meet.  She believed in me totally, she insisted on paying me way more than I would ever have asked for myself, she took me aside and would give me kind of lessons in professionalism as well as is in kind of the importance as a young woman that I was at the time to make sure that I took myself seriously and that I valued my contribution and my creativity.  So she was really a client mentor and sort of started me off in the world and that in collaboration with the work that Alex and Philip had done together we ended up putting all of that to be a part of an exhibition and anyway the story goes on.  But like many things in my life I think it was serendipitous and not necessarily brilliantly planned.

Susan Freeman

Now I like the idea of serendipity and we’re talking about that quite a lot at the moment whether you can have serendipity in your encounters online in the same way as you can in the normal physical world but amazing to have a mentor like that but were you always destined to be a designer and were there sort of influences as you were growing up that made that you know something that was always going to happen?

Sadie Morgan

That’s a good question I was always a maker, I am very practical and I would always make and think about things I also think three dimensionally which is a good pre-requisite for anybody wanting to go into the profession but the honest truth is no I was destined I thought to go into the medical profession as you are at that age like most of your family so the exams that I pursued were really around that kind of ambition coupled with of course I wanted to be an actress as I remember my grandfather saying “my dear what are you going to be when you grow up?” you know and looking so disappointed when I said that I wanted to be you know an actress.  I think I was probably about six or seven at the time but I suppose design and architecture was again it was a default actually to be honest it wasn’t something I was considering doing but I went, I ended up doing an arts foundation and it was from there that I went on to understand that actually where perhaps my skill set lay so I feel like I fell into it.

Susan Freeman

I think that’s sometimes that’s the best way but… so when you set up the practice was there sort of any particular ethos and what were the sort of projects you wanted to work on? 

Sadie Morgan

Oh very much so, I mean when we set up the practice it was on the back of winning a competition so we were as many competitions in I was going to say those days but still nowadays don’t always necessarily sort of kick off so we work very hard and then the money was pulled and we were sort of left without anything so actually it was a pretty tough, tough way to set up a business and we had to be very resourceful but we, you know at the time our ethos was off the shelf you know we weren’t into re-inventing the wheel.  We were very interested in materials and sort of taking those things that you would naturally find and put them together in interesting ways so we sort of curated I suppose our architecture and that meant that the work that we did was very cost effective you know it wasn’t expensive, you know we might go to B&Q and put together an interior for a very, for, at the time Selfridges or something you know we were, we were very practical and resourceful and I think that that came from as I said a sort of time where there wasn’t a huge amount of work around, there wasn’t much money around and that’s the way that you were, you know that you sort of operated.

Susan Freeman

And I know you’ve said that you have this belief that you’ll be okay if you are passionate about what you do have you continued to think that way?  Has it worked out that way?

Sadie Morgan

Yeah I mean I suppose it depends what you define as alright so for me I’m not driven by making huge sums of money so when I say you’ll be alright that means I will be happy and successful in myself so for me I strongly believe that if you are, you know if you’re passionate about something and if you’re good at it you can define that as you like but if you’re good at it therefore you know you are able to produce or make things that are adding positively to whatever profession that you do then absolutely and I also think that if you take opportunity when it comes along or you are open to sort of possibilities and you attack them with the sort of passion and interest that is available then good things will happen. 

Susan Freeman

I think you’re right I think it applies to you know whatever you know professional walk of life you’re in if you are passionate, if you’re good at it you’ll do well.  If you try and make yourself do something that really is not what you should be doing it never works out very well.

Sadie Morgan

I look at my own daughters you know my youngest daughter did extremely well in her exams she was offered a place at one of the top two Universities in the country and you know she decided not to take that place and to go to art school and pursue her sort of creative dream and I think that’s that, I encouraged her to do that many of my friends jaws dropped because surely you would have convinced her otherwise you know and I thought no because there’s nothing more important than pursuing you know work that makes you feel fulfilled and happy.

Susan Freeman

I think that’s a really important life lesson isn’t it and I know that you’ve said that you say yes to everything and I imagine that’s led you into some unexpected situations, are there roles or commissions that you’ve turned down because I imagine there are things that are put to you you think its not for you and you can’t necessarily give it your best. 

Sadie Morgan

I suppose in my personal life I tend to open myself up to opportunities you know for adventures but when it comes to my professional life I think that I’ve always said yes if I think I can contribute and you know if I think I can do something well I try to be very helpful, it’s part of my upbringing and my personality you know I want to help so you get to a certain point in your life and you realise that sometimes you can be unhelpful you know if you’re too busy or you can’t commit enough time even if you would be good at doing that role or job or whatever it is if you’re not able to put sort of the right level of energy and commitment into it then you shouldn’t do it so now I do say yes but I also say no because I know that I have a finite amount of energy, I have a finite amount of time and I really want to make sure that if I take on a role or if I take on a job or whatever it might be that actually I am able to give it as much sort of energy and effort that it deserves and that I am not taking the place of somebody who would do it better. 

Susan Freeman

I think that’s a really good way of looking at it and I love the way you talk about your projects as being joyful and having a spirit and a soul.  I can’t remember if that was about any particular project or if that is a sort of general ethos but I just thought that’s fantastic and I just wondered what you mean by that and actually how you achieve that?  How you actually bring spirit and soul into a project.

Sadie Morgan

Yeah I think I mean I was probably talking about Hastings Pier in that particular instance because when you, when you go to Hastings Pier you know there isn’t a huge amount of ‘architecture’ you know that’s not what the project was about, the project was about harnessing community spirit, it was about curating you know a whole sort of remit of fabulous ideas and ambition and wishes and trying to create something that kind of held all that together and I think that when you go there you are moved, you’re moved by an experience and that might, you know you could argue that’s because you’re looking out over the sea and you can feel the elements and it’s a wonderful natural experience anyway but I think its more than that and I think that when you go to architecture or places or buildings that move you in some spiritual way I think that’s very much a part of the process of making that place your space or building so yes I do believe it’s very important, I think its very much about you know the people that work on those projects, its very important that the team here are happy, they feel fulfilled you know if you’re miserable and unhappy you produce, I believe you produce miserable and unhappy buildings or you know or you know, very restrained buildings and you know when you come into the office it’s a very uplifting experience I think people, there’s a kind of energy here and that translates itself I hope into the work that we do and that’s very important and one of the things I think I am probably most proud of when it comes to some of our projects. 

Susan Freeman

Its interesting that you talk about the energy, have you been able to keep that during this lockdown period because actually instilling team spirit and getting that sort of energy going must be more difficult digitally.

Sadie Morgan

I think it is more difficult but if you still show the same sort of care and love to your team and you’re making the effort to do everything that you can to encourage those interactions and to make sure that when you’re working creatively it is very difficult you know some things you can do easily on your own but some things are much more difficult you know you need that creative energy, you need that sort of spirit and you’re right that’s quite difficult to replicate over the internet but you know like many offices we have tea time and lunch time during the week.  Every Director makes a phone call, we’ve divided up the team and every Director calls you know somebody within the team personally, we have five or six people each that we keep in regular contact with, so nobody feels left alone.  We do Friday night pin ups, we’ve had pub quizzes you name it you know and I know we’re not alone because I have joined many other friends and colleagues who’ve done similar things so we’re all trying to make that happen but I think if you leave with a collective spirit its very hard to break so whatever this awful pandemic throws at us I think we’re very resilient not only as a nation and as you know industry but also for us as an office so we have a kind of resilience I think that has been born out of being good friends and knowing that we’ll look after you as best as we can.

Susan Freeman

Yes, I think it’s important and you’ll probably be quite pleased to get back to a more normal way of working in due course though.

Sadie Morgan

I can’t see that architects will really ever go back to the sort of way we were before.  You know we’re problem solvers we like to take the positives out of any situation and there have been a number of positives out of this awful pandemic.  So I think that we’ll recognise those parts of our work that you know we can do well at home, that we don’t necessarily need to be together with that’s perhaps sometimes in quiet contemplation means that we do something much better or quicker so I would be surprised if we you know if we go back exactly to the status quo. 

Susan Freeman

No, it’s interesting, it certainly has been challenging, it has made people think about you know a different, different way of working so we’ll see how it pans out and Sadie you have some pretty amazing roles. In 2015 you were appointed to the National Infrastructure Commission and I mean that is an amazing opportunity to really promote design.  I was just wondering why do you think they appointed you, did they feel that they needed to be thinking more?  Were they aware of the fact that they needed to be thinking more about design in these projects? 

Sadie Morgan

I’d love to say yes to that answer but I think the honest answer is no, there’s lots of reasons why I was appointed I had chaired the Independent Design Panel for High Speed 2, I was somebody who was new and wasn’t a name you know and I think they were probably looking for somebody outside of the normal scope of who they would chose so in that sense then possibly yes.  The design and the influence I think that I’ve managed to bring is I think something that they weren’t expecting.  Now what’s so exciting and interesting and wonderful is that they have absolutely encouraged this type of conversation you know so that one of the National Infrastructure Commissions aims is you know to improve people’s quality of life.  Now that, in order to do that you have to understand (a) what that means and how to make sure that our big infrastructure projects really touch down and work best for people in place and the climate and actually extract real value from what they do its not a kind of you know money transaction but we really think about the kind of bigger, bigger value picture.  So all of those things are intrinsic to the way that the NIC wants to work and because I talk about design, because I talk about the things that matter to me and that are very different to the lens that maybe an Economist or a Politician or an Engineer you know might look at the world then you know I am seen as a positive kind of part of the mix and that to me has given me the encouragement to really try to take those lessons, you know take the lessons about having a good diverse board but having a creative board member and thinking how that might play out across other organisations because you know as I have said before creative people are problem solvers they look at things in three dimensional ways, we’re lateral thinkers, we bring a very different perspective which is as part of a mix of other groups of skills I think is really, really important and often is lacking in big operations so I think there’s a real place for those of us who have been taught in a specific way and for instance architectural education or creative education sort of draws those things out of you.

Susan Freeman

When you think about it it’s quite amazing that architects haven’t had a role in this sort of organisation before.  Are there sort of practical examples of what you’ve been able to do obviously you know you’ve been there for you know for a few years now I think you’ve set up a design group but have you actually been able to change the way the commission works?

Sadie Morgan

If you say what are the achievements I would say well the National Infrastructure Assessment which is delivered every five years and basically is our recommendations to Governments so the Government spends between 1 and 1.2% of GDP, £200 billion over a period of time it’s a lot of money on infrastructure and part of the infrastructure assessment had a whole section on good design it made recommendations that all infrastructure of national significance should be subject to design review and all infrastructure of national significance should have a design champion on board so, yes in a sense you know if Government when they produce their national infrastructure strategy accept those recommendations then that will be a massive change.  In addition to that the NIC, yes we set up a design group full of incredible people and we have just launched at the beginning of the year design principles that we hope will be picked up by those within the industry who are delivering our infrastructure and that is a very simple set of principles around climate, people, place and value so really trying to encourage us all to think about those four very important issues.  We’ve already had a lot of sort of traction around that.  The ICE wanted a very big piece of research coming up with all their members you know so I think the influence will I hope start to spread quite widely particularly with the emphasis on the climate issues. 

Susan Freeman

That sounds like quite a lot of achievements.  That sounds fantastic.  So I was just thinking as you were talking in the role on the NIC and in your role as Chair of HS2’s design panel you are dealing with Government bodies do they think of you as a disrupter and is there a different form of language you need to use to actually get your ideas across? 

Sadie Morgan

Yes, is the answer and it took me a while to understand that.  You know the word design is quite difficult for a lot of you know a lot of people.  They sort of immediately well we’ve done research that shows actually the minute you say good design people think oh costs money, extends the programme, its gold plating, it’s you know it’s a sort of addiction rather than something that is inherent to a project so they see it very much as in the kind of aesthetic box rather than as I have said before the kind of problem solving and the you know making sure that projects really do reflect the things that are important rather than just sort of time and money so I think that you have to find a language that’s non-confrontational I think is really important, I also think that you, you know the minute you appear high brow or you use language and words that are just not understandable unless you are in a kind of an architectural school you really don’t gain the confidence of those around you and it is something that I am very aware of and you know I’m an External Examiner at a number of Universities and I’m always very, one of the big things that I try to talk about is exactly that which is yes you need to be articulate and you have to express your ideas but do so in a way, do it as if you are talking to a family member don’t do it as if you’re talking to me because frankly I don’t understand a lot of what people say, you know I really am, often I just look at drawings and I think they look like spaghetti and I have no idea what you’re talking about.  So, it is very important to be accessible. 

Susan Freeman

And as you say I can imagine if you’re sitting round the table with a lot of engineers, they probably use a lot of jargon anyway so it must be quite difficult to keep up with that.

Sadie Morgan

Yeah as well as the economists you know the way they abbreviate things I often have to go home and do a lot of research on the computer to work out what they’re talking about.

Susan Freeman

Exactly thank goodness for Google looking up all the acronyms. 

Sadie Morgan

That’s right.

Susan Freeman

Do you think that you know as we come out of this Covid lockdown that actually the pandemic is going to encourage more large scale infrastructure projects, I mean the Government has been talking about this new mantra, build, build, build so do you think we’re going to see more infrastructure investment?

Sadie Morgan

Absolutely I think that one of the big levers that Government has is to invest in infrastructure because that means job skills and an outcome that will be a sort of real positive effect for the country so I think investing in infrastructure is absolutely something that will be front and centre.  One of the things I think we have to be very careful of is not to sort of knee jerk into making very quick decisions.  One of the things that we should learn from the projects of the past and the work that we’re doing is that actually you know writing the right kind of brief, getting it right from the start is incredibly important so putting the time in at the beginning of a project really does save time and money in the long-term so I suppose one of the things that you know I am very mindful of is that we are very careful you know this sort of shovel ready message is yes that’s you know it is important, we should try and find projects that are ready to go but we should also start, kick start the thinking behind other projects that might come to fruition. 

Susan Freeman

Yes it will be exciting to actually be involved from a project right from the beginning and then you can bring in the design elements and do you think that the design of the built environment is going to be affected by Covid, it’s difficult to you know whilst we’re still in the middle of it and coming out of the fear, it’s difficult to envisage you know how far it’s actually going to affect us sort of medium term and long-term but do you foresee any differences in the way we actually design?

Sadie Morgan

I think there will be differences but they’ll be driven by long-term behavioural changes so I have been asked lots of questions you know how will we have to redesign our homes to be offices you know I think all of those things if they happen they’re not going to be structural changes you know my sense is they’ll be, you’ll suddenly find Ikea doing a great range of foldaway desk beds or something you know I mean it will be, we’re unlikely to fundamentally change the kind of building stock.  I think the areas where we’ll see big differences the public ground, the sort of green spaces, the spaces in between the sort of softer parts if you like of the city.  I very much hope we’ll see changes in movement behaviours you know much more cycling, much more walking you know we could learn from the opportunities we’ve all had to have quiet streets and to feel safer as a cyclist in London, encouraging us to sort of walk more because we can’t all get on the tube you know those sorts of behavioural changes I would very much hope have started with temporary shifts within the city now will turn into more permanent ones.  When it comes to our sort of homes and how they may well be affected I think that might become if that will be the case it will happen quite slowly over time and it will be as a reaction to a shift in behaviours within office and working life which will take time to bed in I don’t think its going to happen sort of immediately.

Susan Freeman

No I agree with you there have been an awful lot of predictions made over the last three months and I think you do need to give things a little time you know to settle down and see where we are.  So in terms of new homes last year you were appointed to the Homes England Board and I mean that is quite an exciting opportunity to get involved in how we decide, how we design new homes and the built environment around them. How do you plan to use your influence there?

Sadie Morgan

I’m going to just take the lessons that I have learnt from all the other roles that I’ve been doing.  You know when it comes to Homes England, I think that they are an extraordinary agency they’re going through a lot of change.  They are the Government’s housing delivery body and they have a huge responsibility to make sure that the places that they create or invest in are good quality places that are thinking hard about the places they create and the sort of future in terms of sustainability and climate so all of those things I think are very important and I hope that the experience that I can bring from setting up design principles at the NIC from helping to put design panels together or just to sort of a critical friend this is ways in which you encourage this behaviour and here’s something that we’ve done before that’s worked.  So I’ve been brought on specifically to help them around those areas and that’s, you know that’s sort of what I intend to do so I’ve been doing quite a lot of work with the team they’re very open and willing again to sort of take on board any thoughts or advice or learnings from other organisations so you know we’re just in the infancy of trying to set these things up but I think its going to be very exciting.

Susan Freeman

No that certainly is exciting because it just sort of seems to me that you know we’ve had years of talking about building homes, building affordable homes and you know sometimes it feels as if we’re talking about building units rather than homes for people where people feel happy and you know they can enjoy their lives so I do feel that you know there is an opportunity especially with the learning you know over the past three months to actually build communities rather than just units.

Sadie Morgan

No, absolutely and that’s something I’m incredibly passionate about you know I set up the Quality of Life Foundation just at the end of last year with a lot of great supporters from the industry and the hope there is to say okay how as an industry can we do better, how can we with the 300,000 homes a year target, how can we make sure that we create places where people actually want to live and I think that in order to do that you really have to ask people what it is that improves their quality of life.  You know what are the fundamentals that you need, you know what’s the sort of food and water of the built environment, the sustenance in order to sort of make those improvements and that’s, and you know that’s some work that we’ve been doing a lot of research around and hopefully again we’ll sort of set a framework up to say actually when you make developments, when you try to build homes these are some fundamental things that you should include and you know we did a literature view which said those things were around a sense of agency and control you know people want to feel that they have any kind of control around what they do, they want to feel you know a sense of belonging, they want to be near green space, they want to have freedom of movement you know there’s a sort of set of basic things that we’re doing a lot more nationwide research on and will hopefully come back with a clear idea about what they are and then encourage communities to get more involved through the planning process and through a sort of post-occupancy you know are developers actually delivering you know yes they’ll do these things are they actually delivering you know that, there’s no, you can go to a restaurant and rate your meal, you can go to a hotel and rate your experience but you can’t rate where you live or you can’t, there’s no sort of immediate feedback or in fact continuous feedback over time so that’s something that we’re in the process of developing so that’s all very exciting as well. 

Susan Freeman

No that sounds like a fantastic initiative because you do sometimes feel that the end customer gets forgotten in the development process and it will be really interesting to you know see what your research shows and what people want, what they actually do want to live in because its so important.  I know that you have recently gone onto the Board of a Development Company, You and I as a non-Exec Director…

Sadie Morgan

That’s right, yeah, yeah.

Susan Freeman

…and I wonder if anything had surprised you from you know seeing things from the developer viewpoint because it is, I assume, a slightly different perspective from the one that you normally see.

Sadie Morgan

Yes I’ve really enjoyed actually it has been a really good experience and I think that when you’re in the profession as long as I’ve been it’s very important to be able to understand everybody’s point of view you know as architects you’re always rolling your eyes, you know oh they won’t let you do X or Y or you know and when you begin to see the complexities and the difficulties actually of developing then I think you can work much better and more closely in the long run and you know You and I are an incredible company they have really strong values, they’re very keen to do things better and it’s difficult even when you have such a strong ethos and you have such strong beliefs you have to manage those with a sort of commercial outcome and if you’re a listed company then you have shareholders to take care of but like me they believe that if you do things well and you’re passionate about it you will make places and spaces where people want to live.  So I genuinely believe they have an incredible kind of opportunity and yes you’re right it has been very interesting to see the whole picture but my sense again is that if you all want the same thing you may be coming from it at different angles or with different perspectives or different agendas but actually you are all travelling in the same direction and that to me is what is so exciting about it.

Susan Freeman

Yes and I’m a great fan of You and I, Richard Upton the Development Director was a guest on the podcast in fact just before lockdown and it was really interesting to hear about you know his vision and the way he collaborates with Local Authorities so I understand what you’re saying. So, Sadie you are very much an industry role model, you have a string of awards including the Sterling Prize, you’ve an OBE for services to the advocacy of design in the built environment.  Last year you were the first winner of Building Designs New Female Architectural Leader Award and I was just wondering whether along the way you have encountered any prejudice as a woman or whether it goes the other way and it’s been an advantage.

Sadie Morgan

That’s an incredibly good question.  I mean I think that the first thing to say is that I have only ever worked for myself as in I set my business up alongside Alex and Philip when I left University and they are the two of the most extraordinarily positive male role models for female role models, I have never ever felt anything other than their equal.  We have more women than men in drMM and we have equal Directors now at board level, so we have 50/50 at board which I am extremely thrilled and excited about.  So, in that sense my working life I’ve never ever felt in any way sort of disadvantaged or in a minority.  It is true to say that there are fewer females within a client body and often throughout my career I have been the only woman in many situations.  The way I have always operated is to try to sort of use that as an advantage its not always possible I suppose but I have, I believe very strongly in myself and my ability and that’s something that I, so I suppose in difficult situations I am confident enough to feel that I am no less better or no worse than anybody else and I think if you can, if you can train yourself to go into situations and say I have just as much to offer as this other person then that’s the right mindset to go into and its tough, I’m not suggesting this is easy but I know women naturally will kind of you know, the statistics show that we’re not always good at putting ourselves forward but if you can just go into a room and think that you have as much to offer as anybody else you may not be as clever I promise you I often sit, you know I sit next to the Chief Economists of the World Bank I am, there is no way I am as ‘clever as that person’ but I know that I have something just as important to offer and so if you can hold onto that and you can, going back to the, right to the beginning of our conversation if you believe passionately in what you do and you’re doing a job that you feel that you’re good at then that’s the most important thing and stick to your subject, don’t try and be a brilliant economist you will fail in the same way that the brilliant economist will fail at being a great designer.  So, if you respect yourself others will respect you. 

Susan Freeman

I think that’s really, that’s really good advice and you mentioned confidence and that, you know, that’s something I hear you know so much that you know women lack confidence so maybe it’s a question of appearing confident until you’ve actually acquired that confidence and just making yourself do things even if you don’t feel that you’re up to doing them and you feel that somebody can do it better. 

Sadie Morgan

Yeah, no I have, I have always pushed myself out of my comfort zone, I still you know have sleepless nights about some of the most awful kind of speeches I think I’ve made or you know or situations where I’ve said things that I now think weren’t super the right things to say but unless you’re prepared to fail or unless you’re prepared to not always say the right thing then you’ll never learn and you’ll never have the confidence to know that you can come out of a situation like that and probably the only person who has sort of remembered that you’ve said something silly or you know is you because no one else is likely to be that critical and as somebody who runs an office, and it isn’t just with young women but I think younger people at the beginning of their profession its important that you give them opportunities to speak. You know we do pin up on a Friday evening you know where the sort of directors or the associates don’t talk about their projects but Part 1 or Part 2 students will be asked to talk about the projects and that’s, you know so we try to encourage from very early on the opportunity for not just young women but the sort of next generation I suppose to really pick up and run with things. 

Susan Freeman

I think that’s that’s so important and it echoes something that Jacob Loft has said on the podcast a couple of months ago because I asked him you know how do we get more young people into real estate and he said they are there we just don’t give them the opportunity to have a voice and to make decisions so I think that is, that is important.

Sadie Morgan

Yeah so one of the other things that I’m very proud of that the National Infrastructure Commission has set up the Young Professionals Panel and that was an extraordinary success because I’m the youngest Commissioner, you know I’ve just turned fifty and we’re advising Government on the next thirty, forty, fifty years of infrastructure spending.  So the most important thing is I think to you know to ask the next generation because they, you know they’re the ones that know, they really understand I think you know what’s needed, they’re on the cutting edge, they’re on the coal face of working on projects and its really important to have their input and also to allow them to be exposed in situations where they’re not likely to have that opportunity so we have the Young Professionals Panel they come to the Commissioners Meetings, they see you know what happens in those meetings, in those situations and I think again that’s great learning.

Susan Freeman

No that is, that’s terrific and we’ve talked about many of your roles, we haven’t actually talked about your teaching and I understand that you are Professor Morgan, aren’t you?

Sadie Morgan

Yes, that’s right, yes, I’m a Professor at Westminster University which I love. I think it’s a really extraordinary University, it has a really sort of diverse intake and really encourages those who probably wouldn’t naturally go into an architectural career to take it up so I’m very excited about the opportunities that it offers not just to Londoners but you know the kind of new case students but obviously students from abroad as well but it’s a really, it’s a really great place and I think the role that, the role that I have is to try to connect teaching practice with the sort of real world so I’m a Professor of Professional Practice so that means I try to do that sort of crossover between students who are working hard to get a Degree but you know what does that mean?  How does that impact and how can they use it in a way to as we have talked before not just going to a kind of world of architecture, of making buildings but there’s a huge opportunity to do other things, to have influence in other ways. 

Susan Freeman

Sounds like a terrific role and looking at all the things that you’re already doing I can’t imagine that there’s room for much more but I was just wondering whether there are any particular projects or particular roles that you would still like to add to the portfolio?

Sadie Morgan

At the moment you know I definitely have plenty to do and I think that its not necessarily about roles I thought hard about this actually, its not always about a different role but its about, if I step back and think what am I good at you know, where can I add something you know I believe very strongly in public service and so I’m very keen to make sure that I try to help and make the world a better place and that sounds a bit lofty but it’s not, it’s just the way I’m constructed.  So I’m very keen to, if there’s opportunity to have influence and to encourage others to think about people and place and the climate and as I said value all those things that I talk about in order to create better projects or to create a better built environment then I would jump at the chance and I’ve got two beautiful girls they’re grown up, I have lots of time, I have a huge amount of energy and I’m very happy and fulfilled if I think that I’m being useful so I’ll continue to try to do that in any way that I can without exhausting myself.

Susan Freeman

Sadie that is, that’s terrific and I think probably a really good place to end so thank you so much for your time today.

Sadie Morgan

Oh, it was a pleasure, it’s been great talking to you and thank you very much for inviting me. 

Susan Freeman

Thank you so much to Professor Sadie Morgan for some amazing insights into her incredible roles and the way she works tirelessly to promote the vital importance of good design and to make the world a better place. 

So that’s it for now I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation please stay safe and join us for the next PropertyShe podcast interview coming very shortly. 

The PropertyShe broadcast is brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate forum and can be found at Mishcon.com/PropertyShe along with all of our interviews and programme notes.  The podcasts are also available to subscribe to on your Apple podcast app and on Spotify and whichever podcast app you use.  Do continue to subscribe and let us have your feedback and comments and most importantly suggestions for future guests and of course you can continue to follow me on Twitter at PropertyShe for a very regular commentary on all things real estate, prop tech and the built environment. 

Sadie Morgan is a Co-Founding Director of leading architectural practice dRMM, along with Alex de Rijke and Philip Marsh. Over a 25-year career Sadie has played a key role in the advocacy of exemplary design and architecture, through her professional practice and advisory roles.

dRMM is recognised for creating architecture that is innovative, high quality and socially useful, bound by an aspiration to make people’s lives better. In 2017 the practice won the UK’s top architecture award, the RIBA Stirling Prize for Hastings Pier. Recent high profile projects include Maggie’s Oldham, Trafalgar Place at Elephant & Castle and Faraday House at the Battersea Power Station.

In her role as a design champion Sadie is involved in a number of advisory roles including chairing the Independent Design Panel for High Speed Two, reporting directly to the Secretary of State and being one of ten commissioners for the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) led by Chief Executive Phil Graham. She has been instrumental in setting up the NIC’s Design Group which will place design at the heart of all new major infrastructure projects and ensure that designers have a seat at the table at every step in a project’s lifecycle.

Read more about Sadie here.

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