Speakers' positions explained



The vagueness of meaning in placemaking

A perennial bugbear for the likes of Professor Joseph Giacomin of the Human Centred Design Institute (Brunel University) is the vagueness with which we approach the meaning of the thing we are designing. We understand what we are going to make, and we understand why we’re going to make it, but we are suitably vague about the multiple intricacies of how we might go about using it, when that use might take place, and exactly who will use it. In a word, while more than cogniscent with the meaning of function in design, we are less knowledgeable about the significance of ritual and myth when designing for attraction.

The production of living machines

When it comes to making, function remains a central preoccupation: the material purpose of a thing or place is our guiding principle for thinking about how to start, manage and finish a project. For designers, architects and planners, function’s a lead player, says Giacomin, in everything from notions of beauty to the psychology of human behaviour. Plus, as is so often the case when it comes to the actual making, the push for ‘simply getting the bloody thing done’ sits very well with the rationale of function, which quite literally champions the task of getting the thing or place to work: beautiful it may turn out to be, but never forget that we are, to paraphrase Le Corbusier, in the business of creating living machines.

Beyond the machine

However, when it comes to the meaning of things and places, there is much more to think about than just their function, be that a space-saving kitchen, a car park or even the relative exotica of Milano’s Vertical Forest. There is understanding that the deep meaning born of our need to elevate through ritualisation key patterns of behaviour actually helps inform the function of these places; and there is knowing that that meaning is semantically charged by our predilection for story.

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