Speaker: George Ferguson- Ferguson Mann, Bristol 9 Feb. '98

George Ferguson titled his talk "Great Places and Rotten Teeth", a highly personal view of architecture stressing the goal of creating lively and exciting places. He compared urban planners to a dentist given a fixed space within the city where they have to build a replacement that will perform the desired function. To perform this function, he believes, like John Ruskin, that quality is remembered long after the cost is forgotten.
A failure of recent planning has been to segregate function i.e. separating rather than integrating housing , shopping and office building.
His main theme was that what makes places attractive is there ability to generate activity. An important role of the architect is to make places come to life and not merely to be beautiful.
Mr. Ferguson showed various examples of projects that brought a regenerative effect. He sees the Bath Spa project as belonging in this category.
There are some landmarks that become symbols of a place. For him the docks and shipbuilding of Bristol were part of its heritage and a link with its past. For this reason, he rescued several cranes that had been scraped and which once again have become symbols of the Bristol docks. Sometimes, being keeping structures of the past leads to more inventive solutions.
He cited other important developments like the Bristol Exploratory, the first hands on science museum which found a home in a disused train shed.
Bristol was fortunate to have had redevelopment plans, in which Mr. Ferguson's firm took an active part, at an advance stage when lottery funding became available. He showed slides of the various projects for the year 2000 in the heart of Bristol , including the construction of The Millenium Mile stretching from Temple Mead to the SS Great Britain.
Another project in which he is involved- the Exeter Qayside, is bringing together a seafaring heritage with an industrial base, housing, and a marina. He proposed the adoption of a "hit list" for bad buildings. "We should be as concerned about getting rid of the bad buildings as in constructing good new ones as bad buildings destroy the environment".
During the question period, its was asked if architectural students were thinking in this more modern way and if the same could be said for planning departments? He was encouraging about Architectural Schools but felt that many planners act as barriers to constructing well integrated communities.
He concluded by stressing that urban design alone does not create great places- it is only a very important ingredient. Another, is the activity within a space or a place which is as important as the built quality of the place itself. Creating integrated places can make cities more exciting, so people would want to live in them.
(Betty Suchar)