Having spent a lot of time over the past couple of years gazing out of hospital and care home windows, the importance of a view has become increasingly apparent to me – a place where your mind, if not your physical being can wander. I suppose that the current lockdown brings this more sharply into focus as it enables us to understand how important a view can be, particularly for those who have limited or no opportunities to go outside. As part of the TVIA Team I’m not unused to attributing value to a view, determining the sensitivity of a viewer, and ultimately assessing the effect of proposed changes upon both. Perhaps this prolonged period of lockdown will result in a reassessment of what is important to us all in terms of our physical surroundings.
I moved closer to Cardiff two days before lockdown, to reduce the three-hour daily commute that I have been doing for the past 15 years – ironic! The difference between the outlook I had eight weeks ago and what I have experienced since couldn’t be more stark. Previously surrounded by a garden enclosed by hedges and trees on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, now our only area of private open space comprises a small balcony laid with astro-turf.
During those first few days I wondered if we’d made a monumental mistake – how were we going to cope? Well we’ve had weeks of sunshine, which helps, and I should mention that we do have sea views so it’s really not as bleak as perhaps I’d first made out. The balcony provides not only a lovely place to sit and enjoy views across the Bristol Channel, but has allowed us to ‘meet’ our new neighbours, grow giant sunflowers (that might be a mistake) and provides a platform for the, by now, well-established Thursday evening ‘Clap for Carers’. The daily cycle of morning dog-walkers, lunchtime strollers and post-work evening walkers currently provides an interesting ‘trickle’ of humanity passing by, while the carers visiting the sheltered housing complex opposite provide structure to the day. Occasionally we have the excitement of seeing a large ship heading into Cardiff docks or, as last week, a helicopter delivering supplies to the island of Flat Holm. The arrival of spring and the dawn chorus has brought the flourishing of a multi-coloured tree canopy, filtering some views and framing others.
Maybe it’s because my surroundings are new to me that I so appreciate the view I currently have, but it has made me re-evaluate what I consider to be of importance. I have realised that being able to see activity out of my window, experienced at different times throughout the day, has provided me with a link to the outside world and helped me not to feel quite so cut off from the society which, until recently, we perhaps all took very much for granted.
A quick straw-poll of my colleagues across the company concluded, unsurprisingly that views of the sky, trees and wildlife are important to many of us at the moment. However alongside this there has been an appreciation of the importance of the differing scale of views, ranging from those of the intimate, private courtyard to extensive views of distant hillsides, and everything in-between. Neighbouring properties provide an interesting, or bland, backdrop and their occupants have the potential to enliven the view. Some of us have attributed names and backstories to people we don’t even know. The lack of vehicles has seen roads being reclaimed by people, with children playing in the streets, their chattering and laughter together with birdsong, becoming the new soundtrack to many of our urban areas. Others have highlighted the effect that aspect has had – with warmer, south facing rooms winning out over cooler, north facing ones. Some bemoan the result of neighbour’s past decisions and the impact it has had upon their view, whether these are buildings or ‘landscaping’. Some just moan about their neighbours! A number have even confessed that they would not want their view to be affected by future development – so you see, planners are human!
At the time of writing we have been confined to our homes for two months, but for many this is not the ‘new normal’. We should remember that there is an element in our society, including the elderly, infirm and those with mental health issues, who’s lives revolved around being unable to leave their homes before this all started. People whose main experience of everyday life outside their four walls is either through the media or the view out of their window.
When we are all readjusting to life after lockdown will we have a greater appreciation of our daily views? More importantly perhaps, will the experience of this lockdown provide us with a greater empathy for those who are confined to their homes or beds and will we, as professionals who help shape the built environment, address this in our everyday work? I would like to think that it will.