Friday, October 03, 2014

Take a peek

Daniel Libeskind is just one renowned architect who speaks of drama when referring to his profession. “It’s far closer to the kind of profession that tells a story. It’s closer to literature, film and drama. Every building tells a story,” he said.

It is often overlooked that the storytelling starts when the ground is broken for a new construction site, when the scaffolding is erected around a building to be renovated or refurbished.

A blooger here asks... "Do you remember the old days, when construction sites used to rip holes into their barricade walls so that pedestrians could watch the inner workings of the construction site?" 

Today, probably because of insurance demands, those holes are gone. Your average construction site offers no way for people to peer into the workings beyond the street level. And yet people remain curious, the more they are discouraged from taking a peek, the greater their effort to find out for themselves what is going on behind that fence.  

In London when the construction was underway in advance of the 2012 Olympic Games some clever kids decided that the blue fence should not stand in the way of their desire to be informed. Londoners frustrated by the tall fence and aggressive security protecting the Olympic Park construction site in east London were given a temporary viewing platform by Office for Subversive Architecture. Reading of Point Of View (full report here)  made me grin... and then it made me think.

Is there not an opportunity being missed? On the one hand there is basic human curiosity and a lively interest in our built environment on the part of the citizenry. On the other hand there are the builders and developers seemingly ignoring the possibility of taking ownership of a narrative which could be advantageous to their interests.

Yes, sometimes the fences are embellished with architects' renderings of what will one day be visible in steel and concrete and glass. And, yes, it might be the case that sometimes it might seem wise to hide from gaze the messy nuts-and-bolts realities of building work. But surely engaging the community, winning sympathy for what will be a new landmark... big or small...  in the neighbourhood  concerned, is of value?

There are instances where this kind of engagement has been actively promoted. The photo on the left from a construction site in Cape Town, South Africa, encourages Twitter feedback and even offers an incentive which looks to me like free drinks at the bar of the hotel rising behind the yellow hoarding. That sounds to me like an admirably pro-active approach. I cannot deny that the topic of this post arose when I noticed a few days ago what was happening along the street, where my favourite café is being very substantially renovated prior to re-opening as Brasserie Schwabing in November. What I noticed was that the gaping arched window openings shown below had suddenly been covered with grey plastic tarpaulins cutting off any view of the progress being made inside.

Fair enough, given the arrival of autumnal weather maybe closing off the interior was a sensible move. And then I imagined a possibility of giving building sites of all kind... big or small... their own individual voice. That's a QR code I 'shooped onto the blue fencing!

If I am not very much mistaken there's a 'business concept' here. As above asserted, the curiosity exists, there's an audience very much wanting to be reached.

The QR code would lead directly to a micro-site for that specific building site. The developer's project could be promoted and explained in as much detail as desired. 

There are so many ways in which the general public could be drawn into a value-adding relationship with the new building... incited to share as a partner in the urban dialogue a sense of ownership.

Surely this would be a niche communication channel which would even interest sponsors and advertisers in certain sectors, from mortgage financing institutions to DIY retailers.

Surely there is here a slumbering possibility for entrepreneurship with a timely social component?

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