Co Founding Director of Duggan Morris Architects
A point of correction. Duggan Morris Architects are in no way connected with the displacement or re-housing of people on the estate, but are instead working on a health and social programme on a redundant site for the new health centre, community health centre and early years nursery.
Will Jennings' article ('People are tired of being duped by developers'. AJ 24.08.15) raises many pertinent issues which we as citizens of a major metropolis like London have to encounter on an almost daily basis. Spin. Jennings talks about people not wanting to be lied to. He states that we should be seeking to work within a democratic process which '...should be in place to work for all, not just those that understand the systems and how to play them.'
I couldn't agree more.
Having worked as a professional within the construction industry in London for fast approaching two decades, I have spent a large proportion of it increasingly involved in critical dialogue regarding the evolution of our city fabric with possibly thousands of individuals. I spend almost each week presenting ideas to clients, local authority planning and policy officers, design review panels at both a local and national level, local action groups, resident associations, pupils and students, user-groups and stakeholders, businesses, neighbours and so forth...and in return spend a significant portion of my working life considering 'critical' feedback and adapting the thoughts and ideas of my practice in response.
Being able to exchange 'directly' with those who might be either affected or simply interested is clearly important. Jennings suggests that '…possibly the very last thing certain organisations want is an engaged audience. People asking questions, entering into a dialogue'. This sweeping statement is massively dismissive and overly general; public engagement is necessary, encouraged and is not without its complexities.
As an often used term suggests, getting the horse to water is the first challenge, but you can't necessarily get it to drink. Meaning, public engagement needs to be a two way exchange where critical and objective exchange can result in enhanced outcomes.
In the time our practice, alongside several others, have been involved in one project Jennings refers to (Norton Folgate) the project team actively engaged in several hundreds of hours of community engagement over two years through exhibitions (on and off site), focus group presentations and workshops, one to one meetings and drop in sessions, letters and emails. In fact, we seemed to be putting together material for these sessions almost weekly at points. During this period of time various aspects of the project evolved. In many cases resulting in parts of the scheme, at varying times, transforming from the original concepts to take into account public reaction and perception.
Could one call this active and productive mass engagement? Possibly. Probably.
The process of 'design strategy', 'design reflection' and 'design evolution' (i.e. design iteration) takes time and is complex. Sedimenting ideas such that integrity remains a constant is harder still. And when engaged in a project who's starting point is one of contention and notoriety (I refer to British Lands original plans for Norton Folgate in the 1970's) you are always working against a stream of negative consciousness...making things harder still.
The AJ article (24.08.15) 'Tower Hamlets’ own planners have said it would be ‘challenging’ to defend the council’s decision to reject plans for Norton Folgate' bears the evidence of the complexity of this scheme which has, subsequently, been wholly misunderstood by the planning committee which represents (through the democratic process), the public it serves, despite the solid efforts we have extolled to openly exchange the macro and micro detail of the project. Which returns me to Jennings accusation (quoted from AJ Article 'The Battle of Norton Folgate'. AJ 06.08.15) that I may have completely '...missed the point about new forms of communication' in reference to the social media campaign stirred up by the #SaveNortonFolgate campaign.
It is true that Twitter (and similar media platforms) are perhaps 'inert' but the implied strategy for those wanting to 'abuse' it, is that it is easy to elicit misrepresentation for one’s own gains. In the case of Norton Folgate, this means the ease of achieving a widespread negative character dissemination of your opponent through spin doctoring. The campaigners, led by a nationally revered historian and TV personality, continually layered their campaign of opposition with (at best) bent truths and (in many cases) misrepresentation bordering on lies.
So, are we to assume this latter approach is of benefit to the local residents and businesses affected. Does this carpet bombing of deception justify the means. I don't think so. And as Jennings and I both agree, we should be seeking to work within a democratic process which works for all...'not just those that understand the systems and how to play them.'
Comment on: MIPIM: Warts and all
True...however, with a bit of an open mind, a relaxed attitude, and a flexible approach, MIPIM can yield results. The task is NOT to approach MIPIM as a work generator. Think of it more as a NETWORK builder. If work comes from this immediately...its a bonus. I've attended seven years in succession, six as a rider of the Coram Ride to MIPIM event (cycle-to.org), which I must stress is head and shoulders above the actual event in Cannes, in both experience and networking terms. Whilst it is difficult to quantify exactly what has come from attending MIPIM each year, and whether or not the connections made would have been made otherwise, the fact remains that my practice has, as a result of those people I have met on ride and in tent, secured many £10-100M's of work across several sectors, with some of the industry's most revered clients. Add to this the strong bond of ambition/ethic/culture which grows between you and other participating consultants, especially architects...too numerous to mention. Over the years this growing family of like minded, ambitious and talented architects has grown, facilitating many collaborative working relationships across many schemes, ordinarily too large to tackle on one's own. In addition, and not to be scoffed at, are those chance encounters, lunches, dinners and so forth which would never happen in London. The reason...because everybody is doing the same...because that is what people attend MIPIM for...and thus they are accessible. On Thursday before leaving this year, I was biding time on La Croissette, reading up on matters, taking in the sun...when Patricia Brown (currently overseeing the LFA) coincidentally passed...we chatted for a short period...and I ended up several hours later attending a dinner she had organised to discuss the content of this year's LFA. Scintillating discussion, with Rab Bennetts (MIPIM first timer), David Taylor (NLA Quarterly), Sadie Morgan (DrMM), Patricia (of course), Phil Coffey (as ever), Tamsyn Curley (Place) and others...you cannot put a price tag on this...
this is amazing! Argent continue to surprise and inspire
Comment on: Stirling Prize shortlist: the critics react
I agree with Ellis ;-) / :-((