IAPS conference opens in Glasgow

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The 22nd International Association of People Environment Studies [IAPS] �Conference opened in Glasgow yesterday. Karen Anderson, A&DS Chair provided the opening Patron’s presentation, inviting deeper collaboration between research and practice on the making and keeping of better places by design.

The aim of the conference is to explore ‘Human Experience in the Natural and Built Environment: Implications for Research Policy and Practice’. In this context, it considers the issue of place and design from a user perspective, and in so doing, invites discussion on the when, how and why of the inter-relationships between research, policy and practice to achieve better places with and for people.

Karen’s presentation set out both a reflection on the current contexts in Scotland, and some personal reflections on practice in the areas of regeneration and housing around the issue of scale. The focus of the presentation was on how public investment, in place contexts, is shaped through participation, to achieve better impacts for the people in those places.

Karen introduced place initially at whole country scale, reflecting that there are different scales of population density mapped across the country, and different histories. Whilst the central belt is experiencing post industrial decline and some areas of expansion, many Scottish places are less populated, more remote, and smaller scale. There is no generic placemaking response that is appropriate to all these contexts and scales. Rather, the starting point is understanding the differences that matter and the issues that bind all people in all places, building the best chances for everyone, and using this clear sense of purpose to drive a specific set of architectural and services responses.

The Christie Commission, and the public sector reform agendas in Scotland are driven by both a desire to achieve better and more meaningful impacts for communities, and manage the gap between income and public sector service demand. The emerging Architecture Policy seeks to create better quality in Scottish building which build better community and economy. This can only be achieved on a place by place basis, if the impacts are to be achieved with people; they have to be specifically meaningful for the people in the places. This brings in issues of how to build impacts, and at what scale.

Clearly, the public sector landscape, and how communities interact with it will be challenged. It is a big challenge. This might suggest the need for big answers, and answers which operate at big spatial scales. Reflecting on the community housing movement in Glasgow, Karen observed how the building and rebuilding of communities through housing investment was often enabled by starting with a small phase, reflecting, learning and iterating. Big numbers were achieved incrementally, and along the way, people were engaged, skills were developed, jobs created, cohesion fostered. Building community seems to be about building up stories and impacts gradually, and at a scale that makes sense to people. Big solutions, like big shopping in small places or large mono functional buildings in areas of fine grain development both fracture urban form, and prevent this ecology of relationships with change, and impact.

On this basis, Karen set out there key research questions for the IAPS delegates to consider, taking account of the specific challenges in Scotland, and the direction of travel set out by Christie:

  • How are places made?
  • What scales work best?
  • How can impacts that last be achieved in place settings?

The evidence to support robust thinking about how we profile investment, use civic and public assets, and engage people matters to enable more informed choices to deliver on the reform agenda. Moreover, these informed choices are necessary to enable communities to better shape their places meaningfully, and sustainably. In due course, this sets up conversations about the specifity of architectural responses; can we use place as a way of thinking through a complex of public and civic issues to create a new vernacular of how we do things and build better futures?

A copy of Karen’s presentation is available to download here.


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