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Commercial Integrator Europe Q&A: AMPC’s Anne Minors

Hot on the heels of receiving a major award, Minors reflects on her 30-year career of innovation in the arts space.

David Davies

Earlier this month AMPC (Anne Minors Performance Consultants) founder Anne Minors was awarded the 2014 First Women Award for The Built Environment for her success in four continents and her pioneering of theatre consulting in Kazakhstan and Turkey. Commercial Integrator Europe spoke to Minors about her 30-year career developing spaces that are practical, innovative and beautiful…

First of all, your reaction to winning the 2014 First Women Award for The Built Environment…?

My initial reaction was complete amazement as the field was very strong for the award: a past president of the Royal Institute of British Architects; the senior vice-president of Bechtel; a president elect of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors; and the managing director of a multi-million business supplying the construction industry. Any one of them would have been a deserving winner.
As an architect and developing a design specialism as a theatre consultant, I have had the good fortune to work in many countries over the last 33 years with many excellent architectural practices who are contributing significantly to the built environment.

One of the advantages of arts projects is their place in the development of a community or country – after the infrastructure of roads and hospitals – and while the community is striving for a better or more balanced environment in which to live. The arts provide an affirmation of the identity of the community and the buildings themselves, and the activities therein are aspirational rather than utilitarian and functional. They are also designed for gathering people together and to explore what it is to be human.

With this award, I want to encourage other women to play a bigger part in shaping their built environment and bring some of the collaborative working methods I have experienced abroad to our building industry.

Your work has taken you across continents, but if you were to highlight one particular project from the last few years in terms of its innovation and execution, what would it be and why?

In terms of grand vision, the Zorlu Center in Istanbul is hard to beat. Combining commerce, culture and living, the mixed development attracts shoppers, artists and audiences in equal measure, and will attract residents in the future. The Zorlu PSM cultural centre is innovative, in the form and technical range of the theatre and in the execution of the interior. AMPC set out the form of two auditoria and the theatre technical infrastructure, and from this initial shape, the architects EAA, decided to line the whole larger theatre with timber fins. Whilst circular geometry set out the lighting bridges in the ceiling and created a hallmark for the theatre, at 2,300 seats, the three dimensional geometry of the whole space was far from pure. It was the skill of the Turkish joinery company Papirus that took on the challenge and made the room literally flow in timber from ceiling to floor. It has given Istanbul and Turkey an auditorium to be proud of, and one that is easily identifiable in broadcasts.

In terms of learning the most from a project, I think the opera house in the Palace of Peace Kazakhstan wins on that score. Not only was working in Central Asia different from the Far East, where I have lived and worked many times, and Europe, but the project itself was a great example of organisational logistics, bringing materials and products from as far away as Shanghai in the East and Germany in the West to arrive on time in the middle of the Steppes. Being a building block of a remote and brand new city, Astana, in a highly multi-ethnic country, the site represented a microcosm of the world. The stakes were very high and the time was very short to deliver the building, yet it was achieved by hard work and healthy cooperation. Eating together every day and providing for every culture’s diet helped enormously in this respect.

To what extent has the outlook for female consultants improved during your time working in the built environment? And what more can and should be done to encourage more women to work in the industry?

So much has changed in the last 36 years. Gone are the days in the UK when you would be the only woman on site, in the office, and at the site meetings. I see many more women in the workplace now, and I encourage them in every way I can to get experience early, especially to work on site and run projects to gain confidence. We need to encourage girls to become very technically skilled, in a world where people respect technical knowledge.

Yes, the outlook for female consultants has improved greatly – we are free to travel alone, live abroad, be respected for our knowledge and contribution. To do so well, we have to know what we are contributing to the project – what our value-added is that clients will pay for us to deliver.

To encourage other women into the performing arts building consultant industry, we need to be frank about the time involved away from home, the multiple deadlines, the commitment required to deliver something of quality. Yet these parameters are no different from the requirements for a job in the arts in general – it is just that building timescales are longer – and you need to have the memory of an elephant, yet be able to go from one project to another like a butterfly.

AMPC attempts to give women as many opportunities as they are willing to take on, and has long-standing associations with other women consultants. Having a two-way approach to flexible working has enabled us to keep staff who need to combine family and work commitments.

In countries where childcare is affordable, the number of women in senior positions in the built environment is high. Singapore was the most obvious example of this, where many government offices have creches in the basement and the children join the mothers at the end of the day, doing their homework while the mothers finish their tasks in the early evening. The pressure that many part-time and full-time mothers feel in the UK to do their work and get home to relieve the child-carer on time, reduces with this approach.

We could learn a lot from Scandinavia, where the average firm is a smaller size than the UK, so that it can be more flexible with childcare arrangements and encourage women to take their active part in the production of the office. The organisation of large firms can work against the interests of women, who very often cannot be present for long hours, but worked very efficiently when they are there and benefit from flexitime.

When I travel, I meet female theatre technical directors, stage crew in equal numbers of men and women in Scandinavia, or whole engineering departments of women in Russia, women running building sites in China and being developers in that part of the world. In Turkey, architects and engineers are frequently female and couples often work together, going to building sites together in more remote places. So I am very conscious that there is nothing to stop women having fulfilled careers in the building industry, but that some cultures make it easier to succeed.

We could do more to emphasise the creative side of the built environment, both in its craft and its impact on the whole population, including women and children.  We could encourage women to actively use their experience of their own surroundings to comment on new building developments.

What can you tell us of your current projects? And what ambitions do you still have to realise?

Currently we have a very exciting portfolio of buildings on site, and in design. We have branched out beyond the performing arts to lecture theatres and institutional buildings to develop unique designs for their gathering spaces. In the next year we will open a new Meeting Space for the Quakers, an experimental music space at a University, a new flytower on an old theatre, and a renovated institutional building in London.

Using my MA studies on multimodal perception, we are applying some of this information in our work. I am particularly interested in creating environments in which to hear well, particularly towards the end of life when one’s hearing is damaged and [also] early on, to protect it. As the number of people on the planet grows and the number of planes overhead increases to provide more people with the opportunity to travel, I think ‘quiet space’ will become a premium in the way that ‘higher space’ is already at a premium. My voluntary work with young people has taught me to carefully match activity with the aural environment for maximum effectiveness. I would love to design a retreat centre for those on spiritual journeys – it could be fun and very creative!

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