It's not just about designing buildings, it is about making place; infrastructure, landscape, scale and orientation are equal partners.
This is what we do; since Austin-Smith:Lord was founded in 1949 we’ve been deeply involved with public buildings and public realm: civic architecture.
Just as our public institutions are both a statement of our governance and civility, so are the buildings that house them physical markers within the townscape – “turn left at the town hall, right at the station and you’ll see the courts, just past the park gates.”
It’s not just about designing buildings, it is about making place; infrastructure, landscape, scale and orientation are equal partners. We’re interested in museums and cultural buildings, education and transportation facilities, social housing and public offices. But we also have respected experience with law and order buildings, health centres, youth clubs and libraries, markets, and market squares, cemeteries and parks. And that’s as it should be: it all works together.
All are both the symbols and tools of our society. We own them, all of us; always have. Previously proud, elite and inaccessible, our town halls, courthouses and police stations have become increasingly accessible with increasingly egalitarian changes in society. Conversely they have perhaps been progressively devalued from proud possessions to necessary utilities. So the rebirth of pride in our public buildings through increased investment in new schools, clinics, libraries and sports centres has been most welcome in signalling a new awareness of the intrinsic importance of our civic real estate.We are now promised an age of economic prudence. Yet the institutions of government still need to change and adapt to the messages they aspire to transmit – a continuing change from forbidding and domineering to open, interconnected and accessible. We must be continuously informed of the way people are responding to these stimuli and so value our inclusion on boards and panels in the community, as well as in arts and professional organisations.
There is a role for the designer here too; sitting on the client side as design brief manager or technical advisor, as we have done for court designs and in our various representations on urban design and architecture panels.
Continuous professional development is equally important in ensuring the relevance of our contribution to civic design. And regular study tours inspire us, such as our visit to Lyons, which revealed the rediscovered pride in the city that an urban renewal programme had ignited.And, in an era when sustainability is a crucially hot topic, we would do well to address the adaptation of our historic estate to better serve the present needs of society. After all, sustainability is primarily about the conservation of resource, and our magnificent civic heritage would be better reused than abandoned or misused. Conservation is a specialised skill in the wider architectural repertoire, rarely associated with sustainability, just one part of our holistic approach to design; an approach which values the open spaces as much as the buildings in the ‘infrastructure’ of wellbeing.
History will reflect on the achievements of our age through the buildings we produce. For this reason, but more fundamentally to deliver best value, to minimise our carbon debt and to contribute to wellbeing, our civic architecture should be the best we can produce; expressions of pride and confidence in our society.Such high aims challenge our collective ability as delivery teams, clients and co-consultants. We must collectively own this vision and share the commitment to achieve the best with the resources available to us. Deep and detailed understand of the requirement is the foundation on which successful teamwork can build amazing solutions, which work and which last. But it also takes talent and technical ability. And for all this it is also the history and embedded knowledge, combined with the long service, aspiration and design ability of the people in this firm that keeps us inspired. This is what we do.
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