Every single thing in existence is shrink wrapped in its unique dense weave of relationships that we call its context. Problem solving is dependent on the ability to grasp the contextual weave surrounding any issue: the knowledge a guerilla must have concerning the nature of his operational terrain is as contextually driven as the information a stockbroker requires to make decisions offering the greatest positive economic impact. The deeper the complexity of a problem, the deeper must one converse with the weave of its particular context for heightened intuition and informed decision-making. Knowledge and its application as wisdom is contextual. Creativity and its application as design is no different.
Design is the conversation between creativity and context.
Architectural context most basically refers to site geography, local building bylaws, the high tension power line or twenty storeyed building next door. It is about where the sun rises and sets or where prevailing winds blow. For the diligent architect, context will include budget constraints and the relevance of use. However, design relevance works at much deeper levels through a consideration of specific context. Specific context references the rational discovery of natural and human phenomena that are revealed through the specificity of place. It is about how the surrounding desert environment of Karachi coats buildings, leaves, food and people with fine dust over the course of each day. About the fact that dinner rarely begins before nine at night in Madrid and the way humidity in the monsoon tropics buckles the pages of hardcover books and causes constant staining of glazed curtain walled buildings downtown. It is about how the dry cold of a temperate climate will deform and split timber brought from a humid equatorial region and about the storm drains in Beijing that collect water run-off to vastly different effect from those in Jakarta. Understanding specific context is about perceiving intelligently the subtle effects of geography, society and culture in any one particular place. It is as much about any one society's attitude to garbage as it is about the reasons why orange-coloured lichen grows on the boughs of rain trees in Singapore and not in Kuala Lumpur with barely two degrees of latitude between them. It is about how specificity of place guides the processes and subsequent form of relevant design.
Specific context also applies to the way any one country or construction region most commonly works and builds, about which materials and processes have best adapted functionally and economically over time in each of their specific locations: it questions which of the imported technologies and products constitute relevance in a particular place or geography. The specific context of building culture is about the peculiarity of ways in which any one construction society operates, measures and monitors itself, from the way brick walls might be laid to how shuttering is erected. It is as subtle and as pervasive as a weather system and is bound to a constant state of slow evolution.
Understanding specific context invites the questioning of dominant paradigms within which global culture operates: it celebrates difference as it dismantles ubiquity. If design is indeed the conversation between creativity and context, then specific context is that which births specific design.