How buildings learn: Evolving The Ev

In which views are exchanged and an idea is had.

For the future.

For the future.

I’ve written before on here about one of my favourite architecture books ‘How buildings learn: What happens after they’re built’ by Stewart Brand. And I’ve been talking about it this week. Talking about it in our new Everyman with Artistic Director Gemma Bodinetz and Executive Director Deborah Aydon.280px-how_buildings_learn_stewart_brand_book_cover

They asked me if I’d come and talk to them after I’d written a frankly critical post about the new building called ‘Great Expectations’ on the very evening when it had won the RIBA Sterling Award for the best new building of the year. Contrary, like.

My criticisms weren’t aimed at the building as a whole but at what I see as its slow start so far as a natural gathering place for the people of the city. Along the way I also had some specific criticisms of the food and the downstairs Bistro. Not everyone agreed with me, on here or on Twitter, but enough feelings were strongly expressed to set the scene for a lively discussion, as we sat down to talk about The Everyman and its future.

We met in the Bistro, naturally. In the cosy corner by the fire.

We met in the Bistro, naturally. In the cosy corner by the fire.

Gemma Bodinetz and Deborah Aydon.

Gemma Bodinetz and Deborah Aydon.

Gemma and Deborah have been at The Ev for eleven years now and ‘passionate’ isn’t a strong enough word to describe how they feel about the place’s new home. My simple statement that ‘I don’t like the lights’ was leapt upon by Gemma with a ragged fury, making it very clear that she not only loves them but thought very hard and picked and placed every last one of them and will defend them to the death, if she has to. It was a joyous discussion, a proper classic Everyman debate. About which, more later.

The new Bistro, with the new lights.

The new Bistro, with the new lights.

But first, a few facts. The food in the street level café looks much improved and like it will now fit into the average mouth. I haven’t tasted any but I’d discovered this on calling in earlier in the day and attempting to do some ‘mystery shopping’. The ‘mystery’ bit of this being entirely ruined when Deborah wandered up to me and said ‘Hello Ronnie, you’re a bit early?’

Anyway, upstairs was full, a range of ages and seemed to be working.

Later on downstairs Gemma and Deborah were keen to get a few things straight:

  • That the opening food offer was wrong and over expensive;
  • So it’s now much cheaper, more varied and they’re delighted with what the new chef’s up to (sample menus here);
  • There was only ever table service in the opening weeks when the place was too busy for people to get served at the bar;
  • So there’s no table service now;
  • And the prices they’ve heard quoted for things like a pint of Guinness are well into the realm of urban myths.

So we talked about ideas for making downstairs more obvious and welcoming, thoughts of mine and other friends about a clearer definition of the food and the bar areas, of creating more of a canteen feel with big welcoming blackboards, and less of a ‘plated up’ feel so you could assemble your own meal from a wider choice of elements. These and many more practical ideas, like the fact that you can split or join up the tables depending on how many of you there are. Ideas that might happen and might, or might not work. And also I mentioned something about the lights, of course.

But mostly we talked about time. Which is where Stewart Brand’s book came in. For all it looks and feels a bit like the old Ev, this is a new building, only just beginning its life. Only just beginning the evolution that all buildings go through once the architects have gone and the dust of building them has settled. Stewart Brand’s argument is that all new buildings are a best guess. And the most successful in the end are always those buildings that learn from their user’s and adapt accordingly.

It took 40 years for the old Ev to evolve into this.

It took 40 years for the old Ev to evolve into this.

40 years of trial, error and gatherings.

40 years of trial, error and gatherings.

And that Ev ended in 2011.

And that Ev ended in 2011.

So seen through these eyes, the new Ev hasn’t had its first winter yet. The Street Café’s had a spring and a summer and so had enough users on long, bright days to begin its journey towards being the street café people want. But the Bistro was always more of an autumn and winter place. Somewhere warm, cosy and sparkly to brighten up the darkling days. And the clocks go back this weekend, so maybe the Bistro can now begin its own evolution?

Having talked about the food and the facts, Gemma, Deborah and I turned to my more serious criticism that the Bistro is not working as a gathering place. We batted thoughts backwards and forwards about this and ideas why:

  • As is clear from a good number of the comments on ‘Great Expectations’ – many people came once, decided it didn’t work and haven’t been back;
  • This at a time when the food was admittedly wrong and the temporary table service gave the idea it would always be that way;
  • That maybe by making the new Bistro more clearly connected with the Theatre than the old one, they’ve created more of a feel that it’s only for theatre-goers?
  • Whereas it’s obviously for everyone.

But again we ended up talking mainly about this time thing. Deborah was saying that she’d love nothing more than to walk into the Bistro and see passionate conversations about sorting the world out going on in the corners of the place. But so far they’re not, much, because us lot are simply not using the place yet, much.

Which gave me an idea for a practical action I could take.

Now the nights are drawing in why don’t some of us give the place a go and start gathering there? To see how the place is doing. To see how it actually feels. And to start it’s evolution into the place people actually want. Not the old Ev that took 40 years to evolve. But the new Ev that is only just beginning its evolution.

As my contribution, I propose trying something out. So, in the evening, a week on Tuesday, will be held the first of what might turn out to be a regular series of gatherings, based on this blog and so called ‘a sense of place’. Where we’ll take over a couple of tables in the corner of the Bistro, and have conversations between us prompted by recent posts on the blog. I’m going to start, for this event, with a discussion based on my recent ‘A year to live: 10 things I’ve learned’. This has prompted high views and much thought and comment and it would be lovely to see where a conversation about it all might lead. It would also be lovely for me to meet some of you who read this. Obviously I do actually know some of you, but views being very high now it would be great to meet some more of you.

What do you think? I’ll write some more about it before the evening, but I’d be glad to know now what you think of the idea?

I know it’s tempting to kick off with a discussion about The Ev itself, but I think we’ve got to build up our collective experience of actually being there before we get round to that.

So, Tuesday evening (After work? From 6:00 onwards?) – 4th November. Let’s give it a go. Let’s start making the new Ev into a gathering place for all of us.

As I left a band were setting up. For the first of the new, regular Wednesday music evenings.

As we finished our discussion a band were setting up. For the first of the new, regular Wednesday music evenings.

In the new Ev, the one we've got now.

In the new Ev, the one we’ve got now.

So let’s get the old film out and watch it one last time.

Then let’s put the past away and get on with evolving our new Ev for the future. It would be stupid not to.

Thanks for the argument you two! See you soon.

Thanks for the discussion and all you’ve achieved so far you two. See you soon.

So, Tuesday evening (After work? From 6:00 onwards?) – 4th November. Let’s give it a go. Let’s start making the new Ev into a gathering place for all of us.

8 thoughts on “How buildings learn: Evolving The Ev

  1. robertday154

    Well, I’m only sorry now that my new job is in Leicester and not Liverpool, otherwise I’d be there! I have very few connections with Liverpool – been three or four times and enjoyed it – but your blog has impressed me so much that I would like to meet the guy who writes it! (and who has helped me rediscover my vinyl collection, even though our musical tastes are very different…)

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Overjoyed to hear about your LPs Robert. Aren’t they great things? My taste is an increasingly strange new development of what it used to be, now I can actually feel the music again. By the way, what is to your taste?

      Glad to hear about Leicester and the new job too. Maybe I’ll do a national tour of discussions one of these days? Stranger things…

      Reply
  2. Miranda

    Very heartening, Ronnie. I do hope you’re right, but of course there’ll be competition next door soon! Let’s hope they both inspire each other and evolve in some complementary way.
    By the way, I’ve shared it on Facebook – might as well use it before I pack it in (if I really ever do!)

    Great to catch up – hope the new idea takes off.

    Reply
  3. stephen sullivan

    A great idea Ronnie. I will be there and look forward to it. Count me in. If anything crops up that prevents me making it I will let you know.

    Reply

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