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Ambition, Collaboration, and better backing singers!








Bristol Concert hall proposal by Gunter Behnische


I was watching a live performance of Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon over the holiday period which set me thinking about backing singers and how they can turn a good song into one that emotionally engages with you so that it exceeds the original artistic intent and whether the same applies to other artistic/design endeavours.

There is no doubt that the reason that DSOM is so enduring is not just because of the creativity and musicianship of the members of Pink Floyd but because of the inspired use of the backing vocals without which Gilmour’s guitar riffs would wallow in a sea of self-indulgence. Queen’s Under pressure needs the additional layering of David Bowies vocal support to avoid yet another shouty stadium anthem and the Massive Attack album Mezzanine is made far more memorable because of Sarah Jay Hawley’s and Liz Fraser’s vocals on Teardrop, Dissolved girl, Black milk and Group four and yet these vocalists are barely mentioned on sleeve notes.









The monetisation of artistic output, where the cult of the individual and the need to be seen as the creator has become corrosively all pervasive, but there is no doubt that the work of these artists was made immeasurably better by the input of another person and they should be congratulated for the creative leap that it took to see the benefit. It does not devalue their artistic output nor does it imply that they are no longer capable of creating. Acts featuring another are now becoming the industry norm: Stormzy has no problem featuring another act and neither does the industry.

Unfortunately, in commission based artistic/ design endeavours this creative leap is often overlooked either by a lack of imagination of the commissioning body or the arrogance of those commissioned who believe that they, and only they, are to complete all the work in-house, that proposing a collaboration would be seen as a weakness in their ability to deliver despite the  inadequacies that exist within larger organisations.

The constant pressure to reduce the fee associated with a commission is in no small part responsible for designers wanting to hold on to every part of it, as is PII, but in team based endeavours such as a building or a landscape or masterplan or even a rebranding project, it would be a real sign of commitment to quality of output if designers were encouraged to engage with other creative individuals to enhance their skill sets rather than avoid risk and appoint based on size.

Gunter Behnisch said of his practice that he would rather work with young, ambitious, talented yet inexperienced designers in the early stages of a project, harnessing their uninhibited ideas and moulding them with a strong support network to become reality. This requires a strength of mind, maturity and a creative vision that puts a project first and understands and that someone brought in to do a specific piece of work, either as a lead or as a member of the support team is a good thing. In contractor led procurement, where every man hour has to be accounted for in advance, every interface is seen as a problem to manage and where size does matter, this ‘risk’ would be difficult to accommodate.

Whilst public sector construction projects now require all professional teams to work on a single design model, unless briefing acknowledges the intermittent input of external creatives to support a smaller dedicated team as a positive contribution, projects will be bogged down in the cumbersome technology of the process, the review of Key Performance Indicators and the constant monitoring of ‘deliverables’ and although the process will provide the required facility it will be a facility that inevitably lacks innovation and lacks the vitality that can make a design engage emotionally and be far more memorable.

Every project would benefit from letting go of ambition that is in conflict with the project, more collaboration and better backing singers.

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