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The Researcher


A title suitable for a hundred jobs. Generic. Totally inscrutable.

Years later, on overwrought CVs, this was rephrased for strategic effect;
Spatial Analyst and Urban Researcher sounded punchy and impressive.

For the most demanding job applications Pedestrian Movement Analyst was deployed.

As a green and compliant graduate carving out a career at the fringes of urban design, I spent thousands of hours cocooned in our company’s thirty storey headquarters.

Once prestigious, the building was tired and banal. Not distinctive enough to be a true carbuncle, just mediocre. Our office was located on floor twenty-two, occupying the West wing.

After a week of giddy excitement, the novelty of the working high above the street-scape quickly became mundane.

Double-glazing was tinted and sealed shut. Temperature centrally controlled. Expansive views unable to capture a neighbourhood atmosphere. The city distant and dull sounding. Urban conviviality far beneath us.

In day-to-day use our workplace felt stifling. This vertical island lacking interesting features.

The aesthetic itself was colourless in the way that so many office spaces are; All bland ceiling tiles, thin carpet and naff pastel paint. Abundant strip lighting, of course.

Everything standardised. Uniform. Oppressive.
Above all, the sedentary hours sitting at a desk, staring at a screen.

The sum effect of such stale environs was alienating and all-consuming.

Washing my hands in the toilets, I would sometimes catch myself pondering on all of this whilst staring briefly at the reflection looking back at me. An otherworldly image, drained of natural vitality. At once unsettling and self-fulfilling.

Yet our projects were exciting. Fantastic work, reshaping the very fabric of London itself and designing a more human orientated landscape.

I can walk through the city today and see massive changes to civic spaces in which I played some small but meaningful role.

The great squares Piccadilly and Trafalger, now better remodelled to accommodate their relentless footfall. The bold diagonal crossing at Oxford Circus, daring and free of needless clutter.

Or the ubiquitous provision of Boris Bike stations. And cyclists freely enjoying world class routes through The Royal Parks.

Worthy outcomes, albeit delivered through stifling office processes.

Over time I became a shadow of myself. Less potent and primal. The husk of a once vibrant being.

Pret served as my midday reprieve, their impressively cheerful baristas experts in light, frictionless chit-chat.

“Are you having a good day?” They’d ask.

“Yeah, it’s good.” I’d lie, then take my Wiltshire Cured Ham & Greve Cheese Baguette to sit outside.