How to turn a 1900s bullfighting ring into the drone hub of the future (or, “What the number 42 means to me”​)

This is a brief story about how an architect asked me to help him turn a bullfighting ring into a drone hub, and we had a great time doing it.

**UPDATE: I have linked to Fred’s article, and the open source design files, at the bottom of this article. Thanks!**

In Douglas Adams’ truly seminal book series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy there is a storyline around building ever-improved super computers that draw closer to having the computational power to be able to comprehend the question of the meaning of life. In a way, this is how I view life – I seek to evolve and learn to make a better version of myself, which in turn incrementally ratchets the whole human race up a notch.

It’s a tiny notch, granted…but it’s still a notch.

The other truly great read that is fundamental to my very being is Michael Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It taught me to view the world in terms of Quality, and in doing so helped me to rationalise and harmonise the traditionally disparate technical, business and creative parts of my self. And yet whilst this was a wonderful personal revelation that has shaped the way I view and lead my life, it is only now that I realise that its effect extends outside my personal bounds.

Never turn down a project that inspires you.

A few months ago, I received a short message from a university contact asking if I would mind sparing a few minutes to talk to a relative who was working on a project that involved drones. As a consultant and a drone geek I get asked questions like this regularly. The questions themselves are usually the same – What are the Regulations? What can they lift/do/see? Do I think that Amazon will really ever deliver me my milk?

Over time what has surprised me is not what I have been asked, but rather the who and the why. An archaeologist wanting to preserve a site. A cane farmer wanting to look at some weeds in the middle of a field so he doesn’t have to worry about snakes…and an architect who wants to turn a disused bullfighting ring into the transportation hub of the future.

Frederick Ajjoub is an always-smiling, friendly and talented architect who is currently doing a masters in Barcelona. For his studies, he was given the task of finding a new use for a bullfighting ring in Barcelona that was no longer in use since bullfighting was made illegal a few years prior. Fred saw its location, and some recent articles about drones, and he knew he had his idea.

Fred pitched his idea to me over Skype, accompanied by some early concept sketches and some research clippings from the internet. He was passionate. He was energised. He knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he had many questions. New questions.

I like new questions.

Over the course of a few short weeks, we became experts at the screen-sharing international meeting; pens blurring as they moved across image after image and design after design.

What started as a short chat quickly ignited into a wonderful exchange of knowledge and ideas – I knew little about architecture and town planning, and Fred was new drones – however the idea inspired both of us and formed the nexus for an exchange that has enriched both of us, and I hope has lead to a better project outcome. (you can see Fred’s incredible work for yourself, and provide feedback in the comments to help us learn even more!).

And this is what grabs me about Pirsig’s vision. You don’t need to be an accountant to enjoy accounting. You just need to find someone passionate so you can feel it in their terms.

Without passionate people, I would never have learned how to smuggle wine.

Recently, at one particular building trade show, I learned all the normal things about recycling biomass to heat workplaces; what the latest in concrete rebar is; and what the latest changes in BIM law are. All of these conversations were fascinating, quite simply because the people talking to me were passionate about what they do, and passion is infectious. At the same time, it goes beyond that. Just enjoying people and their passions means that a whole new world of conversations opens up. Which means at the same trade show, I also learned about wine smuggling between France and the UK, and what it is like to live on an oil rig.

I didn’t need to take the phone call with Fred…I was simultaneously juggling a large work project, some new prospects, and the demands of a life in a new city. But a short conversation takes only a few minutes, and if you are lucky enough to stumble onto that passionate spark in those short few minutes, it can blossom into something that can make your year, and your life just that much better. And that’s my 42.

In the interest of getting further feedback and to stimulate further sharing and discussion about the topic, Fred and I have released the design files for public access. You can read more about Fred’s design and explore it in 3D in his article here, where you can find the links to download the models.

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