“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong." Ralph Waldo Emerson. The majority of our work in our studio is a creative action responding to a need identified and instructed by our clients. We then spend increasing amounts of time and effort during the consultative planning process trying to minimise negative (and encourage positive) reaction from those in the community affected by the proposal (as well as statutory bodies), in order to get agreement to proceed.
City and Land's evolving 'Community Vision' work is slightly different in that we are being brought into a process as part of a reaction; a reaction of the community to an action of others. Our input in these projects is therefore seeking to influence a proposal and asking for a response to our reaction to improve the outcome/action of the developer.
A number of projects were presented that explored this issue.
At Dollar Academy the local community had been vehemently opposed to one particular project for a hockey pitch. An open conversation with local residents involving a broad constituency of the school including pupils found a way forward towards planning permission. We were able to visualise this as a contributor to the setting of the school.
St Columba's School Kilmalcolm has undergone a significant consultation process towards allowing the school to continue to evolve in the village. The special qualities of the village has of course raised significant issues and concerns and it is only through an open conversation that a way forward can be negotiated. Our role has been to show how that evolution can be physically sympathetic to the village.
At Milngavie we were asked to help in this open conversation, highlighting to a retail interest the wider ambitions of the town. We have illustrated how a long term setting for the village might be the foundation for the shorter term initial development.
At Bishopbriggs we were asked to contribute to a debate being carried out by local people seeking to optimise the benefits of a major retail and community project in the town centre. They required for their open conversation illustrative strategies to show what might be achieved to enable them to participate in that open conversation.
Subsequent discussion addressed a number of issues;
- what role national planning policy plays in establishing such an open conversation.
- do we consciously acknowledge and make explicit our position and point of departure before entering such a conservation.
- is there another way of seeing our role as that of a mediator between positions
The question of compromise arose, and to what extent an architecture shaped by mediation remains the best achievable outcome. The argument was made that we have to focus clearly on what influences what we do, and that listening to other views is important to shaping excellence. The challenge is how we work with these constraints to achieve the best outcomes.
Finally it was agreed that we have to be careful in relation to what terms we use. Consultation can be seen in different ways, as a presentation or as a discussion. For some, consultation equals expectation. Terminology is important.
The meeting concluded with a quote returning to the original themes discussed and how the role of the architect is about making and managing change.
“I never worry about action, but only about inaction” Winston Churchill