Emerging practices in design are creating opportunities to engage with new disciplines, and for designers to enter previously unchartered territories. Transdisciplinary approaches between design, innovation, and the social and environmental sciences, are creating spaces for a cross fertilisation of ideas with transformative outputs. As a designer myself it is this space I am attempting to move into, and my immersion in the Connected Communities project as part of the new paid internship programme at the RSA is instrumental in my journey. So it’s with some surprise that it is the language of architecture, the profession I worked in for a decade and thought I was moving away from that has lately been at the forefront of my mind.
For the first time in many years I am spending each day on foot, trains and buses getting reacquainted with the city I was born and grew up in. After a troubled relationship (and a couple of lengthy affairs with Sydney and Dublin) I’m finding myself falling back in love with London.
I have to thank in part my mentor and colleague on the Connected Communities project, Tom Neumark, because for one he appears to eschew the underground altogether, preferring to walk or if pushed catch the bus, and secondly that his love for the city, its people, it’s history and it’s stories is infectious. From the rubble of the partially demolished Heygate Estate in Elephant, to the half built towering glass fortress of the Shard; from the grandeur of Wren’s post Fire of London boulevard in High Holborn to the optimism of Camden Council’s 1960’s post-war reconstruction era town hall I am perhaps for the first time seeing the edifices of my home city as a huge and never-ending story book, a narrative of our hopes, dreams, folly and misfortunes played out in stone, concrete, steel and glass.
Viewed through this lens, a recent trip to Peterborough to scope a suburb that will be the focus of connected communities research in the near future told a very different story; acres of abandoned factories and warehouses and gap toothed local shopping precincts echoing where many people stand today, facing a post-industrial future amongst communities blighted by mass redundancy and unemployment.
In a dematerialising age it is perhaps here, at the juncture of community life and our creation of a previously unimagined collective future that creativity is now key. Last week at the RSA ‘The Resourceful Architect’ finalists’ event saw presentations by architects of what that might mean for their industry. Our buildings contain within them the dynamic vision of commerce; the time, energy, specialised skills of an army of individuals from the architect to the crane operator, and the momentum of inhabitants whose collective purpose and activity defines and gives life to a space. If we were able to apply the same vigour, ingenuity and collaborative vision to the wider project of our time, how to adapt and evolve against the constraints of volatile economic, social and environmental change where could that take us? We have a chance to write that story now and leave our own imprint for future generations, if not in bricks and mortar, then in how we support each other and build a sustainable future.