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The Art of Slow: HOK’s John Prevc Calls on Architects to Befriend Time

Aided and abetted by our digital devices, we’re experiencing life at an exponentially fast pace. For many, however, the technology-enhanced speed of our daily lives, which has brought so much change in such a short period of time, also has brought stress and anxiety.

We all control how we experience time. But John Prevc, RIBA, ARB, urban design leader for HOK in London, believes that architects can contribute to people’s health and well-being by creating more places that give them opportunities to slow down, reflect and recalibrate their lives to find more balance. To do this, architects need to undertake a more considered design process and prioritize satisfying universal human needs over their own egos. This was the topic of Prevc’s “The Art of Slow” presentation that took place in HOK’s London studio on Nov. 14 as part of the firm’s “Thinking Out Loud” speaker series.

Watch Prevc’s presentation:

Prevc credited Milan Kundera’s 1995 novel Slowness as a source of inspiration for his “slow time is happy time” perspective, noting that the author suggests that “speed creates vulgarity, as beauty can only be produced with due consideration.”

After describing how composers Brian Eno and Steve Reich and artist Olafur Eliasson have incorporated rhythm and repetition to slow down time in their pieces, Prevc explained how architects including Jan Gehl, Mies van der Rohe, Norman Foster, Gyo Obata, Louis Kahn and Peter Zumthor have used rhythm, repetition, form, scale, spatial relationships, materials and more to design buildings that influence how people experience time and, ultimately, elevate the human spirit.

Gyo Obata’s Priory Chapel at Saint Louis Abbey

One challenge to creating meaningful design is that architects often are pressured to work quickly to meet budget and schedule constraints. Yet they also must get the design right in order to create places that will work at different speeds and endure over time. Prevc called on architects to take the time they need to truly understand the client brief and site before beginning to design.

“A process which is well-managed, collaborative and that uses the most appropriate tools will produce a finer and richer city,” said Prevc. “Using time as a value generator—a friend rather than an enemy—can only be positive. It’s actually not about fast or slow. Rather it’s more about a balance: Finding a place in which we can all lead happier, healthier lives.”

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