The Common Garden: An Architecture of Intersections

What is it that is in front of you? No, not the thing. The other thing.

The bit you peer through, the space, the air. The bit you exist in. It’s hardly unimportant.

Your air?

Your space?

Maybe you’re sitting at home and you can say with a feeling of confidence.

“This is my space and this is my air!”

What about if you’re sitting in an office? Is it their air or their space? I mean they’re paying for it and maybe processing it so that you can sit there.

Some entity somewhere is listed as the owner of the land. Maybe then there’s a lease. Developers, landlords, lets and sub-lets. I mean, it can get really complicated.

Is it all theirs then or is a bit yours?

Do you slice it up and apportion a bit to each?

What’s fair or does fairness have nothing to do with it?

It does matter you see, that air and that space. It’s vital to your very existence.

But a factory and a car can spew out pollution. The electromagnetic spectrum can be sliced up and sold off to the highest bidder. Your air conditioning can be equipped with decontaminants. The space within which you ‘exist’ itself observed with CCTV. Even the activity of your mind, your most personal inner space, monitored and tracked whilst browsing the Internet at home.

You see I think that ‘it is yours’ no matter where you are.

It’s impossible in truth to separate it away from you!

It is your air and it is your space and this means something very important.

It means we’ve got it all wrong.

The Common Garden

How do you explain things to people so that they can experience in a way that they can be changed by that experience?

In my last couple of posts I introduced ‘the garden’ as a metaphor for how we can understand place and also introduced the concept of understanding place and it’s networks from an ecological viewpoint.

In this post we’re going to be looking at place as ‘the garden’ again but this time we’re going to be looking at what it means from the perspective of networks.

The introduction may look out of place… lol… but I shall try to bring everything back together by the end.

A Matter of Perspective

“To be or not to be” is a matter of perspective.

“To be a bee or not to be a bee” now that really is a question!

Our perspective as individuals and as humans is in some ways shared and in others unique. We all experience and understand the world differently through a common set of senses and organs.

Our personal experience of ‘a garden’ for example comes from a very human viewpoint.

Animals, plants and all living things experience the same ‘garden’ very differently.

There is much this video offers to those involved in place!

The ant world is full of pheromones. For some spiders vibration.

You get my drift.

All of these invisible worlds all happening at the same time in the same place.

If we could see it. It would blow our minds!

It’s miraculous.

Welcome to Eden

In Islamic culture geometry plays an important part.

Traditional Islamic and Persian Gardens utilised geometry and geometric patterns in their design and construction. The purpose of the gardens was to provide a space for relaxation, contemplation and very importantly — to convey an understanding of life in paradise.

Islamic Garden Carpets follow in this tradition.

The Persian word for an enclosed space is pairi-daeza which translates as paradise garden. In Greek this became paradeisos and is the term used for the Garden of Eden in the Greek Old Testament.

Now I would also like to introduce you to another geometric work which illustrates how a traditional Islamic geometer creates complex designs.

What we see here is the final work along with the; design logic, lines and circles which are the constructional materials.

It is in how these lines and circles are prepared, measured, marked, and intersected which when brought into conjunction create the final design.

The Geometry of Place

When we look out of the window at place (a town or neighbourhood) what we see is not a garden.

What we see is everyone and everything following its own agenda.

It may be an ecosystem but it’s a jungle out there.

For ‘a garden’ to exist anywhere there is a requirement for some kind of higher purpose or vision than any individualistic approach can ever serve or lead to.

Let’s take a look at how that picture might begin to form.

In the image above I’m trying to bring a few concepts together.

The Garden represents place and the people who live there, as well as local nature and the environment. It could be any polygon but the purpose here is to convey the basic premise.

In the top left corner we have ‘the arts’. In this area we can place arts and culture organisations which are able to provide some form of benefit to ‘the garden’.

To make it simple we will use 1 local organisation and 1 global organisation.

Let’s imagine say an Arts Centre in a town and the Arts Council who are a national organisation.

The town Arts Centre is popular but on a day-to-day basis it’s work doesn’t expand outwards to encompass the needs and potential of place (‘the garden’).

The Arts Council in a similar way, does its day-to-day work very well but has typically not expanded outwards to encompass the needs and potential of place (‘the garden’) by proactively influencing and developing the capacity and ability for local arts organisations to perform this role.

Yes?

Think of the two organisations as self-contained circles which don’t expand out as far as they could with a little bit of imagination.

In the bottom left hand corner we have ‘the state’.

To keep everything simple let’s just say that it’s exactly the same story here as well.

This isn’t to say that any of these organisations don’t deliver to the public! They do and they do a good job. It’s just that I believe ‘place’ can represent an additional set of understanding around the potential to do things differently and in a collaborative manner.

Expanding our horizons

Imagine with me if you will…

One day the sun comes up and with it an approval for a recent Arts Centre grant application for a collaborative place-based project working with a couple of local estates.

This event places in the hand of the organisation a pair of compasses with which it can begin to draw out an expanded form of itself.

In this expanded role they will need to build up an understanding of ‘the garden’. The place, its personality, its problems and its potential.

They will in effect be ‘brought into relationship’ with place.

This should be intimate and meaningful stuff.

At the same time the pioneering Arts Council has been commissioning research into place-based approaches and community practice and has a programme of support and capacity building.

They are ready to begin supporting local organisations with; dedicated support, a funded peer network for communities, a Practitioner Community of Practice, as well as a number of other capacity development programmes and research.

This is a similar expansion of role but now taking place at the global level. Much of this too can be thought of as work around ‘bringing into relationship’.

The circles that these organisations can draw outwards from themselves all expand to provide and include more and more potential and possibility.

They are becoming global or local contributors and participants in ‘the garden of place’.

A similar set of behaviour and activity can also take place originating from the corner and organisations representing ‘the state’.

This is not ‘business as usual’ or ‘delivery of services’.

It is here in ‘the garden’ that everyone can begin to offer their unique gifts and talents.

Just like drawing a circle with a compass from your corner. Your organisational efforts and desires must be oriented towards ‘the garden’.

This is not about ego or agenda (drawing inwards, towards your centre).

It is about offering your gifts (drawing outwards, towards ‘the heart’).

The Heart of the Garden and the Centre of Things

As well as the pattern we see projected outwards from the corners and directed towards ‘the garden’ we also see a pattern form from the centre of the pattern outwards.

Place-based working requires participation at the local-level and this becomes the centre of things or ‘the heart of the garden’.

It is now that we have these corners coming into formation and a centre around which they can orient and connect that multiple patterns and designs can be brought into being.

This is building up a picture of a potential collaborative space.

As localities and communities reach out and as organisations offer their gifts, we see relationships begin to form, ideas solidify in action and possibilities become realised.

It is this ‘becoming’ which changes a geometers paper and construction lines into a beautifully intricate and colourful work of art.

It is this ‘act’ and ‘behaviour’ which changes a desert or a jungle into a garden.

There is no need for a grand plan.

There is only a need to follow some simple principles.

Weaving together elements and possibilities

So now we can see things from the top looking down.

We can see our organisations and we can see how we might be interoperating, cooperating, collaborating or working in a place-based way.

So now I’d like us to consider how things look from the side and how we may create forms from a different type of conceptual material.

I’ve written about how place (a town/village etc) actually has multiple dimensions to it.

Spiritual, Cultural, Historical etc.

Each of these can contain a mix of physical and non-physical assets. They allow us to conceptualise, understand and identify these often invisible or covered aspects of place.

These groupings also allow us to weave in or interconnect otherwise separate elements so that we are able to construct entirely new possibilities.

I’m copying this description from another post which touches on Place-Based Learning but it should equally apply to anything Place-Based…

Don’t think of the individual elements in isolation (e.g. music teacher, college, arts centre, cultural events, community venues, live music venues…)

Think of how all of these elements can complement each other and create a platform for learners to navigate through as they choose.

Think of how other forms of learning and development could be intermixed with this to create something for the ‘whole person’ to be engaged and developed.

If it helps you could imagine the game ‘cat’s cradle’.

As educational or developmental practitioners, local organisations or institutions you can reach your hands deep into place and bring them back out to create multiple place-based learning experiences.

In effect you are working with the ‘material’ of connections and relationships (existing, uncovered or becoming).

In the same way, once learning is connected to place the learner is able to reach their own hands into the material and form shapes that fit around their personal desires, needs and circumstances.

In this understanding global, cultural, historical or spiritual dimensions become a route to imbue those temporary forms with additional meaning, depth or purpose.

They can bring life and substance to empty forms or be used as a body around which the learning can become situated.

The path and the journey

We have brought a garden into being and learnt how to weave and fashion its invisible dimensions, elements and potentialities into endless new forms and possibilities.

It is in this garden that we can discover and develop ourselves and also offer our gifts.

It is a place of abundance.

You can walk your own path here on a journey of wonder and becoming.

The garden can be with us wherever we are.

In summary

This is not a serious model of any kind!

But what it does do is bring together a number of thoughts related to ‘place’ and ‘networks’ and helps present them in a way in which they can be easily remembered and understood.

There are some very basic principles here and they are useful.

Principles of The Garden

I’m not going to define any rules! This is all an imagining and a story with which to illustrate a different way of looking at and doing things.

If there are any rules or decisions to be made then they should be learnt together and decided together.

  • The garden comes into being from the gifts of all.
  • It is from their meeting, a place of relationships, and shared purpose that it comes into form.
  • The bee is as much the garden as is the land and the air. It is all impossible in truth to separate.
  • With every addition, every potential and possibility is multiplied.
  • We draw our roles and behaviours from the centre of our being out towards ‘the heart of the garden’.
  • It is ‘the heart of the garden’ that reaches out and invites us ‘into relationship’ with it and with each other.

Of air and space and you

This place of relationships. This material of forms. This space of becoming and being. This is a network of networks. A place of life.

It is possible to define this space. To hold this space. To protect it and to develop it as a form of commons.

It is here that we can redefine and reimagine our lives through; what we have, what we give and what we create in common.

We may not be able to rewrite the laws of the land.

But we can write the laws of this one.

Founder of Socially Enterprising / Commoner / Mostly Unemployed.