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Katherine Shonfield

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So architects are 'trained specifically to visualise at both large and small scale', according to the document championing the town champions (aj 23.9.99). The large-scale end of this visual capacity clearly packed up both at Bluewater and the new Sainsbury's for Green and ecological Greenwich. Both carefully crafted buildings subsist in a sea of thousands of parked cars.

This myopia is peculiar. How exactly are we supposed to experience the pleasure of these buildings? Blindfold until the threshold? Is car use now such a sub-sensual experience that the entire process of viewing a car park from afar, getting in, parking and walking from it can be discounted from aesthetic existence?

The truth is more self conscious and more cynical. The edges to architectural enjoyment assumed by Bluewater and Sainsbury's are determined by the exchange of cash. These buildings are blots blighted by car parks unless you go in: you don't enter unless you pay up.

Brian Waters in last week's aj noted how a planning consent has recently been quashed on the grounds of inadequate information with reference to environmental impact. Audits and reports aside, we need planners to require the representation of environmental information so that it can be understood as easily as an elevation or ground plan. The figure ground plan at 1:2500 scale, where built fabric is black and unbuilt space, roads and interiors white, has the immediate advantage of focusing on buildings as part of a continuum of interconnected urban space rather than in isolation. While buildings continue to be promoted and visually represented as singular objects, it must be expected that travesties such as the choice of Bluewater as a Millennial Product will continue to occur.

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