An Imaginary Edinburgh

The following was produced in order to explore the use of narrative and story telling to convey an emotional response to space and route.  It also serves to blur the boundaries between written work and design work.  The project is based in the reality of the earlier Water of Leith project and the resulting responses to particular site specific problems along the route.  It should, however, be seen as a work of fiction rather than a defined architectural proposition.

.

.

.

Connection to Nature in an Imaginary Edinburgh

This isn’t a story of an Edinburgh that exists. Rather, it is one that could exist if seen through the right eyes. Future expectations of places are built from past experiences and it can therefore be said that spatial qualities affect our experiences and can inform our actions. In creating new places an architect uses their experiences to give form to imagined space. This raises the interesting possibility that spaces can be seen as not simply forming a backdrop to an experience but are inherently ‘of’ an emotion. In this sense every architecture project is an exercise in fiction. Every project begins as a dream. It is a small leap to imagine an entire city designed by a single person. The spaces in this city could be based on an existing form but altered with the creation of an experience in mind, a place for a stolen kiss, a street for a momentary glance.

In the context of this paper Edinburgh has been used as a laboratory to explore the concepts of Rootedness, Dwelling and Transcendence in Nature. This is due in part to Edinburgh’s inherent otherworldly quality and incredible beauty but also due to the fact that in exploring aspects of memory and a sense of belonging one must be, to an extent, self-reflective and Edinburgh is a city that is very close to my heart.

Connection to Nature in a Constructed World

The riverside path cuts through the city. At times the enclosed sense of being by a river yet indistinguishably in the city engenders a sense of place and rootedness in one’s environment. Towards the sea for example the city and river are inseparable due to many years of waterside industry and the streetscape feels Venetian in its connection to the water. At times further upstream the path becomes a heterotopic retreat passing gently alongside the water far from the noise of the city and of other people. The separation from the city and focus on the river make it possible to forget your place and allow a continuous reflection on the quality of flowing water. At rare moments due to the city’s astonishing topographical quality it is visible only as a looming spire at the top of a valley high above. At these times one feels lifted in esteem for the city’s beauty yet the experience is one of connection not objectification. In this way the relationship with the city is the relationship with Nature. At times one is firmly aware of one’s surroundings, at others one is lifted above. However, at some points these feelings of rootedness and transcendence occur together and one feels a moment of complete peace and belonging in the world.

.

Connection to Nature in a Constructed World

.

Rooted Neighbourhoods in a Confused City

A cohesive mental picture of one’s environment can engender a sense of understanding and belonging to an area. In the city a new block of tenements is built by the water. The block is formed by the character of the area and retains the scale, material presence and pattern of the surrounding buildings. However it also changes the area and becomes a defining aspect of the new streetscape. It encourages focus on the water’s edge whilst being removed enough from the river path to make its occupants feel private. In the evening an old man passes by and sits next to the river in contemplative silence.

.

Rooted Neighbourhoods in a Confused City

.

Unexpected Homes in Dangerous Situations

The act of building a home is rooted in a desire to address one’s sense of place in the world. The old man lives rough by the river bank. This man has erected a fence from material he found walking the riverbank that provides shelter while he sleeps beneath the stars. He doesn’t seek to ignore the rain or cold and knows that in the end his submission to Nature will cost him his life. It could be said that he belongs in this city more than most.

Fortuitous Shelter in an Unforeseen Storm

The old man takes refuge in a concrete shelter by the river as a thunderstorm passes overhead. Inside, he can smell the rain and hear it beating on the ground outside. By being removed yet not isolated from the storm he is able to marvel at its power and feels uplifted. Although this building, like all others, marks the point at which inside becomes outside, it is capable of drawing its occupant closer to Nature.

.

Fortuitous Shelter in an Unforeseen Storm

.

Edge Conditions along a Memorable Route

The edge of the river bank changes along its length and alters the perception of the water. At one point steps run down to the level of the water. In summer people sit bathing their feet in the cool water. Some people swim. Few people actually take the opportunity but know that if they choose, the river is no longer a distant and unobtainable object. At other points the path gives a sense of enclosure and safety by the riverside. Where roads bridge over the water access points are available but the path is always strongly defined next to the water. The city planners recognised the importance that the water and a connection to Nature play in the mental well being of the inhabitants. Consequently the route by the river is the strongest aspect of the city. People pass one another on their way to work and judge their timing by the location of familiar faces. On the road above, the morning commute rushes by oblivious to all that is protected below.

The old man has walked the same route along the river for many years to and from work. His knowledge of the route is so great that for many years each step has landed precisely where it did the day before matching stride for stride.

.

Edge Conditions along a Memorable Route

.

Memories and Belonging in the City of Nature

This quality that allows the creation of memorable routes throughout the city has resulted in the river becoming the base upon which the inhabitants of the city organise their memories. The places one considers home are ones that have powerful memories attached to them. These consist of a patina of individual moments built up over and over again over time and are necessarily interlocked through routes. The water cuts through the city as it runs from the countryside to the sea and as it passes through each district it touches all those who see it. At one point an old weeping willow dips into the water. It is owned by all who have seen it. The old man remembers when he was young and fought dragons in its branches. A couple remember using the canopy to shelter from the rain. Everyone’s experience changes the tree forever yet leaves it unmarked.

The old man walks along the river in his own footsteps. The path is narrow and the trees overhanging. The enclosure of this path opens onto an expansive square above which the full moon shines. The man feels uplifted by the moon and transported away from his location. However, he knows that if it were not for the square’s openness after the enclosure of the path the experience would be different. His sense of otherness is therefore of hereness and in this respect he dwells in Nature.

.

Memories and Belonging in the City of Nature

.

.

.

This project was followed by further design experiments.

.

.

.

.

.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: