7 days before the UK’s Brexit referendum I started working with the European Union. My commitment is to peace. Between people this is cultivated and maintained through connection, communication and symbiosis. The same is true for countries. Europe has enjoyed it’s greatest period of prolonged peace since the inception of the EU. Like everything there are improvements and upgrades that can be made, but the fundamental principles lead to the betterment of society… connection, communication, symbiosis. The Purpose I nominated for my work there was ‘Unity in Community’. In 2006 I had a call from a group of architects. They wanted to enter an international competition to design and build the European Headquarters of NATO. Could I help them with their bid?

I met with the team and we had some very interesting discussions. We talked about the difference between the Function and the Purpose of the building.  On one level, what is the building for on a purely nuts and bolts level in the way that the Function of a car is to get from A to B regardless of the make, model, design or environmental impact? On another level what does it represent? What Purpose or ideal does the building serve?

On a purely functional level the building was designed to house and coordinate the armed forces of the 28 member states in the NATO alliance. However, there was also a provision to house key officials of states who were not members of NATO. In other words… an office block big enough to be a working home to all the armies of the world.

The Purpose, however, was something completely different. The nominated Purpose of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was to protect member states by helping them coordinate their efforts against aggressors. Defence. Safety in numbers. Here though, we had something different. NATO was ‘North Atlantic’, why were new headquarters being built in Europe? If it was purely for NATO countries, why were potential all the armies of the world to be gathered there in some form? And why now, at the start of the new millennium?

We discussed these questions in detail which lead to interesting conversations but at the end of our conjecture we were left with just that… conjecture. So, we had to decide “what is the Purpose we nominate for this project? What would we like it to serve?” The answer was simple…. Peace. The only possible beneficial reason for bringing the armies of the world together in one place is so that they do not have to fight to resolve issues. The design was done with that in mind. The lead architect Michel Mossessian (www.mossessian.com) a wonderful and hugely talented man, created a design of interlaced fingers symbolising hands coming together across the world. We wrote our bid – a significant document, and made our presentations from this perspective. We won the bid. In 2017 work was completed on the site and the European Headquarters of NATO has been built with a dedication to Peace. Had the nominated Purpose of the building been ‘defence’ what would have changed? Perhaps the design would not have been a symbol of cooperation. If one is designing from the perspective of defence, one ensures that people are not overlooked, that communal areas are discreet and people are discouraged from meeting or overhearing others etc.

If one is designing for Peace, shapes are rounder and more generous. Light and green areas become more important. There is a focus on communal areas, collective discussion and both informal and formal meetings. Colours are softer and people are encouraged to connect with greater openess.

Peace connects. Defence separates. Purpose changes everything.


Richard JACOBS is the C.E.O of YES, a leading Culture Change Consultancy specialised in mindset and behavioural change that designs and implements large scale transformation programs. Richard has been designing training, change programmes and media for 25 years. He has personally trained over 200,000 people, has won numerous awards and is a pioneer in his field integrating interactive theatre, improvisation, graphic novel storytelling and dynamic exercises into his programmes. He is a sought after speaker and the author of the groundbreaking books:  “What’s your Purpose?” , “The 7 Questions to find your Purpose” and the forthcoming “Rides of Passage”.

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