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Common Land for Ford-Yapton, Re-thinking the Eco-Town

Part 2 Project 2009
Mark Smith
London Metropolitan University | UK
The project that is concerned with the founding of place is based on a disused WWI airfield that is earmarked as a potential eco-town development of 5000 homes. A new common provides a central open space between three villages (two existing and one future development) where local economy, culture and public life can flourish.

The airfield having been disused for over twenty years has been colonised by the local communities as a vital public space the like of which is not provided by the conventional housing developments that make up the neighbouring villages. This situation is exploited and intensified by new landscape infrastructure and strategic built interventions.

The popular Sunday market that currently takes place on the site is given a roof and a permanent home that uses a modulation in scales of structure to suggest an organisation in scale of market activity. This organisation flows out and around the building suggesting a scale of future development around the building. The market hall becomes a founding stone.

The edge between each village and the common is marked by one of three towers. Tall objects within a flat, low lying landscape that take on the quality of navigational markers, suggesting routes and relationships across the landscape. Each tower changes in scale depending on its distance from the central market hall. The towers have three scales of structure each addressing a different relationship to the landscape from the distant observer to the potential inhabitant.

The final moment for the work was to return the whole project to the market and have local people test it by suggesting ways in which they would inhabit the common and its structures. Testing the potential for this model to successfully integrate new and existing communities and provide a public space that is a common resource.

Mark Smith

Mark was part of the Free Unit. In the Free Unit students develop their own thesis design projects. Projects have close links to the student’s history and values and mark the beginning of their future practice more than the end of their education. There is an emphasis on live projects that engage with policy, politics and users.

Mark’s project for Ford Yapton represents a year of self directed research pursued with rigour and inventiveness. The subject, methods and aesthetic are his. His tutors Robert Mull, Peter Carl and Hana Loftus merely “eavesdropped” on the process.

In Mark’s work nothing is mediated, everything is directly experienced, touched, drawn and felt. In the project for Ford Yapton Mark engages with and respects the complexities of the English countryside and its people to produce a spatial and material language, which is contextual without pastiche or sentimentality. His commitment to the direct link between hand and eye played out in beautiful sketches, watercolours and models is refreshing in the age of parametrics and represents a gentle humanity we all admired.

Mark studied the way English towns are founded and grow and developed from this a careful strategy for establishing a new town. The first move was an elegant timber market building, which captures the existing informal market making it the centre for future growth. He then marks two existing villages and the site of a third planned village with three towers of different scales. These primitive towers, reminiscent of church towers, mark the edges of a central common, which Mark leaves empty except for careful landscaping and new drainage.

Mark acknowledges that towns develop over time and are the result of many authors. He is not afraid of normative development rather he seeks to ground it by providing a robust framework, which dignifies the existing condition and structures future development by others.

His final act of generosity was to return to the site, set up a stall at the Saturday market and explain his project. It was well received and Mark having graduated is now part of the ongoing conversation about the future of Ford Yapton. Perhaps now the real project begins?

Mr Prof. Robert Mull

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