James Murray Parkes tomorrowland 2018
James Murray-Parkes, Brookfield Scientific Solutions speaking at Tomorrowland 2018

Some books defy easy description or the usual glib reviewer phrases, and Problems and Where to Find them is just such a book. By turns inspiring, thought-provoking, deeply personal, elegantly scientific, technical, philosophical, insightful and brutally honest, it is a genre-busting blend of words and art that shines a light on places many of us keep hidden behind high-performance facades.

Taking a broad canvas of his own professional life, formative experiences, interpersonal relationships and science-based engineering solutions, Murray-Parkes has curated a journey through the thinking and doing of his life to date.

His own reflections and experiences range from subjects as diverse as the value of autistic persons, client reluctance to take the path of difference, fostering individuals within teams, advances in design for manufacture and assembly, the nature and impact of work, the legacy of child abuse, the value of science and the need to protect and save the planet. These are interwoven with personal narratives from members of his Brookfield Scientific Solutions Group team and visual artworks.

The thematic portrait works by Marianna Sebetova in charcoal that capture the tone of each section of the book are extraordinary in their ability to illuminate the inner workings of the subject through what is concealed and revealed in the interplay between light and dark and all shades in between. 

There is an incredible resonance between this artistic effect and the thought processes of the man and the nature of his work – much of which is concealed within the structures he has developed solutions for.

We do not see the connections in the building, but we must trust them. Just as we generally do not see the inner life of fellow practitioners in the process, yet we need to trust them. 

What Murray-Parkes has achieved in the book is to bring to the foreground and into the light those inner elements and link them with the broader, more public realm of projects and project teams.

The other artistic elements including project drawings, images of models and illustrative renderings of the forces of physics in action highlight the artificial distinction often created between the arts and sciences, just as the exposition of Murray-Parkes’ own biophilic inspirations transcends the artificial barrier often erected between the manmade and the natural.

One of the constant refrains of the book is the overwhelming drive he and his team have to “add a little good” to projects and inventions to reduce harm caused by the construction of buildings in terms of their ecological footprint.

“It shouldn’t be so hard,” he says at one point “to add a little good.”

This airing of a sentiment so many in the industry feel but do not put on the record is brave. Without naming names, he outs the forces of conservatism and prejudice that are holding back the transition to a truly sustainable, humane built environment.

He goes one step further too in being refreshingly honest about the emotional toll it takes on a designer to be forced to act against the planet’s best interests and restrain the inner drive to deliver the best outcome for the project. 

This could be another of the gifts of his courage in launching this manifesto to the world – it finally becomes acceptable to talk about the human psychological cost of bad decision-making, poor design and failures on both moral and practical fronts to put the wellbeing of the planet and all people first and foremost.

The book is available as a free e-book from Murray-Parkes’ website. 

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