John Helyer

The creative mind welcomes inspiration from any source. Sometimes the unlikeliest.

Brockholes Visitor Centre is a ‘village’ of buildings on a new floating island, half the size of a football pitch, in a flooded gravel pit within an environmentally significant marshland near Preston. John was working on the project as the team was wrestling with the best method to float the buildings on the lake, when inspiration struck. In Clapham, London.

Clapham Junction train station was undergoing a major upgrade, and John noticed that large polystyrene blocks were placed on the tracks during working hours to provide access and protection. Rather than building the pontoon from steel girders with large buoyancy floats, as was being considered, John wondered if a large concrete raft with massive polystyrene blocks as ‘void formers’ could do a better job.

He brought the idea back to the design team, and the process commenced to test the theory and design the response. At Brockholes, the result was a multi-award-winning project that rises and falls with the water level within the lake – one that has become the number one visitor attraction in the region and achieved the client’s brief of experiencing the wetland at water level.

John’s uncle was an architect, and his grandfather a naval architect. When John was still at school, he was adept at mathematics and a keen artist as well. ‘I was keen on art, although I wasn’t very good at it,’ he laughs. ‘It’s probably why I didn’t become an architect. But I loved geometry and I loved lines on the page.’ The two fields of study coalesced and a career in engineering beckoned.

Although a man with a sound understanding of theory, John is also a naturally practical and curious person. He is still very much hands-on with the projects in his team - a trait born of his early years as an engineer. ‘I used to love climbing into lofts, smashing holes in walls, or getting grubby in cellars, trying to figure out how buildings worked and how they came together,’ he enthuses. ‘Investigating and finding out how things stood up; really looking into buildings.’

‘I like the detail of design,’ John explains. ‘I like sitting down with architects, not necessarily within the design team but sometimes just one-to-one, working things out. How does ‘this’ fix to ‘that’? How small should ‘this’ be? It’s great to have the two disciplines bouncing off each other.’

Joining Price & Myers in 1994 and becoming a Partner in 2005, John has a wealth of experience that serves as a tremendous asset to the design teams and clients he works with. ‘All those years have helped me to know where to look, to look in the right places, to eliminate and circumvent challenges,’ he points out. ‘I understand the value of good preparation – to think about things thoroughly before diving in.’

No one stays at a workplace for nearly three decades without loving it, and John is clear on what separates Price & Myers from most other practices. ‘It still has a ‘small-practice’ feel despite the growth in the time I’ve been here. And the variety of work we do is astonishing for a firm our size. But mostly, it’s the quality of our work and how we go about doing it that I think differs from our competitors.’

Ultimately John derives a great deal of satisfaction out of a job well done. ‘It’s all about getting things built,’ he says. ‘We like designing things and we like seeing things built. It’s like a kid with Lego, you want to see it finished.’ The desire to design with the finished product in mind impacts on the entire process. ‘You’ve got to think about that person on-site, trying to build what you’ve designed – actually, physically doing it. Some engineers don’t consider that. Your design is no good if it can’t be built. It’s no good technically and it’s no good financially for your client.’ John loves to see a project reach its completion. ‘I’m very proud of the work the practice has done. I love walking around London thinking ‘that’s one of mine’.


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