10 must-read interviews about the built environment

From power blackouts created by ‘incompetent leadership’ to highlighting racial discrimination in US home valuation, we’ve spoken to some amazing people


  • Modus staff

13 December 2021

Headshots of 10 interviewees

This year has been a fascinating one for the built environment. Modus has spoken to leading industry experts about everything from post-pandemic economic recoveries fuelled by green infrastructure to the gas crisis in Europe.

We’ve put together 10 of our favourite interviews this year, with people who really captured our imagination.

Jonathan Manns FRICS

Jonathan Manns FRICS discusses his work with the UK government’s Suburban Taskforce, including transport connectivity, quality of green space and the need for local leaders to be empowered. 

“Suburbs will have a much more varied offering for residents, as many take on more ‘urban’ characteristics in parts, shattering long-held perceptions of the suburbs as green, leafy, low density and residential.”

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Helen Newman headshot

Helen Newman

CBRE UK’s head of sustainability Helen Newman describes how building greener infrastructure can power the global recovery after COVID-19. And why moving towards circular economies is crucial.

“The global construction and real estate sector must prioritise wide-ranging energy efficiency measures both across existing assets as the focus for any retrofitting, and as the first principle for any new construction.”

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Melanie Ross headshot

Melanie Ross

Melanie Ross leads the Green Building Technologies research group at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Her team is looking at ways that our homes can become net positive energy through a range of innovative technologies.

“The building is like a playground for innovators to come in and try things ... We have 3 million points of data coming in on a regular basis to continuously monitor and evaluate all the different systems and building elements.” 

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Sanjay Dutt FRICS

Sanjay Dutt FRICS says Indian real estate has been on a ‘rollercoaster ride’ for the last decade and COVID-19 is just the latest in a long line of setbacks. However, the country is now tapping into local talent as part of its post-pandemic recovery.

“In India, we have always placed an emphasis on education. A lot of talent went to the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, Singapore. You will see Indians pretty much everywhere. Elon Musk may discover Indians on Mars when he gets there.”

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David Duffy

David Duffy FRICS

David Duffy FRICS has been a chartered surveyor for 50 years and is now working on a museum in Lithuania that marks a dark period in the country’s history. He explains why this project is the most challenging one of his career.

“The prime minister of Lithuania told the press after a visit to the site that it’s something the country still hasn’t owned up to – these basic facts of the Holocaust in their country.”

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Richard Palmer

Richard Palmer MRICS

Richard Palmer MRICS explains how the current gas crisis developed, the importance of managing energy security risk and ramping up efforts to decarbonise heat.

“A key factor now is the weather. If we get a cold snap this will have an even bigger influence on energy prices.”

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Johnnie White

Johnnie White is CEO of the American Society of Appraisers. He says unconscious bias is creating discrimination and inequality in US home valuations. This is backed up by the Brookings report, which found that black homes are still devalued by between 19% and 22% compared to white homes.

“When the valuation system was established, there was what we call ‘redlining’ in place. This meant they would separate neighbourhoods and communities racially.”

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Ed Hirs

Ed Hirs

Ed Hirs is an energy economist at the University of Houston. He explains why years of neglected infrastructure was a catastrophe waiting to happen when Texas suffered a power blackout during ice storms in February.

“Incompetence and lack of imagination at the highest level of leadership led to this nightmare on the ground.”

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Doris Brown

Doris Brown

Doris Brown’s home was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and she, like so many others, did not have flood insurance. Now the activist and co-director of West Street Recovery works with communities on resilience and response plans.

“The water started coming in through the back. Then I heard a crash — the roof had fallen in. I’ve never seen anything like it. The water was just gushing over my clothes, and then the bathroom ceiling fell in too.”

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Young Surveyor of the Year, Ryan Ip, talks about Hong Kong’s lack of affordable homes and the challenges of advising the government on housing policy.

“The work itself can be quite fun. You have a chance to shape policy, to shape the industry, to shape strategies for our society. We are surrounded by great people and there are a lot of chances for young surveyors to interact with seasoned professionals.”

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