High Activity at Sleeping Lady

Systems & Tools 07 December 2015 | 10.46am

I was given the amazing opportunity to attend the Americas Design School 2015. Design School was held at a resort about three hours outside of Seattle called Sleeping Lady. It wasn’t until our walk on the second day that I actually realised where this place got its name; the surrounding mountain actually looks like a sleeping lady.


Image: Sleeping lady from afar

But we were far from sleeping at Design School. Instead we had three days jam packed with activities, discussion panels, presentations, working challenges, exercises and networking from dusk til dawn.

On the first night we arrived, very hot from a long bus ride, thrown straight into our first discussion topic – what is design and what does it mean to us? This was followed by a 30 second presentation about ourselves as an introduction to the rest of the Design School crew.

We woke up the next day to a full day exercise around the topic of water supply challenges. The task was to design a solution to a water supply issue providing New City East with fresh water to accommodate future likely demand. New City East was conveniently located on the other side of the mountain in relation to the lake which would act as the water source. The key challenge included getting the water from the lake to the city in the most efficient manner. As part of this we were all challenged to take on a role we do not normally do. For example, if you generally lead the team and coordinate tasks, take on the role of calculating the finances or looking at the environmental impact. If you generally undertake the technical modelling in the background, step in and become the project manager. My team took on this challenge which meant it took some time for everyone to find their feet but it created a really nice and percipient working environment.

The day involved presenting a concept solution to the Client and the Mayor of New City East, setting targets for estimated water supply based on around the world research and demonstrating how this aligned with the cities needs, demonstrate sustainability measures, considering risks for the development, work up a cost plan and physically building a scaled down version of the solution, delivering the amount of water as promised over 1 year (3 minutes in our model).

We were further challenged by material shortage and availability due to other competing construction companies and had to produce a detailed material plan considering the risks involved with some of the more popular materials being taken by other Contractors (read teams).

2 pics

Image: Examples of supplies available for our build


Image: My team in action demonstrating our prototype – a gondola for water transportation.

In the end team work was absolutely key to this exercise and, despite a few hiccups at the time of demonstration of our water supply solution, my team ended up being awarded the contract with the following comments from the judges:

“Great solution. Key was that in times when things were not going as expected (read: the wire for the gondola transporting the water broke) the group worked quickly together as a team to resolve the issue. Great team work.”


Image: Team demonstrations

Each night was filled with some sort of presentation, followed by dinner together and some drinks by the bar. Having the opportunity to talk to the attending leaders and picking their brain on all sorts of design, work or career related topics was absolute key to the success of the Design School days.

The third day was followed by the challenge around mobility and particularly in relation to the future of airports. We were asked to think about the integration between the airport and the community and how the modern airports will operate. This resulted in some interesting solutions such as luggage free travelling, drones picking you up and dropping you off, bike lanes to the airport and dual utilisation of runways to maximise space efficiency.



Image: Groups working hard

The mobility challenge was followed by my favourite “in-between” activity. We were asked to spread out on the floor and then arrange ourselves in different ways based on a range of statements related to design such as:

“Design is done by yourself or done with others”

“Design is more like decision or more like exploration”

“Design is more like Jazz or more like Classical Music”

“Design is more like art or more like science”

This exercise demonstrates only one of the many ways we were thinking about design over these days. It also links well to one of the key things I took away from Design School; the importance of thinking about design and seeing it from different perspectives. An ongoing discussion about what design means to us as individuals, as an office and as a wider company, and, how this interlinks with the community we work within, is vital to what we do and how we solve problems. It needs to be part of our everyday discussions and ways of working.

Another thing that really stood out for me at Design School was the culture that working for Arup brings. Being the one that travelled the furthest to attend I was surprised to the similarities across the offices and how the culture is carried through no matter the location, but always with a little twist that makes each office unique.


Image: The full design school crew

Thanks again for some inspiring days at Sleeping Lady.