Life at Stride Treglown / Associate Architect

Juan López

I call myself an apostle of digital technology.

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Life at Stride Treglown
Juan López – The geometrical apocalypse
Stride Treglown

My name is Juan Antonio López Rodriguez. But it’s so long and so boring, I prefer to introduce myself as Juan López, therefore J.Lo.

It’s like a marketing strategy in the UK. If I say ‘J.Lo’ in a meeting with 50 people, everybody remembers J.Lo.

I have the honour and the privilege to live in the Georgian part of Bath. We are currently walking along Great Pulteney Street. I studied The Royal Crescent during my degree in Seville. Of course, it’s a very good example of the architecture of that period but it’s so funny to me because now I actually live here.

The reason I chose my apartment, other than to live in a beautiful Georgian house, is because I have 3.5-meter-high windows. On days that you have fog, with this 3.5-meter window, it’s spectacular.

So we’re going to go on one of the walks that is ideal when I have visitors stay with me. You get to see a very nice area of the city centre, but immediately we go to the canals. It’s especially great when friends of mine from Spain and Italy come. It is very English with the canals and all of this infrastructure created initially for transporting goods. The UK has these fantastic heritage places that, for walking, are fantastic.

Okay, we are now here in Sydney Gardens in Bath. It’s very nice, it’s crossed by the train lines and also crossed by the canal – that is our destination, follow the water.

A prophecy in Edinburgh

When I moved to Edinburgh in 2012, the intention was to improve my English and to prepare my visa to go to Australia. Have you ever been to Edinburgh? There is a mountain, an old volcano and a lake, it’s amazing. I went up, like English Moses, to the mountain with my notebook (I always bring with me my sketchbook) and wrote the pros and cons to altering my original plans and stay in the UK. When I came back from the mountain, I decided the UK was the place to be.

So I then decided “Man, you need to pay the bills”. I applied for a job and I was working as a sales assistant in Superdry. I really enjoyed it, particularly because you were talking with people (as you can tell I’m not particularly shy). I was loving engaging with people and talking about their purchases or the new lines, things like that. But there was another weird thing that I really enjoyed and it was putting the t-shirts in colour order. You cannot imagine the pleasure I got from arranging the perfect spectrum going from infrared to blue to ultraviolet! Seriously, I remember the manager was fascinated. “This is the job for Juan”, he thought.

Interestingly, it has also been useful for my career because you see how a garment is made: where the seams are, if the seams are hidden or double. I was paying attention to these kinds of details that later became useful for my career.

An apostle of digital technology

Guys, I am a complete freak of digital technology! I call myself an apostle of digital technology. It’s a controversial matter in architecture, in all professions, because this fourth industrial revolution is changing everything. There is some reluctance in the profession to embrace digital tools but I am just the opposite. I tell people, “Guys, there are so many benefits, so many good things, that we can get from these technologies, don’t be a scared, no?” But in any case, at Stride Treglown we have a very good policy of sharing knowledge. In my particular office, I am what is called a Revit champion. I try to implement and help others see the benefits of digital technologies.

Since working at Stride Treglown, I have done a research project about the use of immersive technology during the planning process in order to improve the interaction between stakeholders. That was an extra activity outside of my usual work that was initially promoted by our Director of Research & Innovation. The project started to grow and grow and I was even invited to the London Digital Week to talk about the initiative. At Stride Treglown, if you want to be there in your seat and do whatever you are told to do, you can. But if you have an idea, or a passion, you talk and they will support you.

I belong to a generation that has lived through the digital transition without any kind of training. I arrived at the university in Seville in 1998. At that time, the teachers were not only saying, “Please don’t use digital tools”, they were actually saying, “It’s forbidden. You cannot submit your work digitally”. When we finished seven years later (I got my degree as an architect in 2005) then they advised that you should submit digitally but they didn’t give us any kind of training! So we are a generation, and I am sure many people born in the 80s share this with me, that are expected to deliver something that no one taught us. Graduate architects today are digitally educated but my generation was one of the last that was still analogic.

Pixels, ink and emotions

Both analogic and digital tools can be used to carry out any task. This is something I try to convince my colleagues, particularly at concept design. At the earliest stage of design, people are very adamant that they can only use hand drawing. I always say, “Guys, please don’t mistake tools and tasks”. Concept design is a task. Hand drawing, 3D modelling or model making, they are all tools for doing the same thing. Concept design can be done with digital tools. It’s like art. Art can be done with pixels or it can be done with ink, regardless of the tool used, the task is still the same – art.

So this is the first step in trying to convince my colleagues because this prejudice exists. What do you think about the emotion you feel if you enter in an immersive reality and you are working in that building? In this immersive visual within your headset, you are able to change whether it’s day or night, raining or windy through the window. Or suddenly you can change the material. Can you not have that emotion as well? So that is what I say. We are trying to see, or judge, digital tools with parameters that belong to another century. Emotions are emotions, it doesn’t matter if it is done with ink or pixels.

The three horsemen of the geometrical apocalypse

But there’s another thing, in relation to digital tools, that I find interesting. Since the renaissance, 500 years ago, architects have communicated ideas with three drawings. I like to call them the three horsemen of the geometrical apocalypse: plan, section and elevation. But these are abstract ideas and, by that, I mean they don’t exist.

A plan is created by cutting a building horizontally, but it is something you can’t actually see in a real building. A section is the same, you cut vertically and you see the section of the building which in real life no one can see. They are only partial representations of a whole building. So with our buildings we collect these snapshots: sections, plans and elevations, and expect builders or members of the public to imagine the building. They see the plan and the section and have to train themselves to understand it.

But now, with new digital tools, we can communicate our ideas as a whole. They can see them with their own eyes. What we do now in our studios is a 3D model, there’s no plan, no section, no elevation. It’s like doing a model in reality, but digitally. When we want to do a plan, we simply cut the building in real time, and the plan is produced automatically. You change the model and all these visuals, and in a normal product it could be a hundred thousand, are automatically updated. That is a revolution because it allows us to focus on design.

In 2010-11, when I was working in Rome on the Opera House of Florence, we used AutoCAD. It was an enormous building so every time we made changes to the design, we needed to update hundreds of drawings. Can you imagine a whole office trying to catch up with all these drawings? But now with these rapid tools, it’s all done automatically. Not exactly. Many in the profession will say, “That’s not true, the detail components are dependent”. Anyway, that is only an inconvenience. This is a revolution and it’s the reason I promote the advantages.

Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and George?

Now we can see there are these nice buildings and houses facing the canal. From here we are on the east side of the city and we can enjoy the view and the skyline of the city. You can see there is St John’s, that is the catholic church. That’s something I’ve had to get used to since being here. I come from a country where everything is catholic, here you have ‘church of all you want’.

Yes, what we can hear is just the rugby. Not so many people know that the famous planet with the funny name Uranus was discovered in Bath. William Herschel was a musician and astronomy was his hobby. He was polishing glasses and looking through the telescope from the garden when he discovered there was a light moving. So he discovered it and called it George – I think he was trying to please the King. You know, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and George?

Okay, we are back to the rugby. Let me see, Bath is winning, oh my god, come on!