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Making places

MacCormac Jamieson Prichard @ 30

MJP has developed quite radically during the past 30 years. On the face of it the early housing schemes, in Milton Keynes or Warrington, bear no relation to the current work of the practice, such as the BBC project on Portland Place. However, like all the practice's work, these form part of an ongoing story, sharing many common features.

Fundamental to this story is the overriding concern for place-making over object-making. The 'objects' produced are beautifully crafted but the motivation is more fundamental than this. It addresses a desire for architecture both to respond to and define its wider context - social, cultural, historical as well as physical.

The early housing projects took the analytical work of Martin, March and Chermayeff and Alexander, and developed a social context for this work.While achieving surprisingly high densities for low-rise housing, they created a clear physical structure that responded to and defined a hierarchy of spaces - from public to semipublic and private - within which individuals could relate to the community.

The architecture responded to this structure by clearly defining spaces and thresholds while creating a human scale through features such as bay windows and pergolas.

The university work that followed, especially work for Oxford and Cambridge colleges, offered an opportunity to develop these ideas within a specific historic context.

Respecting the traditional physical and social spaces that define the collegiate environment - courtyard, staircase, shared kitchen, and study bedrooms - the various projects again sought to give a clear definition to the hierarchy of these spaces.

The architecture expressed this hierarchy in an almost elemental way, such that bedrooms, staircases and kitchens were all evident from the principal shared place.

These shared spaces, usually external, made connections with the structure of the college and formed a focal point which gave a sense of identity to the developments, and a sense of belonging for those who occupied them.

With the masterplan for the redevelopment of Spitalfields market came an opportunity to develop these ideas on an urban scale. Though a victim of the 1990s property crash, it offered a model for a major commercial intervention that responded to the urban context - not only in scale and massing, but more importantly through understanding the nature and hierarchy of existing and proposed urban places.

This analysed the different type of urban 'transactions', those that are 'local' and require most engagement with the principal public spaces, and those that are 'foreign' and do not. The resulting plan was a collaborative structure with contributions from other architects, rather than an object building, or series of object buildings, as appears to be the current fate for the market site.

This project, and the analytical work that supported it, has informed a series of projects set within sensitive contexts, which, through understanding the role of an individual building within its urban setting, have demonstrated how contemporary architecture can heal and enhance the appreciation of the traditional urban grain and the character of a place. The resulting architecture is respectful and responsive, seeking to address the many levels at which buildings are experienced. Spitalfields led to masterplans in Dublin, Cambridge, Durham and Coventry (all of which are being implemented), where the practice's passion for place-making and collaboration is exemplified. The Coventry masterplan, for example, consists of no less than six new public spaces, which will be animated by an extensive public art programme.

The practice's landmark buildings reflect this theme. Both Southwark Station on the Jubilee Line Extension and the Wellcome Wing at the Science Museum are iconic public spaces which have attracted uses far beyond those for which they were built, yet have a low-key physical presence viewed from outside. They are places not objects.

Similarly, the proposal for the BBC, while a striking piece of architecture, has grown from urban design considerations, and from a desire to create a new urban space acting as a forecourt for a new public entrance and a focus for the interplay between public, semipublic and private spaces. In this respect it inherits themes that are apparent in the early housing or university work, while working with an architectural language that is very different. Viewed from the south, the new development embraces the existing Broadcasting House and frames Nash's All Souls Church. It is a 'landmark', but one that works with and reinforces the features of the area that make it distinct.

Life is rich and multifaceted, and the practice's work has always sought to respond to this rather than control it. The primacy of creating places that connect to and respond to their contexts, while at the same time offering something new and exciting, will continue to be a defining feature of our work, and will help us to write the next chapter of this story.

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