During his four years at TEECOM as a Principal, Executive Vice President, leader of the firm’s UK office, and leader of the international TEECOMadvance team, Blair Parkin has taught us a lot about how a creative approach to technology design can support amazing cultural experiences and groundbreaking levels of environmental performance. This month he leaves TEECOM to join the Eden Project, a client we’ve collaborated and worked with on projects ranging from their signature project in Cornwall, UK, to the Sustainability Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.
We admire the purpose behind Blair’s transition. At TEECOM, while we look to better help our clients develop more environmentally responsible buildings, we’re also examining our own carbon footprint as an organization with an eventual goal of carbon neutrality. I wanted to give Blair the opportunity to talk about this exciting new chapter. We look forward to continued collaboration as he remains a friend and partner of the firm.
DM: What is the Eden Project?
BJP: Eden explores how we can work towards a better future. Eden has over 20 years of experience in science communication and engaging a wide range of audiences and is entering a new period of focusing its attention on communicating and catalysing positive action around the climate emergency. Its distinct positioning – fusing spectacular planted environments with art, play, science, seasonal programming, large music events, and a range of performing arts – helps deliver a message which is both hopeful and inclusive and enables strong relationships across political divides both nationally and internationally. It operates successfully (with strong social and economic purpose) giving it independence and credibility. Eden Project Cornwall therefore stands as a unique destination, movement, and brand to catalyse broader action and coalitions in this critical juncture in the planet’s history.
Eden has now decided that to achieve its ambitious objectives, it can no longer remain only in Cornwall. Development of similar destinations – each exploring humanity’s relationship with the natural world inspired by the context of the site – across the globe. In doing so it will create a network that unites all continents – that can communicate and influence a global audience of visitors, government, business, communities and NGOs. The stakes are high: projects in China are in design; projects in Australia, New Zealand, USA, Costa Rica and Chad are moving quickly; there are also three major experiential destinations in UK being developed – in Derry, Portland and Morecambe – so Eden is now working hard to recreate the magic formula from Cornwall in new locations.
DM: What made you decide to join the Eden Project?
BJP: I first met you, David, in 2004 when we were starting design of the California Academy of Sciences. The project won many accolades and continues to feature as one of our ongoing clients and partners. During the design process, you and I both studied the LEED accredited professional exam. It opened my eyes to the impact of construction on the environment and our role as consultants and designers in doing everything practically possible to minimize that impact. The project gave structure to my thoughts about the natural world, sustainability, and perhaps most importantly, climate change.
To my great shame, those principles and the structured approach I learnt was soon overtaken by so many other things in my business and personal life that I did little to carry forward the messages and transfer them to other projects. Until I joined TEECOM. From that moment four years ago I have been able to drive a practice area of narrative buildings and exhibitions which generally have sustainability at their core. The highest profile being, of course, the world’s largest net zero building, our Dubai project. This experience and a growing international awareness of the climate crisis we face has focused my mind away from business and onto the global challenges we all face. At the beginning of 2020 I found myself at a personal crossroads, and I decided the Eden Project was an opportunity to put all my effort directly toward solving this problem of how we can revolutionize the built environment to be much more sustainable.
DM: What will your role be with the Eden Project?
BJP: Eden is expanding beyond its traditional base in Cornwall and is partnering to build Edens all round the world, and they needed someone to join their leadership team to help construct a framework within which to do those developments. So I’m taking my big project skills, my technology knowledge, exhibit design process, my sustainable building knowledge, and my international business experience and applying that to confronting climate change head-on by taking Eden and its ethos to projects all around the world.
DM: How do you think Eden Project’s work on living buildings can be adapted for the average building?
BJP: Frankly, I don’t know the answer to that, other than to say that unless we start building them, engineering them, developing products that actually are a part of them, we definitely won’t get there. So I’m not sure how long that journey will be and what the stops on that journey will be, but what I do know is we need to start the journey, so this is part of doing that. Creating exemplars is a way of changing minds – and that’s with manufacturers, the construction process, designers – when people see things are achievable they will then aspire to them and they’ll find new and better ways of doing it.