Future Planning Workshops

Invigorated, having considered where we’ve come from and what we’ve achieved, we looked to challenges ahead in a series of workshops run throughout the afternoon of our Future Planning Day. Six themes explored topics that are pertinent to the practice’s direction, or the teams were keen to examine.

Sustainability

The scale of world-wide environmental challenges and implications of climate change may be daunting, but like charity, positive change in terms of sustainability has to start at home. Our studios need to lead by example, and we look to instigate further improvements through our People Plan.

Many of our projects are of extended duration, with guardianship and long-term stewardship roles embedded in our thinking and design approach. The opportunity of responsibility, rather than burden, lies with us; helping clients and communities look ahead and anticipate future change. Environmental considerations must be set in the context of commercial influences, which we expect to change rapidly in favour of those who adopt forward-thinking approaches. We look to further expand our capabilities, seeking opportunities to link environmental research and project initiatives, whilst developing our relationships with maintenance teams to inform ongoing care.

Vitruvian theory suggests designers focus on three central themes: strength, functionality and beauty, but we believe the addition of sustainable quality to the mix is long overdue. The advantages of the Stockholm system over structural plastic crates in tree pits, consideration of native species in light of climate change, and the move towards local community-grown produce all formed part of a wide-ranging debate.

Social Value

The concept of Social Value has changed considerably in our perception since the introduction of The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. We have utilised emphasis on this matter to structure and consolidate our approach, whilst maintaining the stance that greatest benefit is realised through our design work and when utilising our specific skills and discipline-related expertise. We recognise that the most interesting possibilities often arise unexpectedly throughout the course of projects.

Far from a contractual obligation through competitive tendering for public-sector commissions; real Social Value is aligned with our design ethos to go beyond expectations, and is embedded within our design approach. We are totally convinced of the benefits to all, but recognise the need for a robust evidence base that can be utilised to safeguard social value.

There is a strong link between sustainability and Social Value. Counteracting a consumerist and replacement-based marketplace with a more sustainable society has the potential for fantastic community-building opportunities. We have the ability to reduce isolation through creation of sociable and accessible places for all, empowering communities to collaboratively and constructively influence their future and environment. We can help improve health and wellbeing, by ensuring walking and cycling is the most attractive option, and through contact with nature; encouraging a deeper connection and respect for the environment.

People

“The nicest thing about Planit is that you can be yourself.” – Workshop quote.

There is a real sense of the Planit family within the practice, we enjoy spending time together and have great studio spaces – but there is always room for improvement! A host of ‘New Ideas for a New Year’ were enthusiastically suggested, building on the People Plan and recently launched Personal Development Programme that focuses on the assets and needs of each individual member of the team.

Work space adjustments that support creative thinking and collaboration were also discussed. Healthy activities outside work, such as walks and yoga; helping one another through a reciprocity ring; and, structured time to talk and think about each other were all put forward. Much of the conversation centred around shared responsibility (in combination with increased efficiency) to reduce stress; working better together to help one another.

As we move forward, renewing our collective relationship with ‘the land’ will be a key focus of our People Programme.

Innovation

Much of the practice’s development and diversification has been borne from a conviction that ‘there is always a way’. We may not immediately know how to achieve something, but we’re confident we can. As a result we have realised organic development through our responsive reaction to project opportunities. This has been backed by a constant raising of the bar in terms of our own expectations and desire to do, or be better. We observe, we review, we test, we refine.

Virtual Planit already ring fence time, which is dedicated to research and development, and will increase their role as a design exploration tool within the teams. There was, however, the sense that innovation pushes the boundaries even further. Links to the Salford University through our work on Pendleton, and a recent visit to GXN’s studio in Copenhagen, showed us how research into behaviour and materiality enriches design. The workshops uncovered a real appetite for creative experimentation that is not purely focused on an end goal but will, in time, enhance our schemes. Watch this space…

Finance

A grasp of financial considerations varies across the practice. Whilst seen by some as something that happens ‘behind the scenes’ as they concentrate on design work, there is recognition that everyone needs a level of understanding appropriate to their role and experience. Whilst driven by quality rather than profitability, we all need to appreciate the financial implications of how we operate. We discussed industry-wide cultural issues, the value of recording overtime, and the difference between pressure to work late, and a hunger to prove yourself or learn.

Creativity can be supported, rather than stifled by financial matters. A growing awareness enables the introduction and application of structures that improve efficiency, freeing up time for more design. It also informs open conversations with clients about project change and scope creep. We concluded that rather than concentrating on $$$, we needed another metric. Money should be considered as a means and tool to achieve both quality of life both in practice and through our project work. Is GDP (Gross Domestic Product) an outdated measure, and should we be looking a rating of GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness)?

Business Development

Designers regularly blur and extend the confines of their brief, refusing to be contained by their accepted discipline boundaries. We wouldn’t have it any other way! We actively encourage lateral thinking, holistic design approaches and creative collaboration. Our interests are broad and may appear to be somewhat eclectic in nature, but everything we do has a reason, an importance and a personality.

We all know that we play a vital role in creating the conditions and the physical environments that enable change to be realised. Time out from hands-on project works is needed to clarify our message, ideals and principles; clearly articulating the role we play. It is particularly important to relate the nature of interactions between the different parts of the Planit family, and how the various disciplines work best together.

The ability to harness social value benefits for clients and the communities within which we work is a real strength, and through better communication can support business development. Other areas of current interest are meanwhile uses and temporary urbanism; and small-scale interventions that bring new use and profile, utilising Standard Practice’s capabilities.

Our Future Planning Day was intense, productive and enjoyed by all. Discussion afforded much food for thought and will inform future initiatives and plans that we collectively take forward together.