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Last edited 19 Oct 2021
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 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.
Urban Design Guidelines for Victoria, published by The State of Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in 2017, suggests that urban context refers to: ‘…the broader setting of an identified area. The context may include the physical surroundings of topography, movement patterns and infrastructure, built form and uses, the governance structures, and the cultural, social and economic environment. The urban context can include the community vision for the area, and preferred future character, form and function.’
It suggests that: 'Similar to a site analysis, context analysis provides a detailed description and examination of aspects of the wider area around a site, to determine how these aspects will effect and contribute to the design of a proposed building development or public space design. An urban context analysis informs the building development or public space design response.'
Conservation Principles, Guidance for the sustainable management of the historic environment in Northern Ireland, published by the Historic Environment Division in July 2021, defines context as: ‘Any relationship between a heritage asset and its setting, including other places and its past, relevant to the values of that heritage asset.’
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