Last edited 12 Sep 2018

Context

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In its widest sense, the term 'context' refers to the circumstances or interrelated conditions that are relevant to something that exists or occurs.

In terms of the built environment, 'context' can refer to the conditions which surround a particular site or project, and to which it should relate and connect to in some way. The buildings and structures that make up the built environment do not exist in isolation but are conceived and designed in order to respond to, support and enhance their surroundings.

With the notion of context come connotations of the existing fabric, the locality, tradition and the vernacular. By embedding the intentions of a design within the essence of its surroundings, a connection linking new and old can be made, creating or maintaining a metaphysical 'place'.

The context of a building or site might include:

  • The topography of the area.
  • The site’s history and previous uses.
  • Local culture.
  • Architectural style.
  • Local materials and construction techniques.
  • Weather and microclimate.
  • Political conditions.
  • National and local policy.
  • The state of the economy.

These factors can be analysed, adapted and adopted to make a proposed development 'fit' into its context. This can give meaning to different aspects of a project through reference to its wider surroundings.

Context is one the aspects of design that might be considered when a planning application is made. Planners may reject a planning application if they do not feel a proposed development fits within the local context.

Contextualism, or contextual architecture, is a principle of design in which a structure is designed in response to its specific urban and natural environment.

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