April's Old Brightonian of the Month is designer, author and TV presenter, Oliver Heath (Ry. 1983-88). Oliver tells us about his varied career (including a stint as a fire eater (!) ) and how running along the Brighton seafront with Zev, his dog, keeps him grounded.
When you were at Brighton College, what did you want to be when you ‘grew up’?
Rather unusually I knew at the age of 10 that I wanted to study architecture, which really helped me to focus my choice of studies and hone skills such as photography, drawing and making.
Tell us about yourself now you've grown up.
Not surprisingly I went to study architecture (for 6 intense but amazing years) and completed my postgraduate diploma in architecture at The Bartlett UCL. I now run an architectural and interior design company in Brighton where we specialise in designing for health and wellbeing.
Having said that I have had a rather eclectic career - along the way I have been a fire eater (quite dangerous) a windsurfing instructor (quite wet), ski photographer (quite cold). More professionally I have worked as an onscreen designer/presenter on television for the likes of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and even Norwegian TV, which has given me an incredible platform to discuss the value of good design and sustainability in the built environment.
Having travelled and worked around the world, I realise that I’m now extremely lucky to have found my way back to Brighton where I live with my wife, 2 children and perhaps too many animals.
What is your best memory of school?
The many opportunities presented and the self-confidence it gave me – whether it was the sports be that sailing, running, or swimming, in the CCF, or the creative and technical skills in the workshops.
What advice would you give to your school-age self?
To be deeply conscious of the changing nature of the world around you, to realise the potential of your position and influence- no matter what stage of life you are in. To have the courage of your convictions and seize the moment, to remember:
“if not you then who, if not now then when? “
What do you do as a career?
In my design company, we are specialists in human-centred design – which focuses on the creation of spaces to support physical and mental wellbeing. In particular, we focus on Biophilic Design which is how we enhance the human connection with nature in the built environment as a means to reduce stress and aid recuperation. Research demonstrates the remarkable improvements across a range of building typologies in productivity and creativity but also reductions in negative costs such as absenteeism and staff turnover. Much of our work is advising multinationals on incorporating human centred design strategies to create happier and healthier spaces to work in. But we have also advised in education, hospitality and domestic design settings with really positive results. I have also written 4 design books – my next book out in May 2021 called Design A Healthy Home. Without wanting to self-promote - I couldn’t resist a mention if only to shock any of my past English teachers who may be reading.
What does your job involve?
We have 3 strands of work that act both individually and together- media & teaching, research & writing, and live design projects.
Prior to the Covid lockdown, I spent much of my time travelling Europe, Scandinavia and the Far East teaching architects about wellbeing and Biophilic Design. Now, these are more simply delivered online.
We continue to research and write white papers on the subject of wellbeing and have just released an online course on “Biophilic Design in the Home”. Alongside this are the real-time commercial, strategic and detailed design projects that we deliver across the UK, Europe and Japan.
There’s always a lot going on, but you know, life would feel wasted if it were any other way.
What are the most challenging parts of your job?
Jumping between the many daily details of working life be that design projects, budgets, proposals, research, HR, websites, marketing and PR – often leaves me in a spin. Running along the seafront with my dog, Zev, is an essential grounding component of my life.
What would you say is your biggest achievement to date?
It’s not the awards or so-called celebrity nature of TV, but the ability to remain true to one’s beliefs whilst adapting and remaining relevant; to persist in ever-changing social, cultural, and financial environments, and ultimately to be able to support my family and staff.
What is the single thing that would most improve the quality of your life?
As any company director would tell you it’s having more blue-sky time for creative thinking. But failing that, a little patch of woodland where I could forest bathe would do nicely.
What are the three objects you would take with you to a desert island?
I can be a very practical person and would relish the time and opportunity to build in nature - who wouldn’t love to live in a treehouse?! So - my toolbox, a fire lighter, and a star chart to gaze into the sky at night with.
How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who passionately believed that better was possible - for both people and the planet.