Context

/ Andrew Bateman / City & Land

We have a circular diagram in the office, a cross section through our office thinking structure with City & Land (our group looking at urban and rural planning) as an inner core, a mantle crust of Conservation around this core and three continental masses ‘orbiting’, Creative Workspace, Arts & Culture and Places to Live.

What this diagram highlights and reminds us is the preeminence of context in everything we do. And by context we do not restrict ourselves simply to the the physical legacy but also the social, cultural and economic setting that influenced it and continues to shape it.

Our stance therefore requires a deeper more investigative understanding of what is there. As a consequence our approach is to identify the story of each place in all its complexities, recognising (as our colleague Paul Sutton said) ‘that understanding place goes beyond words but still has to be stated in words’. Michael Sorkin puts it nicely that if we don’t do that there is a danger we might simply use ‘visual clues to produce social effects’.

So what is our viewpoint and how do we get into the right position to make the observations to shape our story? Inevitably we need a mobile platform to explore questions of identity, exploit internal and external connections, address the need for action and deal with the reaction, maintain a freshness of approach and know when to refresh it in shaping a vision of the future. We require all this and yet be fully conscious that in looking at the story, indeed rewriting the story, we become for a short time a part of the story. Crucially we need to be aware that we cannot write the whole story.

Perhaps our viewpoint can best be explained by the role of the filmmaker. Not restricted by the reality of the image, the filmmaker can use the dolly movement of the camera and zoom of the lens to explore the subject. The difference of course, is the story we construct, will describe the potential of a distinct reality rather than the imagined one of the filmmaker.

City & Land as the inner core to practice projects