Is Rapid Development the Enemy of Purpose?

Every fortnight, Partisan hosts EightyTwenty, a roundtable event for business leaders connected with the built environment. At EightyTwenty, we invite them to join us for breakfast to discuss the issues that are close to them.

This time, we looked at whether the pressure to develop and regenerate at a rapid pace has ended up obscuring what the purpose should be behind these developments.

After the Horse Has Bolted

The issue with development is that it can create a momentum that starts to feel inevitable, where projects move rapidly from concept to reality, without a real sense of what purpose should be driving them.

If someone builds a shared workspace in an urban centre, for example, who are they expecting to fill it? Have they considered its surrounding area, and what sort of culture they might create or contribute to?

The built environment has to exist in context, but in the rush to develop, this context can end up being side-lined or ignored altogether.

Then, by the time someone does ask different questions, it is too late to go back.

The Importance of Purpose

Does it matter how you reach the target of your end goal?

Design and development with a purpose is about a process and building a dialogue between developers and users.

Purposeful relationships matter if regeneration is going to be more meaningful and inclusive. For example, some of Greater Manchester’s regions are now looking to work with their neighbours across their borders.

These are logical, strategical relationships to seek, when often it appears that the centre has gained all the attention, interest and investment.

However, the pressures of time and money remain, unless people redefine their priorities.

Failure to Grasp the Intangibles

Intangible values underpin successful developments. These are to do with culture and social interaction.

Where buildings and placemaking fail to grasp and understand these things, they risk becoming an imposition on a site, failing to engage effectively with their surroundings.

Here, the context is lost, or missing in the first place.

The danger with rapid development is that no one takes the time to look at the intangibles.

In vernacular architecture, intangible values also govern how structures are built, with the formal characteristics of buildings becoming a reflection of the values and culture of the people using them.

What should be the vernacular language of modern urban regeneration?

The Role of the Vernacular

Back in 2004, the House of Lords OPDM committee published a report under the title, The Role of Historic Buildings in Urban Regeneration.

The report states that regenerating historical buildings can reinforce a sense of community, contribute to the local economy and act as a catalyst for further, wider improvements.

But what if we extend this principle to buildings and areas that are more recent, or even newly constructed?

What if an urban space such as Piccadilly Gardens in central Manchester has a greater intangible value than people appreciate?

Or what would happen if we developed a new site but did so by focusing on the perceived local needs of a target market, and built this cultural element into the design and branding?

Our Guests This Time

Our guests at this Partisan Eighty Twenty breakfast event included:

James Bunce, Civic Engineers
Neil Eccles, Rochdale Development Agency
Tim Grover, Winder Taylor Smith
Sarie Mairs Slee, Salford Culture & Place Partnership
Steve Waltho, Turner Townsend
Alan White, Wates
David Wildman, SWECO UK
Leanne Wookey, TP Bennett

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