M is for... "Most influential services engineer"
By Franzisca Moeller
21 August 2020
Following Max's recent decision to formally retire from the Max Fordham partnership, we are publishing a series of blog posts under the theme of "Max's Legacy" to celebrate his career, to highlight his outstanding achievements and to honour him as a person and our founder. Each blog post will be dedicated to a letter of his name, starting with...
M is for... "Most influential services engineer”
"Max Fordham FCIBSE is Britain’s most influential services engineer, and his practice continues to lead the field when it comes to innovative building services design" - CIBSE Journal, 2017
On the back of a 12-month period in which the practice's projects won the Stirling Prize (Newport Street Gallery), a second RIBA House of the Year Award in a row (Murphy House) and a triumphant CIBSE Building Performance Awards, where our Practice won in two of the most competitive categories – Building Consultant of the Year and Building of the Year: Public Use - Max was the cover star in CIBSE Journal, the UK's leading Building Services publication.
Touching on Max's background, the article mentioned his defining early-life experiences, including a harsh prep-school regime in Jamaica, which instilled in him a sense of discipline, and then later an entirely different educational experience at the progressive Dartington Hall School in Devon, which he remembers as having a ‘completely undisciplined environment’. With the only mandatory activity being ‘useful work’, seemingly focused on the maintenance of school buildings, Max took full advantage to learn wood and metalwork techniques.
After achieving A-Levels in double maths, physics and chemistry, Max read natural sciences at Cambridge, specialising in chemistry, physics, maths and mineralogy. "I proceeded to do badly at science academic subjects, but had tremendous fun", Max jokingly remembered.
Max went on to work at Weatherfoil Heating Systems, where he also met his future wife, Thalia. She later introduced Max to architect Sir Philip Dowson, the founding partner at Arup Associates, and Max was swiftly offered a role as a heating engineer.
In 1966, at the age of 33, Max moved on from Arup Associates to found his own business, 'Max Fordham', in the spare bedroom of his Camden home. He soon transformed the business into a co-operative and this later grew into the partnership we remain today.
We'll be covering Max's career and achievements in more detail in later blog posts, but if you're curious to learn more right away, you can click here to read the full CIBSE interview about how Max's story continued and led to him becoming Britain’s "most influential services engineer".
Career Timeline (as featured in CIBSE Journal in 2017)
- 1933: Born in Highgate to Michael Fordham and Molly Swabey
- 1939: Sent to preparatory school in Jamaica to escape World War II in Europe
- 1945-52: Attended Dartington Hall School in Devon
- 1952-54: National Service as pilot in the Fleet Air Arm
- 1954-57: Completed degree in natural sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge
- 1958: Spent a year at the National College of Heating, Ventilation, Refrigeration and Fan Engineering
- 1958-1961: Joined Weatherfoil Heating Systems as a development engineer
- 1961-66: Joined Building Group (now Arup Associates) as building services engineer
- 1966: Created Max Fordham
- 1973: Turned Max Fordham into a partnership
- 1984: Became a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
- 1994: Made an OBE
- 1992: Elected fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering
- 1997: Awarded CIBSE Gold Medal
- 2001: President of CIBSE
- 2008: Won the Prince Philip Designers Prize
Max captivating over 500 guests at the Practice’s 50th Anniversary celebration at Tate Modern in September 2016
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