The Fabric of City Life


The following words and images were first published in February 2021 in Pearson Lloyd’s Instagram takeover of the Design Museum’s Architecture Friday series. The images were taken by Luke and Tom through 25 years of observing people and places around the world. 

As both furniture and spatial designers, the work of Pearson Lloyd work works with and through the fabric of the city. We are passionate about the interplay between people, the products they use and the place they inhabit and the role of architecture at every resolution, macro to micro; from city to street to building and the threshold spaces between them. Through our work we explore the changing relationships between the fabric of the city and the human rituals, habits and behaviours that define our built environment.

At the human scale, the functions of everyday life that play out both within and without the architectural fabric, creating layers of texture that stand testament to the distinctive people, vernacular and craft of the city. What is a city without its people? Cities are not fixed entities, but ever-changing superorganisms that shift, swell and shrink according to the will, needs and habits of the people who live within them. The people define the character of a city in how we adapt and augment the buildings we inhabit.

The basic dimensional unit of cities and buildings is the human form. From the height of a seat to the position of a window, the ergonomics of space are defined by how far we can step, the length of our legs, the likely direction of our gaze. We make sense of these relationships as we pass through and use space and place, often unconsciously. The resultant functionality can be planned or unplanned.

The interface between architecture and the street reflects the commercial, cultural, religious and historical rituals of a place. It is these habits and rituals of the city’s users that introduce layers of function, creating an interface between the city and the people.

The city is a visual representation of the journeys we make, the services we use, and the systems that enable us to live our everyday lives. It is a collision of the planned and the unplanned, the temporary and the permanent.

We navigate through cities using a mix of memory, learnt behaviours and explicit guidance. The concept of a ‘legible city’ has grown in the last decade, helping communities to maximise the potential of their home and how they move through and within it. These physical services cohabit with the historical fabric of the spaces that they inhabit.

For any city, mass transit systems have an impact at least as powerful as the architecture they circumvent. The network of road and rail that feeds the city creates the scaffolding on which we build. Without this interconnected web nourishing the city and linking it to its surroundings, we cannot function.

Paradoxically, we tend to think of cities as self-contained – isolated entities rather than nodes within a network. For better or worse, road and rail represent the clearest physical expression of the networks we depend on.

Above all, zooming out, cities are communal places where we live alongside friends, neighbours , colleagues and strangers in an instinctive choreography of unspoken co-operation. People are the lifeblood of the city, transforming it from inanimate matter into a living, breathing organism. Together, we form a complex network of connections. Without each other, we are nothing.

Cities grow and evolve, decay and rebuild. Defined by functional needs, the city’s buildings in turn define the culture of their local area, which changes and mutates over time. Sometimes these changes mean that once-functional spaces become redundant, until they acquire new meaning through cultural change, or a new function is found to suit their typology. Work space, creative space, storage space, living space – a building can play all of these roles over the course of its life.

This process is what gives cities their organic, unpredictable quality. A natural human phenomenon, Cities are random, chaotic and inefficient. Often they exist only as a result of our apparent ability to make nature yield to our will. The loss of balance and harmony within our way of life is something we will surely come to regret. It’s time to change.