The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Narrative Space - Post Five

In the unfortunate absence of Peter Greenaway, Peter Higgins of Land Design Studio has kindly stepped into the breach!

'Place-making: Lines, words, pictures and sound'

What is the interest in place making, in cityscapes and town planning? Originally from Crawley, a result of the Garden City movement which was very much about places for social improvement, Peter went on to the Architectural Association where he became very influenced by the architects of Archigram, who designed incredible, inventive buildings, palaces of fun, extreme suburbs and dream-cities. From here, he moved to the BBC, where he began to work with scripted space, the idea that there is an architecture of words which must be translated into the architecture of the physical world. He began to uncover the differences between television and drama, in terms of visualisation. How the dreamspace is presented to people existing in the "real" world, which focaliser and how many there are comes to be hugely important. In the late 80s he joined Imagination, designing media environments such as parts of the NEC.

Thus he combined landscape and architecture, scene design, and communication and media. He became interested in the importance of place-making. Like 'narrative' it is a term that seems to have been inappropriately used. What, really, does it mean?

He began to talk about Chernobyl - and it occurred to me that places can also be made through theft, through lost. New places are not simply constructed, but they are also made within, and through the very process of, deconstruction. But to make a place, there needs to be a story. Often, within created places, there is no story to make a place, but in these places of destruction, you find a story by default. You need a meaning, a rationale, for a place to be beautiful. Places need to fit, and this means with the outside and the inside.

We have sometimes lost the link. Commercial developments, bounded disciplinarity have caused is to 'building block' the processes of making a place. We need to understand that the different strategies of placemaking, building, interior design, storytelling, urban media, need to be integrated from the start. The question of who has the authorship and control of all of these elements is particularly pertinent.

So he turns to the positive. What does he like and why? There are some incredible ones - the Ito Tower of the Wind, a transformation of an existing water reservior, for me brings back an idea of William Morris - that something basically functional can be, too, very beautiful. And he also talks about speading the idea of placemaking beyond the architect, into the gardener, the engineer, the artist, the scenographer and the 'digirati'. Paxton's Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition, Singapore Gardens, the Barlow Shed at St Pancreas, Mazdhar in Abu Dabi, the Weather Project at TATE Modern, Urban Spaces in Manchester, and the Cultural Quarter in Abu Dabi again, are all incredible examples of the diversity of placemaking and how people can understand the environment in which they exist. Working in conjunction, as curators worked at Terminal Five, is really important for a more nuanced creation of space.

So where do we go from here? What is the way forward? We all have a lot to say, and we should all have a voice in placemaking. We can do that through the press, through reviews, through listening to and communicating in a shared language with people, which is a challenge in itself. We also need to teach it, in the worlds of academia and wider education. We need to understand, document, and value all of these processes. We need to give talent its true worth. We need to give meaning to our places, to get the right people to make those places, and fundamentally, we need to have places with a reason and a value.

That would have been an impressive presentation in the best of situations, but today of all days, that was amazing. I'd love to congratulate Peter for an incredible performance.Actually, we've had a great day all told. I've seen artists, architects, landscape designers, sociologists. I know there is much more going on than I've been able to cover. As virtual as I am, I can't generate avatars just yet. But I'm sure that there will be more information coming soon! I'm signing off for the night now guys, because I'm shattered. Sorry about this morning, but I hope I've managed to make up for lost time!

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