In our sixth interview with the people who helped shape FM, lecturer Peter McLennan talks to Frank Duffy CBE about his part in the development of FM in the UK.
22 March 2012
Frank Duffy started down the path to his status as an FM World 'pioneer of FM' back in the 1960s when he first questioned the long-held belief that a building, once designed, had to stay true to its original architect's purpose. The co-founder of office design consultancy DEGW, Duffy has worked with some of the world's biggest organisations, helping define the facilities sector along the way.
We invited Peter McLennan, senior lecturer in facilities management for the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies at UCL, to interview Frank.
Peter McLennan: Could you go through your career and explain how it has intersected with facilities?
Frank Duffy: I first became interested in the office as a building type when I was a student at the Architectural Association (AA) in the fourth year, and we were asked to design a building of 13,935 square metres (150,000 square feet) in central London.
I'd never been in an office. I didn't know where to start. But as I sat at my drawing board, thinking about what to do with this interesting challenge, a copy of the Architectural Review came my way. In the news was a piece by architectural historian Reyner Banham, accompanied by a tiny diagram. This was at the stage when people were starting to talk about cybernetics and communications, and there was a general widening out of the architectural discourse. The diagram expressed it beautifully; here was an arrangement of desks in an informal manner, which obviously related to some study of communications.
The notion was that architecture followed the patterns of human communication and that was the rationale for the shape and layout of the building. That was a moment of revelation for me. The following summer
I went on a study tour to several of these office buildings in Germany and met the team that had invented the concept.
This stimulated my imagination and I went to the US as a student three years later. After a wonderful year, I went to Princeton to do a PhD and it dawned on me that there was something wrong with the office landscaping proposition. If it was based on patterns of human communication, why were all the buildings the same?
Why was the layout always the same? There must surely be some structure or logic depending upon how intense the communications were, and the hierarchical structures that were in the office, that would lead to a wider understanding of which layout was appropriate in which situation? That's what I looked at in my dissertation.
Just after I arrived in Princeton I got a call from Pete Beverage, from a space planning firm in New York called JFN Associates. He'd heard me talk at a conference and wondered if I would come and give a similar talk. Well, I went to mock - and stayed to pray! I was surprised at how sophisticated they were. Their design levels were high, they were very good programmers and brief writers and they understood the corporate world.
Then I realised there was something fundamentally important about the design process. The Americans had decided early on that you could divide design responsibility in the office building by the longevity of the thing designed. The space planners were responsible for the five-year timescale of a corporate lease and the architects were responsible for the 40-50 year shell. And somewhere in between were the engineers, structure, electrical services, and so on.
PM: In the US, you had the office administrator, which was a clearly defined role, within the American structure
FD: Yes, which didn't exist at all in the UK apart from at ICI and maybe BP. They were around, but they were much weaker. They had a much less clear idea of what their role was and much weaker methodology.
That was the beginning. I hadn't heard the word facilities management by that time, but the idea was there. When I got back to the UK sometime in 1970, JFN said to me: "We have this client in Europe called IBM, with offices in Amsterdam, Finland and Milan. You could help us with this."
In IBM, they had this enormous client and were responsible for brief writing and programming for these very large buildings, with these quite important architects designing them. I don't think they quite knew what they knew what they were up to.
I didn't want to live in Brussels so I set up an office in London as a subset of JFN. And then there was this fascinating moment in the development of the office with the realisation that the whole idea of a homogenous solution rolled out for Europe was impractical and even dangerous for IBM. My analysis of the situation was that they were forcing on their employees an alien office culture on several different cultures, therefore demanding the loyalty of the workforce to choose between
the office culture and the national culture.
After about three years came the oil crisis and JFN retreated to the states and we were on our own. That's when our independent practice DEGW me, Peter Eley, Luigi Giffone and John Worthington came together.
I was already doing a series on office planning for the Architect's Journal. The basis of planning office space at that time was fundamental; that the several time horizons of design had to be disentangled and separated from one another if office buildings could be designed that would last for more than five years.
PM: You seem to have been the first to recognise the administrative and management side around that.
FD: That realisation developed a little later, but one thing that was clear was that if you calculated the cost of the scenery and the 50-year life span of a building, the architecture was a subset of space planning and interior design in financial terms. The architect-developer axis is still, to this day, sterile and devoid of feedback. It's the curse of architecture, moving from one project on to another and being able to avoid, especially in the corporate world, contact with
the end users.
PM: You helped to articulate the fact that you had to understand the user and how space got developed and re-planned.
FD: In the early 70s, we were working in Europe a lot, getting this sense of different cultures and abilities. It dawned on me that there was a missing piece of software in this process. Who was making the decisions? Who was organising the user feedback in relation to corporate bills? And how could that be fed back into the space planning system in a more considered way, and in turn how that could be fed backwards into architecture and eventually into design.
Through to the end of the 70s, there was a very strong tradition in the architectural press of providing technical information for architects. So the idea I sold was that there was a professionalisation process beginning for facilities managers, who also needed technical information at a higher level. Wouldn't it be a good idea for them to experiment with publications rich in technical information related to their jobs? That was an important element
in the professionalisation of FM.
PM: Well, essentially you were helping to define that knowledge base.
FD: Then something else really important happened - the computer escaped from the computer room and got into the office. A technological phenomenon started that was changing every aspect of the office, from office culture to the fabric of office buildings.
PM: The very nature of work
FD: In the early 80s we managed to persuade a number of people, including a government department to invest in a multi-client study [ORBIT - Office Research: Buildings and Information Technology], an exploration of the impact of IT on organisational structures and therefore interior design and upon the delivery system - the money, the financiers the developers and letting agents.
By the mid 1980s, it had become clear that London was struggling to keep up with the financial services industry.
People had realised that there was going to be a battle for this position of the leading financial services centre in Europe, between Frankfurt and Paris
A different class of office building capable of accepting technology had to be invented, hence Broadgate and Canary Wharf a little later. These were projects influenced by that study, and of course they couldn't have been done without the facilities management profession.
PM: My understanding of the ORBIT study is that it was the first time the silo groups within organisations were actually brought together to talk to one another. So you had all the key stakeholders together for the first time. What that document tried to portray was that without doing that you did not have an effective organisation.
FD: Yes, and it was downright dangerous not do it. It's very interesting to look at the timeline and the growth of FM as a profession. I should think the curve of growth and the acceptance of the idea must have been very rapid in the mid 80s because of this huge change.
And there were lots of ideas coming from North America. It's quite fascinating, the need for universal solutions formulae - which is very attractive, of course, to both providers and consumer side - has a very dangerous, degenerative weakness: if a formula gets accepted it becomes the law.
I am still extremely sceptical about universal solutions for the interior. I think there are lots of different organisational cultures that demand different kinds of design and managerial sponsors.
In terms of the financing of office buildings, I think there is a terrible supply-side weakness which starts with the money; it's the property owners who get onto the developers and they talk to the town planners and they talk to the architects who eventually join up with the corporate clients. It's still a one-way system. The money talks.
The idea that there isn't a permanent solution and you have to keep on thinking about what a city is, and what the nature of a city is, is incredibly important. Because we're not all going to go to work at 9am, pack our bag and get on the train at 5pm. Which means the office has escaped from the office building. It is actually an urban issue at a very different scale.
PM: It comes back to your themes of time, space and organisational change. What underpins most of my understanding of your work is that you are always picking up on this from the evidence of dealing with the users, that there is this shifting ground that you have to respond to.
FD: There is also an ever irreversible logic in things that seems to be unfolding, which, funnily enough is being resisted by the supply side. I think there is a sharp division between those who like delivering what they are delivering and what society actually needs - not just
office organisations, but people who now have choices about their way of life and
where they work, how they work, whether they commute or not and how much time they spend at home.
We have amazing opportunities to design different lifestyles and to invent a better sort of city, which are, to pick up one of the latest themes, based upon an understanding of the probability of where economically beneficial encounters are likely to take place. It might just as well be
PM: Starbucks will be very happy with you for saying that!
FD: Starbucks, I think, represents a particular moment of the
office escaping from within
the office building.
PM: So now we're talking about the mid 1990s and the challenge for a lot of organisations was the rise of the internet.
FD: There's that whole discussion, that fundamental intellectual moral question of how to justify place in an increasingly virtual world. If you had to explain to a creature from outer space what place was about, what arguments would you assemble in order to justify it?
PM: So, in the 1990s, the issue of utilisation of space became important as it became increasingly expensive. People were challenging what went on in that space, how you used and organised it. So again we get back to how you deal with the users in the relationship to the corporate situation in terms of the time and space resource.
FD: Yes, and what categories you use to deal with these emerging issues. That's the danger of using old buildings of a certain sort, which are connected to a delivery system. People like delivering what they like delivering in this situation. Which is a step change in culture and technology that will lead us, in the course of the next decade or so, into very different forms of socialisation, physicality and urbanism.
PM: Do you see a possibility for FM here, certainly with the sustainable agenda, which touches on a lot of things you are speaking to - social issues, the community issues, energy?
FD: Yes all these things are right up there. I think these are moral as well as technological issues, and there's obviously
the social dimension as well.
I think facilities should be more ambitious in its programme rather than being a faithful servant to the corporate leaders we've seen. I think this actually puts facilities in a much more important strategic position inside organisations. But to realise its importance depends on taking the high ground in corporate arguments.
PM: And how do you see that playing out?
FD: It's not just about saving money and being lauded for that, but actually thinking about what ought to be done in order to make organisations work globally using a mixture of physical and non-physical resources in order to achieve the best possible resolution. It's not just for the organisation itself, but for the city and for the planet.
PM: So, who do you see picking up on these types of things?
FD: That's a very interesting question, but what is a profession for? I think professions, architecture perhaps particularly, has got stuck in a certain notion of itself. FM may be in the same position, but I can't speak for that, I'm an architect of course.
We have a group that has been going since the end of my time at the RIBA called 'The Edge'. It's an informal group of people from various professions who meet monthly and we discuss the role of the professions, where these issues are being discussed from a global perspective in order to take up positions in relation to government policy on urban design and urban planning and the nature of the physical form. These relate to the structures for the kind of economy we need as we go through the 21st century.
It can't be done by any one profession and if we stay within our boundaries, those early 19th century institutions - in the case of engineering and architecture - then we are doomed because we will never get out of our box.
It's funny, I often think about this. When you are beginning a project there are a wonderful few weeks where no one is charge, where the discussion about what form the building should have, the chairmanship of the meeting goes around the table effectively as a different issue comes to the top, so of course it has to be done that way. And it hasn't dawned on us that actually, there is a meta-level of this kind of discourse, which needs to exist beyond professional boundaries bringing all sorts of ideas together in order to address these extreme issues about what kind of life should be on this planet.
PM: Again, the FM brings the demand side view to the table, something you have spent a career trying to articulate.
FD: I think FM is in a wonderful position to articulate the demand side in this discussion and it must be there at the table, speaking not just for the ease of the delivery system but also about the longterm consequences of the design decisions that are being made, bringing important ideas of patterns of use and user expectations into the discussion.
Career file - A design for life
Name: Francis Cuthbert 'Frank' Duffy CBE
Education: Princeton University; University of California, Berkeley; Architectural Assoc. School
Qualifications: MA, PhD Architecture, M Arch, Architecture, AA Diploma (Hons)
Awards: 1997 awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)
2004 received the British Council for Offices (BCO) President's Award for Lifetime Achievement
- 2012 - present: Independent Consultant
- 1993 - 1995: President of the Royal Institute of British Architects
- 1980s: Initiated the ORBIT (office research: buildings and IT) into the impact on office design of IT.
- 1973: Left JFN to form DEGW in partnership with Peter Eley, Luigi Giffone, and John Worthington. DEGW was established as an independent firm focusing on the planning and design of workplace environments.
- 1971: Joined the London office of JFN Associates, a firm of space planners with headquarters in New York and a European subsidiary in Brussels.
- 1968-1971: Duffy's PhD analysed the relationship between organisational structure and office layouts.
- 1965 - 1967: Editor, AA Journal
- 1964 - 1967: Architectural Assistant, National Building Society