The creative tensions that exist between an urban environment and the natural world
Humans and nature by Katrina Russell Adams
Campbell Cadey worked with Katrina Russell Adams to create an initial proposal for the Camden Highline competition and, while we weren’t shortlisted for this incredibly popular competition, we are really proud of our original approach.
Our proposal aimed to explore how the interactions and tensions between nature and the built environment can create a playful and equitable landscape that draws on both organic and structural elements to enhance wellbeing through occupation of the space.
The wildness of the existing natural elements that have overtaken the railway line between Camden Town and King’s Cross have set a playful creeping narrative that shows how the space can be occupied and enlivened by “deviant” use. As the fabric decays, the paint peels and the ground breaks up, the plant life starts to take over providing a wild freshness that adds beauty and intrigue. Light starts to dance between the levels.
Design practice often attempts to control and tame incursions by natural elements into architectural spaces, its viral nature providing a source of fear and a lack of control. However, by embracing these interactions there is potential to create something exciting and joyful that stimulates a real sense of freedom in the user, and creates an adaptable and sustainable space that can be enjoyed now and in the future.
A crucial part of both Katrina and Campbell Cadey’s practice is exploring mental wellbeing through personal experiences and academic research. The potential for spaces to enhance wellbeing is seen as crucial, and the embracing of tensions that exist in the built and social environment is a huge part of that.
As individual people we are all different and gain comfort in different types of space: the dance between complexity and emptiness, predictability and chaos and legibility and mystery give the potential for spaces to enhance a broader spectrum of people’s experience. Nature and the built environment battle each of these tensions and provide exciting opportunities for interventions.
The image we created for the competition is not that of a traditional architectural proposal. Katrina was inspired by elements of the route of the proposed Highline. Influence was taken from the railway structures and the history, architecture, structure and sense of place; each abstracted shape has a ‘railway’ origin. She visualises play sculptures and benches that are appealing and functional, yet compliment those points of tension in landscaped Urban Parks; acknowledging and uniting with the existing surroundings rather than ignoring them. Imagine depth, distance and nature and life between each coloured shape.
We envisage a space where the residents and visitors take on the next layer of occupation, just as radically as nature has occupied the derelict disused railway line, creating a diverse space, that allows people to use the space to play, escape and simply be themselves.