The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the Foreign Office, the Corporation of London, Birmingham Alliance: recent work on these projects demonstrates not only a shifting field of commissioning - where smaller practices can get a piece of the cake and eat it - but also a genuine conviction that the public realm has become a major commodity.
The days when the UK was left trailing behind the rest of Europe like a scruffy old bulldog stalking a pack of well-groomed continental pedigrees is well and truly over. The UK has become streetwise and now provides the most exciting opportunities in the field of public-realm improvement. Moreover, this urban renaissance is spreading across the country with real vigour and determination.
Gross Max's outlook on the public realm is of constrained and refined intervention. Its design philosophy could be read as follows:
KISS AND TELL The improvement of public space often lies in revealing what is already there. Good public space is not about adding elements. It is about removing clutter, rationalising services and creating legibility.
To reach a state of refined simplicity is hard work and often a process of conflicting demands. The enemy lies within, disguised as hard-nosed highway engineers, visually impaired councillors and noncommitted committee members.
MARVELLOUS VOID The very nature of public realm is that of mediator, the space in between buildings. The articulation of the ground plane, not the distribution of trophy objects, is of paramount importance for the quality of external space. In order to negotiate, public space should be impartial.
CHANCE ENCOUNTER Public-realm design should allow for a multiple and flexible usage by a wide variety of user groups. Allow for the unexpected. The chance encounter, as proclaimed by the Surrealists, provides the true excitement of public space.
DOUBLE EXPOSURE The main purpose of buildings is to provide shelter. The public realm, on the other hand, is exposed to the elements.
The sun, rain and wind provide endless inspiration and variation. The articulation of drainage channels is an honest expression of a simple utilitarian device.
HARD DAY'S NIGHT Early-morning joggers turn into lunchtime shoppers, who turn into midnight clubbers, who turn into early-morning joggers. More and more, our public realm becomes part of a 24-hour cycle.
BUILDING DISORDER Most architects suffer from an obsessive building disorder similar to extreme bulimia;
they consume excessive amounts of space in order to spit it out unconsumed.
Landscape architects should not rely on architects' leftovers and should be more assertive than just nibbling along the edges as if spoon fed?