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A Day in the Life of...

Christina Norton

Christina is an architect, urbanist and founding director of Fluid (1996-present). Read more below. I am an Architect and Situationist at heart, trained at the Bartlett and then Architectural Association (AA). A founding member of infamous avant-garde group called NATO (Narrative Architecture Today) with Nigel Coates back in the 80’s. Inspired by street life and dynamic urban situations we speculated and partied, produced 3 manifesto magazines, made exhibitions and posed for Vanity Faire magazine. With little or no work around I free lanced at Richard Rogers working on the Lloyds building, became associate with Ron Arad, set up in practice with three fellow students from a back room of an ex abattoir in Kensal and then the Leathermarket, Bermondsey. Alongside this I travelled back and forth from Paris where my life-time partner, Steve McAdam, was  working on the Park de La Villette for Bernard Tschumi. Soon after Steve and I started teaching at the AA, and in 1985 married soon to be followed by the birth of our two sons. Later teaching at North London University on Holloway Road, we developed a methodology through the studio for bottom up participatory design working on live estate regeneration projects. We established Fluid in 1996 with landmark projects being Kings Cross Central Framework and the Olympic Park and Legacy Masterplans where we established the principles for Statements of Community Involvement, later to become planning requirements. Understanding people, place and history has always informed out work and in 2007 we established sister company Soundings as a standalone and independent public engagement consultancy. Projects that sealed Soundings position in the market have been High Street 2012, Chelsea Barracks (only just concluded after 10 years of involvement) and more recently, Canada Water Masterplan, UCL East and Northfields Alperton which won St George a planning commendation this year. We are a 30 people practice based in Shoreditch where we maintain our interest in culture and urban conditions. Fluid continues to flourish working on some of London’s most exciting cultural placemaking projects including Culture Mile for the City of London and currently for the Royal Docks, Newham. What does your typical working day look like? My day starts…

On a good day - 6.00am for a run in the local woods, radio 4 news at 7.00, then cup of Greek mountain tea, emails and plan the day ahead. During work ...

Start with my favourite dry extra hot cappuccino, then it's a whirlwind of project, client, business and one to one meetings. After work ...

Catch up with my two sons, go boxing twice a week and quite often attend consultation events and workshops. On an evening ...

Home to north London, prepare a healthy meal super-fast and relax. I am a night owl and often pick up work and do my best thinking or drawings or personal projects.

How do you unwind on an evening or weekend? On the weekend, I love getting up early with the weekend ahead and I’ll do any chores, potter, shop for food, tend to my plants, buy some flowers and generally get things back in order after the week. Then it’s off to the gym followed by breakfast with friends in a café we’ve been going to for years. If I have nothing else to do I will go home and have a nap with my book and cup of tea, so good. I normally shower so in the weekend I love a long bath to soak in and make myself feel human. The evening is either out with friends or dinner at home, a good meal, some wine and a great film (or Strictly, it's a really good antidote). Sundays start with a 10 K run, croissants and the Archers omnibus. Whenever possible we spend time with our family sharing our news, views and plans during a long walk on the Heath, or a gallery visit, followed by a pub lunch. If we are not in London, we will be in Greece in the house and landscape we have created over the last 20 years by the sea on the Island of Evia and that is bliss. All that is needed is the sun, the sea, a ‘horiatiki salata’, wonderful bread dipped in our own olive oil and a glass of retsina (or maybe 2). Siesta with a great book! What is your favourite/most rewarding project you have worked on? Teaching is in many ways the most rewarding job I have done. The architectural studio system creates a laboratory style environment to explore ideas, inspire and in return test ideas. You build strong bonds and we have followed the paths of many who have taken leading roles in the field. In practice I would pick out the projects that have broken boundaries and made a difference, whether that was a live student project to build youth shelters in Spa Fields Park, Islington where we worked with local young people in the design and build. A temporary project, well before this became a norm, which was so successful the unique shelters were integrated into the re-landscaping of the park. The Gateway Centre, Derby – came out of a neighbourhood planning project following extensive engagement and an area wide strategy we had developed. The biggest building we have built (to date), the brief, forms, and materials were co-designed with the local community and Derbyshire County Cricket Club to deliver a building that served the needs of both and blurred the boundaries between them. What are the best and worst bits about your job? What I love about my job is that my mind is always expanding and being inspired, working with a great team of people and taking on challenging projects which are never the same but I believe matter and will make a difference. I love that we are not conventional and are always seeking to progress and do better. I am proud of what we have created and the mix of people we are coming from a variety of backgrounds and interests and cultures. We set up in practice to do not only what we believe in but to look forward everyday to come to work in an environment where we work hard, but we also have fun, and respect and support each other. Inevitably as we have grown and there are times when the pressures of work or internal conflicts rise to the surface. This along with having to make some hard business decisions especially addressing the ups and downs of the economy are the aspects of my job I don't enjoy. We have been very fortunate in the people who have worked for us and saying adieu can be hard. Who has had the biggest influence on your career and why? There have been a number of key people in my life helping shape my career. Firstly, my mother, who encouraged and supported me and never questioned me. She fought for her education as a young girl in pre-war time Athens and she enabled me to pursue my dreams even though architecture and the path I took was a mystery to her. She never said why don't you get a normal job! Then there was Nigel Coates, the most inspirational, unconventional tutor and brilliant educator at the AA. He changed the whole path of my career, literally leading me towards a way of thinking about architecture as narrative and scene setting and happenstance. We drew with pastels, drawings depicting extraordinary scenes and imaginations with people, animals and machines animating the spaces and architectural props. Architecture for architecture sake was no longer an option, it had to have a social, cultural or economic purpose. Later on there have been a number of social and community trail blazers and mentors, and especially Stephen Thake, who we had the fortune to collaborate with at North London University and who recognised in the work we were producing something a unique process and set of tools that evolved into the participatory tools that we have been using and refining ever since. The biggest influence in my life has been the partnership with Steve McAdam, my partner in life and work and the person I share a family, our businesses and our passions. A brilliant mind and the most generous personality totally unpredictable we met by chance or you could say fate over 40 years ago when our two lives collided by chance. What is the best bit of advice you have received in your career? Breathe deeply. Run for life. Listen. What is your favourite place? My favourite place has to be Greece. Our beautiful house by the sea, is all about bringing people together and is full of memories. There is no other place that makes me feel so good. I also love Athens, the most unplanned city, a cacophony of contrasting styles and juxtapositions. It has a messiness that exudes a zest for life expressed in the street life and buzz of cafes, bars and clubs. And then there is the history of the place which is ever present with the magnificent Acropolis a visual landmark for the whole city.

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