Making paella with the “Design & Build Method”

Juan Guaita (Valencian and Head of Build) and Miquel Àngel Julià Hierro, (Catalan and Head of Design), meet in a place between Barcelona and Valencia to decide how to make the best paella.

Starting the text in this way may seem like the beginning of a joke, but it is not, because in reality, we like to think that designing is like cooking. The ingredients can be the same, but depending on the dish we want to prepare, we will use some or others. It is a question of culture, tradition… and the “know-how” of each one.

Is it only a question of choosing the “best” recipe?

It seems that we are both, at heart, talking about Design and Construction and that, therefore, we are looking for the method to get the job done in the best possible way. It would seem then that we are talking about the “Design Thinking” concept developed by Tim Brown 15 years ago, or that we are looking for a method like “The Grönholm Method” from that ruthless and hilarious theatrical comedy and film by Jordi Galceran. In this case, the method lies in the personnel selection technique in which the selected people competing for the same position interact and eliminate each other.

But for the “Design & Build Method”, what we are talking about is to find a work scheme different from the conventional one that allows us a better collaboration between specialists and assures us with greater accuracy the success of the execution of the projects. A work methodology in which the designer and the contractor work hand in hand and in synchrony, in order to avoid cost overruns and save time in the entire project to ensure the final cost of the project from the beginning and achieving, in turn, a reduction of time in the total execution of the project.

Going back to the culinary simile, of course we do not propose to make a paella in the microwave to reduce time, but we do talk about innovating. In Creativity and Design, a phrase that we use a lot was given to us by Ferrán Adrià, even though it was not his own: “Creativity is not copying”. Curiously, after years of talking about creativity and using different phrases to define what it is, he had to resort to a phrase of the French chef Jacques Maximin pronounced in a conference in 1987. Years later, when Ferran Adrià spoke to him on the subject, Maximin could not even remember ever having uttered the phrase.

The method must have a holistic basis, placing the user at the center and not the designer. The important thing is not just the chef, nor the Michelin stars the restaurant accumulates. The important thing is the customer, and Ferrán Adrià is more than clear about this, as evidenced by his “Sapiens Method” applied to all kinds of business projects.

By the way, every good chef does not stay locked up in his kitchen, but goes out to talk to the guest, carrying out an “active listening” to learn from his client and improve for the next occasions.

We may think that, when talking about implementation and construction in architecture, we are not talking about design or creativity and we are talking about copying or replicating. This is not true. All processes and all members of a project must be creative throughout its value chain.

Therefore, it may seem that the best paella cannot come from repeating what a recipe tells us, but from making our imagination fly by cooking something from scratch and from a lack of knowledge. But it is then when the Valencian, thanks to his “expertise“, will beat the Catalan, because the latter will start to make sautés and introduce more ingredients than usual in the pan and the final result, even though it may be good and edible, will be far from what we consider a paella.

Let’s remember one thing, paella is called paella, because it takes its name from the utensil where it is cooked. The famous dish takes its name from the container, which basically means “pan” in Valencian. The real paella, the Valencian will tell us, is cooked with firewood. To make it with gas or on a glass-ceramic hob is sacrilege. And as far as the selection of the firewood is concerned, every good paella master will tell us that the best paella is made with orange tree firewood, or lemon tree firewood for that matter.

When talking about the ingredients, let’s forget about the creative improvisation of the Catalan. No more looking at what we have in the fridge, because we will end up making a “rice with stuff”, but not a paella. The ingredients of the paella are not discussed, they are what they are. Two essential vegetables: Garrofó and Bajoqueta (pronounced “bachoqueta”), although the Catalan call it green bean. At most we can make the artichoke appear, but no other vegetable. We are not making a salad in which anything can be included. The same happens with the meat, only chicken and rabbit are allowed.

When we talk about “Design & Build Method” we talk about designing, implementing and building, that is, what our clients call a “Turnkey Project”. Basically, it is the same thing we expect when we go to eat at a restaurant, we want the complete value proposition. And how do you create a new recipe, either for a traditional dish that generation after generation is still prepared the same way, or for a new dish that no one has created before, but that must be on the menu and be repeatable? Perhaps, the first thing we should do is to deconstruct the traditional paella, to “reassemble” it. This is what in the industrial world we might call “de-engineering”.

Why do we need a method? It is simply to have a tool that allows us to visualize, organize and share processes and ideas with the rest of the team. We need teams to focus on action in a dynamic, proactive and agile way. If we go into the kitchen of a good restaurant, we will see that each team member does his or her job and moves forward without depending on the rest and without cluttering or slowing down the collective work.

It may seem that the designer works by creating from chaos and that, on the other hand, the engineer only embraces order. This is not true. As Ferrán Adrià would say, “for a team to be creative, it must be tidy. To obtain a creative result, a certain amount of chaos must be created, but it is necessary to start from tidiness”. This means having an efficient working method. We need a work formula that allows us to innovate and continuously improve both the product and the work processes applied. This is achieved through conversation and observation.

There may not be a magic formula to make the best project, but as Bruno Zevi said, “not having answers is no excuse for not having a method”. In the meantime, we’d better savor the paella they offer us from Valencia and let’s make the best paella always the next one. Bon appetit!

Miquel Àngel Julià Hierro (Design and Marketing Director of Grup Idea) and Juan Guaita (CEO of Abessis)