Engaging the built environment professional community

October 31st, 2003,
Martin Centre, Cambridge University

recent events

To help devise and launch an on-going programme of “shapeTALKS”, engineers, architects and academics met on October 31st 2003, at Cambridge University’s Martin Centre, to explore how shape might engage and enhance communication between built environment professionals and the wider community.

Built Environment Education Trust Chair Peter Carolin and shape Director Ben Koralek invited the interdisciplinary group to help develop an interactive process within which to engage each other - and the public - in an effort to generate a more informed understanding of the issues, challenges and opportunities for growth and development in the Cambridge city-region. One way of doing this might be for small multi-disciplinary groups to develop alternative solutions to particular development problems – such as a village extension, a major public building or a city centre or market town site for example.

To spark a dialogue in this early stage of the process, the 12 participants of this first shapeTALK were given an opportunity to hear Professor Marcial Echenique, Dr Barry Pearce and Environmental Designer Peter Williams present findings from their two-year research project for the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI).

Whilst quite specifically devised to research the necessary environmental ingredients to nurture and sustain the growth of the hi-tech “Cambridge Phenomenon”, the CMI project also highlighted an alternative approach to property developers’ tendency to initially “clean-slate” green-field sites as part of their planning, design and construction programme.

Investigating the former airfield site near Oakington, Peter Williams described a development process led initially by the introduction of a bio-tech business “incubator” unit housed in the existing Ministry of Defence buildings. In this proposal, affordable and some low-impact ‘self-build’ housing would be introduced only when vital transport networks and essential services were in place (including renewable energy systems and drainage, for example). The emerging inhabited village environment would also be enhanced and defined by generous landscaping across and within the new residential areas.

For those present, the Cambridge-MIT work provided a dynamic example of the extent and depth of expertise and knowledge which could be called on as a resource for developers and the built environment professional community in the Cambridge city-region.

A number of those present encouraged shape and Echenique, Pearce & Williams to make their research available to developers working within the city-region.

In this respect, this first shapeTALK provided us with an example of how shape might bring professionals together to share best practice, and to present their work and research to new audiences and groups in the region.

Inspired by this first event, the group suggested a theme for the next shapeTALK to be held at a more public central Cambridge location in the near future.

Shape East would like to thank CABE (the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment) the Greater Cambridge Partnership and Cambridge City Council for their support in developing shapeTALKS.