Subversion

Last year, Rosie King and I took a wander around St Loyes, noticing and thinking about the built and natural environment, and how we inhabit our space.

At lunchtime, on a green verge in Sowton industrial estate, we saw some workmen in their hi-vis resting on a line of boulders and having a smoke. At the time, the boulders spoke to us of exclusion; they are there to prevent travellers from parking up on the verge. But later, we saw campervans parked up in another part of the industrial estate. The owners of the campervans knew where they could park, and this led us to think further about subversion.

Sowton Industrial Estate isn’t just a group of large industrial, office and retail buildings where people drive to go to work or shop. Some people live there, a lot of nature lives there, and the green pockets are quite productive. Rosie and I did our own minor bit of subversion by foraging for blackberries along one hedge. The boundaries are blurred.

How do you behave in your space? Do you obey all the signs? Flout them? Take them overly literally? Do you follow the unwritten rules… how tidy do you keep your garden compared to your neighbours?! How much do you respect boundaries, between public, community and private, or different types of land use? Do you play in it, and make faces out of old quarry faces?

St Loyes is very much designed for the car, but there are many signs of subversion here too. Rosie and I saw and followed many desire paths, paths made by people taking the easiest route between places. The best example of these desire paths are between the pedestrian crossings at the traffic junctions on the Rydon Lane ring road, which are located according to design for the car, not for the people using them. On either side of the dual carriageway, the footpaths from the offices of Pynes Hill and the Exe Vale Retail Park actually emerge about halfway between the crossings. And so there are many paths in the grass verge where office workers have simply taken the most direct route to cross.

St Loyes may be designed for the car, but real people are subverting this all the time. How instead can we design for people? Maybe we should start with these desire paths by putting up some street signs!