As so often happens, there was a happy coming together of two stories in aj 15.10.98. In one, our attention was drawn to the communality of all spaces outside our homes or workplaces - Katherine Shonfield's 'At Home With Strangers' - and the other was the final showdown of the contenders for the Welsh parliament building.
As a profession we are continually berated for producing self-referential and self-important design, as we continually protest our innocence. There is, however, no doubt that we are often guilty of overemphasising the edifice, where the physical object created is too often seen as an end in itself, at the expense of appreciating its significance in the abstract (which are the perceptions most often seized upon by the lay critic) as well as not breaking down the 'finiteness' of the building - the 'beamed in from outer space' syndrome. The relationship with adjoining circulation spaces may be good, but the relationship of finite internal and external spaces may not be so good, and the relationship between those spaces and the whole network of infinite spaces that we call our world may be tenuous in the extreme.
The need to embrace the communality of space has been a central factor in the parliament building in Cardiff - as well as in Edinburgh - where the 'land' swoops in metaphorically and physically to the heart of the new democracy. The much trumpeted 'transparency in politics' (whether metaphorical or literal) is only one facet of the permeability required of these buildings. 'Belonging' is a central theme in both buildings, and has been emphasised in choice of building materials and forms, but both have successfully embraced the relationships of spaces, in graduated relationships between finite internal, external and the infinite totality of the community served.
HUW MEREDYDD OWEN