A Sense of Place 2004A Sense of Place
30th June-1st July 2004

A two day experience brought people together from the UK, USA, Japan and Africa to explore the ingredients that create places that people love, that inspire, heal and delight.

In the spirit of the theme of the conference, we chose some unusual and sensory rich venues, each with a distinctive sense of place. The conference opened in a cave, then moved to the light and sweet smelling mediterranean biome in the Eden Project. Next day to a theatre, then on a ferry in the rain, and ending in a beautiful park on the banks of the Tamar river.

Sue Hill speaking in Carglaze CavernsThe conference opened in Carnglaze Caverns. Jane Stoneham set the scene for the two days, explaining why the Sensory Trust sees sense of place as such an important theme. “If we ignore the things that make places special, and forget the ingredients that connect us with our environments and with other people, then we end up with designs that mean nothing and that no-one cares about”.

Peter Thoday gave a thought provoking talk, exploring the question ‘how do we create sense of place? How much of a sense of place is intellectual, and how much emotional?’.

David Kamp joined us from Dirtworks PC in New York City to share his inspirational work with the creation ofrestorative public gardens and memorial landscapes to create a sense of welcome, comfort and safety.

Sue Hill, artistic director at the Eden Project talked about place-specific theatre. Sense of place is as much about people and activities as landscape. When she asked delegates to recall a special memory of being out in the landscape it brought forth a rich collection of sensory rich stories.

Rona Weekes from Quest International focused on a single sense: smell. How smell works, and why it has such strong associations with memory and emotions. She brought scents with her, which were used throughout the talk to evoke memory and explain sensory value in landscape.

dinner at EdenAt the Eden Project Tim Smit gave a powerful account, tempered with his usual down-to-earth approach, of the development of The Lost Gardens of Heligan and Eden Project. He highlighted a theme that ran through so many of the talks – it’s not the money, it’s shared vision, passion and understanding of what makes a place special that brings about great things.

On day two at the Barbican Theatre in Plymouth, Hazel Stuteley OBE told the story of the regeneration of the Beacon Estate in Falmouth and the power that came from regaining a sense of place and community for an area fragmented by crime, unemployment and social problems. She called the people in that community ‘Trojan mice’, as it took just a few of them to turn the whole place around.

Julia Cassim, Research Director of the Helen Hamlyn Institute, RCA highlighted the importance of engaging with disabled people as design partners, rather than simply as users or testers, in the development of products and environments. Julia illustrated the dangers of designing spaces by dogmatically following guidelines and pleaded for an approach that interpreted guidelines appropriate to place.

Peter Thoday talking at the Barbican TheatreRichard Scott from Landlife took us through the history of the pioneering Liverpool organisation dedicated to the development of community through low cost wildflower planting. Sowing wildflower meadows on brownfield sites has been at the heart of helping many communities in the Liverpool area improve their health and quality of life.

Donald Boddy described the philosophy behind the design of the award-winning West Pennine Remembrance Park and of his work in Zambia. Cemeteries should be designed to allow activities such as celebration and contemplation and to aid the processes of grieving and remembrance.

The regenerative plans for Plymouth itself were highlighted by Peter Ford and Su Thompson from Plymouth City Council. Su talked about the improvements in play provision and Peter quickly outlined the Mackay vision for the centre of the city. The event ended at Mount Edgcumbe Park, a Grade I listed landscape.

A publication based on the conference proceedings is available.