Vision(ary)

/ Andrew Bateman / City & Land

We are often asked 'what do architects add to the process of shaping our environment?'. In response we often use the word vision, introducing the idea that somehow we can look into the future and see how the building or space will reshape the users and visitors to it.

It is of course a double-edged sword. A technical definition of the term is that vision combines ‘imaginative insight, statesmanlike foresight and sagacity in planning’, all qualities that architects would like to think themselves well endowed with. The step to seeing ourselves as ‘visionary’ is a short one but one which reveals the inherent danger in our role. Its definition is less attractive : ‘indulging in fanciful theories’.

In the process of delivering vision we need to ‘see’ with our imagination a desirable possible future and at the same time anticipate its realisation. This task, or quest we take upon ourselves, inevitably will question and challenge customary or assumed values, existing methods and practices. And In order for us to see the vision translated into reality we need to persuade people to support it and be sufficiently convinced to entrust us with that responsibility.

But there is always a break clause. We need to convince ourselves that our proposals are neither fanciful nor indulgent. The enormous pressure to visualise that future in the myriad of perspectival possibilities at our disposal, creates a potentially dangerous tool in the hand of us vision people. In its sheer enthusiasm it can blind us to the criticism of fancy and indulgence through its overwhelming display of photoshop realism.

Respectful of that danger our visioning processes are tested two fold - firstly in our support for the monotone calmness of the built physical model and secondly in our adoption of persistent reviews; crits in old fashioned terminology. All architects remember that student rite of passage, the public exposure of ideas followed by rational (and irrational) critique, distilling the project back to its essential qualities on the one hand or exposing the poverty of the idea construct on the other.

Whatever the fanciful and the indulgent we're cruelly exposed.

Competition submission, Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh