One size does not fit all: the importance of context for project success copy

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Contact Stefano Sedda, Senior Associate Director

With more than 14 years of experience delivering unique developments and destinations around the world, Stefano is committed to designing spaces and places that are humancentric, and enrich human interaction.

Here we asked him to share some of his thinking on the role of context and vision in the design process.

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"I have always explained to my team that scale/complexity doesn’t matter if you really understand your direction of travel. You don’t want to take a train or a plane without knowing your destination!"

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What do you believe is meant by project context? How much do you think this can impact the way a project is shaped?

Quoting Michelangelo Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Whenever we approach a site, a piece of land or a building, it’s crucial to stop for a moment and try to understand where the project is, why it is there and where we want it to be in few years, before being carrying away by our own creative process and the design itself. Every place has its own history, character, a unique way of how people and communities live it and see it. All this information sits at different levels amidst different layers. It is the designer’s task to bring them all to the surface and stitch them together.

What we want, as designers, is to avoid delivering alien buildings to who and what is around us. Beauty and quality are, and will always be, an imperative goal, but the world keeps changing, the way we live keeps changing, so the soul of the design has to be set in order to stay there for much longer and remind us of the roots of the place.

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How does the team achieve a strong understanding of what the client needs? What would you say are the challenges of doing this on a large-scale project?

The first word that comes to my mind is narrative. From the first informal conversation with the client to the kick off meeting and the briefing session with the team, it’s vital that everyone understands the aspirations of a project. Large-scale projects can be overwhelming due the complexities, constraints and knowledge required, but they can also be easily simplified, to a single, clear vision. For me, having a coherent vision is vital; fundamentally it gives a sense of purpose to the team, so that they can work to overcome any challenges together. 

I have always explained to my team that scale/​complexity doesn’t matter if you really understand your direction of travel. You don’t want to take a train or a plane without knowing your destination!


One size does not fit all, but are there lessons we can carry over to new projects?

I am now thinking about two projects very different and very important to me: Victoria Place Woking and a confidential site in London that we have been trying to develop and deliver for a long time.

Looking at Woking I can see what has been so important and the real driver: the vision for the town and its community and the willingness to start a new chapter of the town’s history. The development was only the last piece of the puzzle, the element that visually completed the town centre vision and emotionally connected the local communities all together by giving them a new sense of belonging and pride.

Thinking about London, the story is completely different. The project, surrounded by a lot of other good designs, is not set only to compete with the others but, on the contrary, to help transforming its context into a new destination for London, open to everyone, from local communities to internationals, classless, and act as the new catalyst that will change the way the place and the area have been seen and perceived during the last few decades.

These two projects clearly define why it is so important to understand first the context and its character, they have both lessons learnt that can definitely inform other projects, but after all one size does not fit all.

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