A Placemaking Philosophy

Exploring our fascination with the qualities that make up 'place'

Considering the architectural roots of our founders, perhaps it was only natural that we would always be fascinated by the idea of 'place'. As we’ve evolved as an agency over the years, refining and redefining what it means to be 'the neighbourhood', we’ve found it vital to interrogate our own place, and the values that make it up. This has led us to the belief that understanding the principles behind 'place' is necessary to growing effectively without losing the essence of what we have created.

What’s more, as we continue to explore 'place' - how it influences the way we live, work, and play, and enables the narratives we create - we have come to value a 'placemaking' perspective as a way of thinking about the creative work we do, using key principles to help our clients communicate effectively, and meaningfully connect people to the experiences they seek.

“If what we see and experience… does not become real in imagination, then it never can become real to us, and we are forever divided from it”

- Wendell Berry

The idea of place seems very tangible and easy for everyone to relate to. Yet, extending as it does beyond the mere physicality of being somewhere to the feeling of being somewhere, place can become difficult to define. In an article about forming and transforming places (here), Thomas R. Chastain talks about place as a concept that implies boundaries, creating the feeling of being inside a particular space that feels very different to everything beyond its limits.

Thinking about how boundaries can be set to delineate and differentiate a place is an interesting thought experiment, requiring you to think about what qualities 'place' might be constructed from beyond its physical properties. Immediately this gets us thinking about the importance of intellectual and emotional connection in place formation; that a place isn’t a place at all without the people who feel it as such, and who set those boundaries, which can sit far within or far beyond any traditional, physical demarcations of space (consider, for example, people’s flexible notions of their own neighbourhoods).

“Approaching projects with a 'placemaking' mentality makes human connections possible.”

So places, particularly those that 'work' (e.g. promote feelings of happiness, well being, and belonging) are concerned with balancing physical spaces with cultural qualities, bringing in to play the values, aspirations and needs of a community, as well as concepts such as personal or group identity, narrative, memory, experience, curiosity and imagination, as well as the potential for collaboration.

We think there is something inherently interesting about taking the essence or quality of place and applying those principles to the neighbourhood - not just in terms of how we evolve our own place, but also in terms of the work we create for clients; the content and stories we share, the digital spaces we build, and the CG worlds we create. Understanding how all of these things fit more generally into place, means we can get closer to Wendell Berry’s ideal of fixing these experiences and stories in the imagination, and thereby making them feel real and meaningful.

Approaching projects with a 'placemaking' mentality makes these human connections possible, helps clients better understand and communicate with their audience, and forms new and inspiring narratives, whilst interacting with existing ones.


Michelle Collier

Date published

11 February 2014