In conversation with | Andrew Pender

“Great design happens when there is a clear vision and a shared purpose. To support this, we value leadership and a generous collaborative spirit from all our team.”

Andrew’s sharpness means he brings a clear focus to briefing and client communication within all of his work. He has a special interest in the interaction of architecture and pedagogy. Andrew is known for intelligence, quick wit and equally bespoke and strategic architectural solutions.

Do you talk about your work with people outside the office?
Sometimes. I’ve found it helpful over the years to compare notes with other business leaders and owners, for example. But I learned early on that not everyone wants to talk about design for hours on end!

What is your musical preference?
Right now, anything live in a pub.

What is the best part of your working day?
Any time I can actively participate and add value to our design work.

Your key focus has been in the Education sector, what prompted your interest and focus in this field?
I had the opportunity to work in the sector early in my career, and I found the ability to engage closely with clients and their needs particularly rewarding. Also, it’s a fascinating field with the pace and scope of change in the sector as technology transforms the way we live, work and learn. And there’s a social good – almost everyone you encounter in the sector is genuinely committed to that, and it’s great to be a small part of it.

But whilst that’s been – and remains – very much my key area of focus, I’ve also been fortunate to have been involved with clients in the retail and commercial sectors. Similarly, it’s the opportunity to engage with these clients and build strong relationships with them that allows us to develop real insight into their needs. That transcends any individual sector.

What are the key factors in leading Education design and how do you see it evolving over the next 5 years?
There’s one key factor that is way out front of any others – people. Learning is a fundamental human activity, and design has to come from an understanding of people’s needs in these settings. And of course understanding as well that these needs vary depending upon a wide range of factors, even within what might seem to be a relatively tight cohort. Design needs to support an inclusive educational practice.

Our understanding of how people learn is evolving quickly. For example I’m interested in how our growing understanding of learning and behaviour through neuroscience will inform our design as the research emerges.

The things we’re conceptualising now will just be occupied in 4-5 years, so we’re right in the thick of that evolution. Within that timeframe we’ll see probably see two evolutionary cycles in technology as well, so in a way we’re designing for practices and behaviours that don’t exist yet. We need to design places that can support a range of settings and practices – even those that are as yet unknown – rather than be prescriptive.


William Clarke College

Is there a formula?
No there isn’t, but we develop techniques that we continue to refine as we learn, and these can be applied to a range of problems. I think that one of the keys to good design is understanding what makes each opportunity perhaps not unique but different. That’s the insight that can lead to truly great solutions.

Which project has given you the most satisfaction thus far?
No single project, but it’s the long term relationships that I find satisfying, the ability to contribute over a period of time and build deep relationships. And it’s great to see our work used and inhabited over time, I learn a lot from that.

What is the biggest challenge ahead and where do you see PMDL in 5 years?
Clearly the biggest challenges are all the different “recoveries” that are required from the impacts of the pandemic. I believe that PMDL will continue to thrive and grow – we are always mindful of the need to keep our offer relevant.  To do this we will have to watch carefully and respond to the changes in the way people work, learn and socialise. I don’t think we have anything like a clear picture of how this will play out yet.

I’m confident though that the outlook is positive. One of PMDL’s strengths has been the diversity of our work and the geographical spread of the markets we work in, and we intend to build on that.

We also learned last year how important our team is – we always knew this but the way they rose to the challenges was a stark reminder of the reality of that statement.  It’s key to our future that we continue to focus on what we can offer our team, both professionally and personally.

Where do you get your news from?
A variety of sources, and I value credible, professional journalism highly. I actively look for opinions I don’t agree with – I think the echo chambers produced by customised feeds and social media are incredibly dangerous and divisive.