Making and using the urban environment: furniture, structure and infrastructure by Nigel Bertram

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Abstract

The collection and arrangement of previously published and built works, interspersed with reflections on topics which have arisen through the doing of those works, is done with the aim of putting forward an idea about urban architecture. It attempts to make clear a line of thinking which has been implicit in the individual works produced over the past ten years, but perhaps not fully articulated. This argument is to be understood, however, not as a historical account, but in the present: as the current iteration of a cumulative position, developing continuously through the repeated act of doing projects and working with others.

A strategy of concentrating on the very large (urban) scale and very small (material/ experiential) scale is used as a method of avoiding or bypassing the middle scale which is the usual scale and preoccupation of architecture. This middle scale is that of the ‘object’, the whole thing, in isolation and complete. It is the scale on which form is often studied, modelled, considered and communicated. By comparison, the very large is the scale of infrastructure, or shared metropolitan systems, and the very small is the scale of furniture, or personalised and highly-responsive micro-environments.

But defining things precisely at the middle-scale of the whole is the architect’s task. We need to decide on and then describe exactly where things go, how big things are, what they are made of; in order that they can be understood, approved, priced and made. The works collected here investigate ways in which actions and decisions can be made logically and precisely, but in a way that also encourages other things to happen; that does not limit or define absolutely the meaning, interpretation or potential inhabitation of spaces; that leaves room for and encourages appropriation and customisation (active engagement) in the everyday urban realm. In order to do this it is necessary to continually study ways in which such things as customisation and appropriation occur (how the urban environment is used), and also continually reflect upon the nature and potential of the fundamental decisions and limits that everyday architecture entails; aspects such as spatial organisation, structure, expression, materials, fittings (how the urban environment is made).

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