X is for... Extraordinary

By Franzisca Moeller

09 September 2020

This rare and unusual third-to-last letter in the modern English alphabet rounds up Max's first name and is the subject of this third "Max's Legacy" blog post. In addition to being an "acclaimed physicist" and "Britain's most influential services engineer", Max has always been...

X is for... extraordinary

Inside the front door of our London office, inscribed on the wall, is a quote. It reads:

"Start with the edge of the universe as a boundary and quickly narrow down to the specific problem."

Max in the office for cake on his 86th birthday, next to his quote

Max has always been a fan of out-of-the-box thinking and of approaching every task with an open mind. This led to him venturing off the beaten track often, and instead choosing extraordinary paths.

Starting from a room in his home, Max pursued a new approach to engineering practice based on his own insatiable curiosity about how buildings work. He resisted pigeonholing into the conventional boxes of building services engineering; mechanical or electrical. Instead he was always interested in the whole building, taking a creative but essentially practical approach to building services design.

Max's curiosity and wide-ranging interests led him to unusual places, like the Qatari desert

When Max founded our Practice over fifty years ago, he had an idea about how engineers could bring scientific knowledge into the art of building design. He developed his skills in what was then considered the new field of heating engineering to test his vision.

As Max never liked imposing his will on people, he developed a philosophical justification for reconstituting the practice as a democracy. "Anyone fit to be an employee is fit to be a partner" was the slogan. He had difficulty getting a lawyer to take the proposition seriously until a young barrister teaching at Oxford, Leonard Hoffman, took the brief and made a working legal document, which was first signed in 1973. This co-operative meant everyone owned the practice and were in charge of running it.

"Anyone fit to be an employee is fit to be a partner" - members of the Practice in front of the London office

Max's unconventional approach to both engineering and the way he decided to run his Practice paid off: invention, innovation and success followed.

Max won significant and varied recognition for his work in ensuring that achieving human comfort by giving buildings heat, power, water and ventilation in a sustainable way, is integral to building design and not a barrier.

He was a Visiting Professor in Building & Design at the University of Bath, an Honorary Fellow of the RIBA, and a Fellow of both the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) and the Royal Academy of Engineering. 

In 2008, Max was honoured with the Prince Philip Designers Prize by the RSA who recognised him as “a pioneer of environmental design for buildings”. In 2006, he was voted into the inaugural Building Hall of Fame, a list of 40 people who have had the most positive significant impact on the UK construction industry in the last 40 years. In 2013, he was named one of Building Design magazine’s Top 10 Green Pioneers.

Max was awarded the Gold Medal by CIBSE in 1997 for his contribution to engineering and was President of the Institution from May 2001 to May 2002. He was also on the judging panel for the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2005. 

A few more of his notable recognitions are listed below:

  • 2008       Awarded Prince Philip Designers Prize by The Royal Society of Art
  • 2006       Voted into inaugural Building Hall of Fame
  • 2005       Member of judging panel RIBA Stirling prize
  • 2004       The Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Sustainable Development
  • 2001       President of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (for one year)
  • 1997       Awarded the Gold Medal for CIBSE
  • 1996       Honorary Fellow of the RIBA
  • 1992       Elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering
  • 1994       Honoured with an Order of the British Empire for services to engineering
  • 1984       Became a Fellow of the RSA

Thank you Max, for being extraordinary!


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