Constraints

/ Andrew Bateman / City & Land

A vital part of our site analysis at the start of a project is the process of ‘constraint mapping’ where we identify (usually with our design team colleagues) specific constraints in relation to sites we are being asked to consider.

The word ‘constraints’ has a negative connotation. But do fewer constraints necessarily provide any better an opportunity to deliver a memorable building or solution? Should in fact we consider ‘constraints’ as positive attributes, providing us with a structure or framework for us to craft our solutions around? Two consequent questions arise in our minds, how do we best map the constraints ie. the opportunities, and secondly how do we exploit them creatively?

Looking beyond our masterplanning world we can see that the conservation network has created a method to provide a consistent means of assessment for historical settings. Assessments of Significance and Conservation Plans have established collectively accepted methods to provide a detached assessment of existing settings - in development terms a mapping of the constraints set by the existing heritage. Masterplanning shares with Conservation this concern with constraints, but without the formalised collectively agreed methodology.

To a certain extent we have had to conceive our own methodology in many projects for example our recent mapping of a site for the new Health Centre at Woodside, a detailed constraint mapping exercise for the Western Infirmary site to help inform the evolution of a practical development framework for the University’s expansion, and the recently finalised Area Development Brief for Stratton where we have had to respond to a number of constraints that have impacted on our solution since the original Planning Application. Each reminds us that our role is to exploit the challenges of constraints to deliver creative responses

But again how?

In his book the ‘The Craftsman' Richard Sennett investigates what he calls the ‘Janus face of obsession’ by examining the difference between two houses built 1927-1929 in Vienna. One is the house for his sister by the philosopher Ludvig Wittgenstein, and the other is the Villa Moller by Adolf Loos. Wittgenstein was a great admirer of Loos who at this time already had a long career behind him. Their undecorated architectural language of volumes with punched windows was similar, but the primary difference was that Wittgenstein had unlimited funds.

This meant that he was not subject to the same emerging constraints as Loos. When Loos discovered a problem with the foundations on site, the most cost effective solution was to thicken one wall of the house considerably. This change was carefully worked into the design. On the other hand Wittgenstein famously ordered a ceiling in his virtually complete house to be raised 3 inches because he felt the proportion of the room was not right, resulting in major structural works at significant cost.

Both men were obsessive about their work.

On one face obsession had been given full rein and led to disappointment. Wittgenstein said the house he made ‘lacked health’ and although it had ‘good manners’ it also lacked ‘primordial life’. On the other, an architect with a similar aesthetic but more constraints, produced a home in which he rightly took great pride.

As Wilson Miner said, ‘designing without constraints is like eating without hunger - there is no joy or purpose’

Our call to action then – role out the constraints.

Former industrial chimney, Spittal Point, Berwick-Upon-Tweed