Phil Bixby: My York Design Week

Phil Bixby – My York Design Week

I’m an architect. I’ve been an architect all my working life. I do architecty things – mainly involving design (I’m even a 3D Architect and yes I’m #doingitwithitonacomputer). What I only realised relatively recently – partly from one or two inspired clients and partly through all sorts of rich discussion with the wonderful Helen Graham – was that much of the really useful heavy lifting in design goes on before the design stage; there is magic in a good brief.

All sorts of fascinating work tumbled out of that realisation – the evolution of the My Future York basic ideas into a broad, flexible framework of methodology which enabled us to approach big, complex opportunities for change and engage with the public – creating My Castle Gateway and My York Central. Both projects led to public visions for major developments. Castle Gateway is moving forward with the council driving the early stages of change in a newly-forged partnership with other major stakeholders. York Central has (almost) a masterplan-inspired outline planning consent which reflects or interprets at least some of the elements of that public vision. These are places where, for once, grown-up conversation has seen complex issues through a process where challenges have been considered and – in some form – they have shaped proposals for change.

But what does it take to drive things beyond that, to ensure that Big Ideas really turn into Big, Built Things? Helen and I are involved in three events within York Design Week. In the first, we’re taking a number of the key ideas from the vision for York Central – ones which come together to form a compelling narrative about a different place to live, work, grow. How do we create mixed-use neighbourhoods built upon co-ownership, where capital, time, learning and hopes are shaped as a different kind of place – “a community made through exchange”? We’ll bring together people who want to live, work, invest and play within a neighbourhood that they have made, and we’ll look at how partnering with developers can support, rather than crush, these bold ideas and indeed spread change throughout York Central and beyond.

As I said though, I’m an architect. I’m aware that everything we build sits within a planning context – cities (at least in Britain) don’t just happen. We plan – sometimes with disastrous results and often with an underpinning tension between the planned and the organic. David Rudlin has written much on this (and also has a close relationship with York – his Wolfson-Prize winning proposals for doubling the size of a fictitious Uxcester was all built around a thinly-disguised York) and he’s a man who successfully mixes an ability to work with ideas and issues with an ability to get his hands dirty with specific projects and problems. His new book Climax City looks at the growth of cities and what that means for masterplanning, and we’re highly chuffed to be bringing him to York to launch this book and to stir further thinking about where we should be looking for routes towards a future York.

Us architects have a bad reputation – rightly – for creating a fog of professional jargon around our work, and for extracting hopes and fears from the humbled masses before delivering solutions from on high. It shouldn’t be like that, and it’s more fun for all when it’s not. How can we move towards cultural democracy? Everyone sees worth in the world around them and can imagine change which makes it better for them – how can we set up conversations which allow participation by all? How can we strip away structures to allow sharing of ideas and creativity? Perhaps all we need is a room full of people, plus a long table, chairs, and ways of noting our thoughts and conversations. Where we can ask – what is the problem and whose problem is it?

See you at York Design Week.

Phil Bixby / My Future York

Rebecca CarrComment