Painting started at Bedford Place

This week the street painting has started at Carlton Terrace in Southampton, it is so great to see the plans we had for this area getting put into action. The bold, geographic design runs over 130 meters down the street, creating a vibrant and engaging backdrop for this newly pedestrianised area, which the council have confirmed will be in place until at least the end of the summer.

The painting is part of the wider strategy for the reactivation of the Bedford Place area which includes the pedestrianisation of the streets, decorated concrete barriers, outdoor seating and planting.

Last year some of the roads in this area were closed temporarily, to assist with social distancing measure and offer additional outdoor seating space for pubs and restaurants. The council took the opportunity to review if this could be a more permanent change, to support the economic recovery, greener living and creating a more vibrant community. We worked as part of a team, reviewing different ways design could help create a more engaging and thriving destination for this area of the city.

I cannot wait to see the painting completed, it is going to look amazing, and once lockdown rules are lifted later this month the space is going to transform again with people activating the streets.

 

Councillor Steve Leggett, Cabinet Member for Green City and Place, says:

“Bedford Place businesses are an important part of our local economy and we are committed to supporting their recovery and to seeing Bedford Place become once again a vibrant, thriving area where people can meet and spend time safely.”

For further details about the Bedford Place scheme, visit:  https://transport.southampton.gov.uk/bedfordplace

The Business of Listening, discussion record with Business of Architecture.

Click here to listen to my full discussion with Rion Willard, from the Business of Architecture, about the ‘Business of Listening’, a topic I deeply believe in.

It is an area of architecture that I find more relevant and important than ever before, our conversation covers my approach to clients, being a teacher, setting up Studio B.A.D and how I see the role of architects in the 21st century.

Traditionally I feel architects have had a tendance to ‘know’ the solution right from the start but I believe we need to stand back, listen to what a project or client really needs and gaining the trust from the client. This in turn can give us permission as designers to be bold in our approach and our process, it also helps to get clients truly engaged with the process.

Our project at St Margaret’s church is a clear case when listening has been vital in unlocking the potential of the building and what it can offer the community. I think our clients on this project initially found it unnerving when we wanted to take time to listen, as they had expected their architects to come with a solution. We stood back and reflected on what we saw, not just with the physical building but also the community needs. By going through this process, the project has become richer. We were able to persuade the church to reopen the beautiful old church (previously condemned) and discover what the community really needed, since this exercise they have opened a café, a drop in area and second hand shop within the church. By not rushing the solution, this has given up the ability to go deep, aligning our design ideas with the business case of the client and giving solutions that work long term, our solutions for the church have future proofed an unidentified business stream for the church.

The piece around listening and communication is so important. As architects I feel we can’t be passive in all of this, we need to be thinking about the future and the impact our work will have, most importantly how we can have a positive influence. I believe we don’t have to always wait for the brief, we can communicate ideas out. For example, Studio BAD try to only work with existing buildings, pushing the idea of refurbishment and repurpose rather than new build, this stance has given potential clients alternative solutions that they might not have even thought of before.

By adopting this process of being a listener we are able to be influenced by cultural changes, it doesn’t always have to be about a physical change and designing a building, but as architects we can still have positive impact on our communities by working more in a curator role. Working on feasibilities can unlock potentials of buildings and businesses, I feel as a practice we can bring together people from different backgrounds to creating a richer discussion.

The importance of listening is not just relevant in the private sector, it is also critical to my teaching work. I have to really listen to students, learn who they are as people, their background, what interests them. By really listening I start to know what can unlock their potential, but one approach does not work for them all.

I can’t define what a career in architecture looks like now, I feel we should be more flexible on how we see ourselves, being more part of the conversation for positive change rather than just concentrating on the traditional architectural role. Students studying architecture now could go on to be an architect, or work for a developer, or be a developer, or set designer, architecture can be the bedrock for many other disciplines. By being more flexible on where an architectural degree can take you, I believe it takes the pressure off the need to complete all parts of the degree (which doesn’t suit all), helping to redefine what architecture is in the 21st century.

Ecology of Communities lecture for PASS Portsmouth

I was delighted to take part in the PASS (Portsmouth Architecture School Society) series of lectures around the ‘Ecology of Communities’ last month. As a part time academic I feel it is important to continue to engage the next generation and to inspire those coming through. Others who have been part of this lecture series have included Piers Taylor, James Dale, Jo Hagan and Spark Architects. The whole series can be found on YouTube

 

‘In this time of uncertainty, we need more tolerance, compassion, and trust for each other since we all are one. Otherwise, humanity will face an even bigger crisis’

Ai Weiwei, Humanity

 

As a practice we have been fortunate to work on several community based projects, such as October Books, Bedford Place and St Margaret’s church, each quite different, with their distinct set of design aims, but all with driver to engage with their local community.

Recently we have been working on a feasibility for a mini masterplan of the Bedford Place district of Southampton. The area is set at the opposite end of town to the large shopping malls and has a reputation for being an independent district, with handsome Grade II listed buildings and with boutique retail offering and local restaurants. Due to the Covid outbreak many of the streets were closed to cars earlier this summer to allow for extra social distancing and additional outdoor seating. Initially this was a temporary measure by the council, done in haste and without much thought to the aesthetics, we were brought onboard to look at on-going street activation and animation.

Our recommendations included painting the concrete bollards, originally quite bleak but now bright and colourful, even acting as a draw to bring people to the area to see and engage with it. Our street activation plans have gone further to address the signage, put up street bunting, paint the road, increase planting and set up a series of events throughout the year to use this space. We see this as a huge opportunity for Southampton to create a distinctive district, with a unique sense of place which will draw people in, helping to improve the local economy.

This type of project is highly emotive, whenever there are discussions regarding reducing car access it makes people very passionate as we are a nation addicted to our cars. This is not a new thing, it is easy to find videos from Amsterdam in the 1970’s of locals getting violent at the new pedestrian streets, an area we now look at so positively.

It is however important to listen to the community and their concerns, to really hear what they are saying and reflect on their fears. As an architect it is important to not bring your ego or believe you know the solution from the start, I believe you can learn a great deal through listening and responding to issues, not only will you gain better community engagement in the project but it often makes for a far richer project.

Take a listen to the whole webinar here, it covers a lot more including an interesting Q&A session at the end which covers politics, dyslexia, collaboration, sustainability and even imposter syndrome.

The lecture can be seen here on YouTube. 

PASS lecture