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Talking Points

Surface Design Show 2024

22 Sep 2022



Welcome to our ‘Meet the Judges’ series! This is a 3-part series where we talk to every one of our judges to get an insight into what their take is on the hugely anticipated, Surface Design Awards 2023.

In our third and final edition, we hear from; Charlotte McCarthy, Stacey McGonigal and Rion Willard. We are so pleased to have them on board, and that concludes our line-up for this year’s panel!

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Charlotte McCarthy

What are you looking forward to most being part of the Surface Design Awards judging panel?

I’m really excited to be surprised by innovation and beauty and also to be part of an initiative that is celebrating emerging talent. And discussing the entries with the other fantastic judges of course…

What are you personally looking for in terms of entries?

At Heatherwick Studio we are really driven by thinking about emotion and the human experience of anything we work on. I’d love to see entries which embrace this.

What advice would you give to those looking to submit a successful award?

Choose something which really represents you.

Why are awards so important to architects and designers?

 Obviously, they are a chance to celebrate a project and bring everyone together if you win, and a way of building your reputation. They are also a great way of pushing the profession forward more widely, through the emphasis on sustainability, community, and other key issues all projects should be considering.

What are some emerging trends in materials you’ve noticed?

There is growing popularity and so much innovation in plant-based materials at the moment due to their environmental performance. Anything biodegradable that can lower the embodied carbon footprint of buildings is at the forefront of future material conversations – particularly mycelium, algae, and food waste. I’ve recently been inspired by restaurant designers who are using the restaurant’s own food waste to create beautiful products for the brand. It’s such a compelling and meaningful story.

Sustainability is once again a leading criterion for every project, what’s your experience of successfully delivering sustainable solutions in what you do?

As a studio we’re looking at this all the time and I’m so pleased this is now at the top of everyone’s agenda – awards included.  Below are three current and recent projects that have had sustainable design at the heart of their design in different ways.

Google Bay View:

This project has created adaptable workspace for 5,000 people in three buildings set within a 40-acre park and wetland habitat. It is aiming to achieve LEED Platinum and the Living Building’s Challenge Material Petal. It features a dragonscale solar roof, equipped with 90,000 silver solar panels using the latest BIPV solar technology, and has the largest geothermal pile system in North America, reducing energy demand by using the steady temperature of the earth to heat and cool the campus.


An electric vehicle that uses advanced filtration to clean the air of harmful particulate matter as it drives – the first car to apply this technology. The flexible interior will offer alternative living space as well as a premium driving experience, with natural materials reducing the number of volatile organic compounds, making it healthier and more sustainable.

Maggie’s Yorkshire:

This healthcare building integrates biophilia in a welcoming, healing environment for those affected by cancer. The design utilises natural materials throughout, with prefabricated timber and breathable healthy materials. The building’s low energy design takes a fabric-first approach, with excellent air tightness, building form and fabric thermal performance making the demand for heat exceptionally low. The surrounding gardens have increased biodiversity on the site by 436%.

The theme of the 2023 Surface Design Show is ‘shaping communities’ Can you describe a project that Heatherwick Studio has been involved with that incorporates a strong sense of community?

In the heart of Nottingham, the studio is working with the local council to revitalise a 20-acre site. This includes salvaging and reusing the partially demolished shell of a 1970’s shopping mall to provide a new space for a variety of functions, all of which have been flagged by local residents as something they’d like in their town centre.

Repurposing the frame of the mall will reduce the waste and carbon emissions from new construction and provide space for a wide range of community uses including communal kitchens, theatres, learning spaces and sports facilities. The design solution seeks to create a bridge between generations, communities and cultures in the city.


Stacey McGonigal

What are you looking forward to most being part of the Surface Design Awards judging panel?

Fresh innovation and new perspectives! In other years, I have viewed the work of surface design nominees from the outside. I’ve always been impressed by the creativity and playfulness of the work. It leaves me energised and I am truly excited to now be a part of the process. I also hope the projects showcased through these awards can spark inspiration and conversation around what systems and processes we might be able to implement collectively to reduce our impact on the planet. I believe our journey towards a circular built environment must happen collaboratively

 What are you personally looking for in terms of entries?

We are in the midst of the greatest and most pressing emergency of our time – climate change. I see this as a huge creative opportunity. I am looking for those entries which hold circularity at their core and give us hope as designers for a regenerative future. From a materiality perspective, I’m hoping to see some projects that capture some of the breadth and excitement in recent materials research and innovation.

What advice would you give to those looking to submit a successful award?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but personally, I think it’s important to leverage the visual eccentricities of some circular materials, particularly those made from waste, and highlight those eccentricities as features. We have a tendency to want uniformity and a desire to cover up any inconsistent surfaces with paints or coatings. I invite those submitting to celebrate these qualities within your designs, and in the process, you might inspire others to see the beauty in them too.  

Why are awards so important to architects and designers?

To be recognised for your hard work means a lot to those working in the design industry. The hours are long, and you pour your heart into every project you work on. Being rewarded for that hard work and having exposure to a wider audience is so valuable.

What are some emerging trends in materials you’ve noticed?

Building materials have been grappling with supply chain disruptions brought on in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has accelerated interest in new reuse and remanufacturing opportunities. A lack of access to virgin raw materials has encouraged designers and manufacturers to view waste as a valuable resource and viable feedstock for new material to create more interesting surfaces and products. The reuse, redesign and remanufacture of products and resources already in existence, as well as increasing recycled content in new materials will be an integral part to reducing carbon emissions and reliance on new resources.



Rion Willard

What are you looking forward to most being part of the Surface Design Awards judging panel?

Firstly, I am humbled to be selected as a judge and to be part of a panel of extremely talented individuals. I greatly look forward to reviewing the entries and seeing how designers and architects have been pushing boundaries and solving problems. I also look forward to meeting the other judges and hearing and learning from their experiences and outlooks.

What are you personally looking for in terms of entries?

Aside from design, context, and the appropriateness of material choices. I’ll be keen to see if there is an understanding of a broad context of the client’s problems and the constraints of the project from historic considerations, finances, and performative demands, that have led to certain material choices

What advice would you give to those looking to submit a successful award?

As architects we are principally encouraged to focus on design, but a successful applicant is one who’s design shows that all facets have been considered and the building excels beyond the aesthetic into a vibrant space to inhabit.

Why are awards so important to architects and designers?

I think awards at their best are an important way of architects and designers self-regulating and setting ideals and standards. Great design often doesn’t scream out for attention, it’s seamless, functional, elegant, practical - it makes life easier and higher quality, part of that means it’s not always consciously noticed by the people who use it. So having moments where other architects and designers take the time to applaud and celebrate the work of others with the knowledge and understanding of the challenges that it took to execute something which might be overlooked is important. For example, in a traditional contract based on a fee % of construction, a client might not necessarily understand why the architect’s fee increases because they've chosen a more expensive carpet or tile, the reality is that with the use of expensive materials there is more demand for consideration of detail in execution. So, awards are moments of recognition. Awards also serve an important vehicle to market to other architects. Having a good industry standing is very positive from a client’s perspective when choosing an architect and it also serves for that practice to attract other talented architects to work for them.

What are some emerging trends in materials you’ve noticed?

There’s an ever-increasing sophistication of emerging material technologies, ‘faux’ materials such as composites that have digital images baked into them are incredibly impressive and difficult to spot at first, these are incredibly durable and present many sustainable solutions for lessening embodied energies through production and transport. Digital fabrication methods with how natural stones are cut and how tiles might be produced are also extraordinary.

Sustainability is once again a leading criteria for every project, what’s your experience of successfully delivering sustainable solutions in what you do?

Communication and expectation management with clients. A lot of my consulting clients are driving powerful sustainable agendas within their work and communicating and attracting clients with aligned values is key. The path to being sustainable isn’t always what people are expecting and there’s a lot of education and patience required to ensure clients understand the long-term value vs the short term expense.

As the theme of the Surface Design Show 2023 is ‘shaping communities’ can you describe a project, perhaps that the Thinking Hand Studio has been involved with that has really engaged the community?

We typically work with high end private users, so the communities tend to be families. However, a few years ago we were involved in a monastery project in Northumberland for a Buddhist community of monastics and contemplatives. I personally spent a lot of time with the community, living with them for short periods (a week at a time) engaging in the flow and practices of the monastery, partly to understand the community better but the real lessons were in my own contemplative practices. What was interesting was that although it was a community that might appear to be outside of the busyness of modern life, it was deeply connected to the local communities both Thai, Sri Lankan and the local Northumberlanders who had begun on a path of contemplative enquiry. This notion is becoming ever more pertinent in today’s disorientating and restless society. It was wonderful to design a series of spaces that connected and helped the monastery flow better and provided spaces for the contemplative community to host and serve the lay people community that supported and were interested in these ancient practices.

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