Places are very powerful influences on what we become. Some of our most formative interactions occur in the places we’re born and grow up. 

I was born in Durham, very close to the city. If you haven’t ever visited Durham you must. Go now. Log off and go now. It’s not a place you’ll forget in a hurry.

It’s impossible to spend any time at all in Durham and not fall in love with history. The old town sits astride the river Wear, looking up astonished at its immense romanesque cathedral, a multi-facetted stony mass on a rocky promontory, castle right next door, impenetrable walls, crenellations, towers, gargoyles, arches, buttresses, all rising effortlessly up off the wooded banks of the river as if at any moment the whole thing might engage thrusters and head back up into the heavens where it clearly belongs.

The other life-long impression Durham made on the young me was (and is) a taking-for-granted that magnificent building and harmonious city growth are perfectly compatible with an environment of dominant wooded space. The banks of the Wear are dense with mature tree cover, every bit as important visually as the cathedral itself. Durham has always been my touchstone in this regard – when I hear it argued that trees and city development don’t mix, I can’t agree. It may be hard to achieve these days, but the investment – in time, igenuity, urban space and good technical design – nets a fantastic return if only we‘re brave enough to make it.

In my view, trees should be part of our conciousness of structure and form at every stage of the design process. Whether we’re working around them without doing harm, or replanting generously for the future. If a visit to Durham doesn’t convince you of that, looking up from Elvet, Framwellgate or Prebends bridge, it’s entirely possible you have no soul.