Princes Square does not yet exist but is a name, for the purposes of this essay, I am giving to a public space adjacent to Princes Street Bridge, Ipswich in a masterplan I am evolving for an 800m stretch of the River Orwell (Fig. 1) through my professional employment at the architectural practice of Mountford Pigott LLP.
Our client, PRUPIM (Prudential Property Investment Managers), own a key site which, if combined with the land released from closing an unused rail line along the riverside, becomes a powerful instrument in delivering a piece of town that is strategically placed to help unlock the council’s aims for regenerating the surrounding parts of Ipswich. The council themselves are the other major landowner in this area and the PRUPIM are drawing everyone together via the masterplan. Princes Square is at one of the gateways into Ipswich and has the potential to become one of the town’s collection of distinctive public spaces.
The design of the space is at gestation stage and further design development would need to take place to support the work at the planning application stage. This coursework is being used as an opportunity to consider the further design work – approaching it in terms of place identity.
This task is taken in two parts.
PART 1 outlines all the factors considered relevant to setting a place identity brief and finishes with some conclusions about that brief.
PART 2 goes on to interpret the brief into a design, expressing it by means of an extended design rationale.
Following Butina-Watson and Bentley (2007) two concepts are used within the text:
“Cultural Landscape” is used to signify a place’s structures and open spaces – those landscapes modified by human intervention.
“Imagined community” is used to signify the community an individual imagines he belongs to because that community is populated with people would make the same kind of choice as the individual thereby validating his choices through their approval.
The aim of PART 1 is to establish a place identity brief for the design of Princes Square. The first step is to expose some traits about Ipswich that may be significant in how people view the town; how its cultural landscape has been shaped; and what meanings can be read into it. These are drawn from its history, social and cultural affairs, economics and politics.
Ipswich, said to be the oldest continuously settled Anglo-Saxon town in England (Ipswich Borough Council 2007), took shape where the River Orwell becomes an estuary (Fig. 2). Its main importance then and through the ages was as a port but was also a centre for industry. The nature of the industry changed over time – until the 17th century wool was the main commodity, replaced in importance by shipbuilding and then in the 19th century added to by a whole array of industries including iron foundries making farm machinery and railway parts. During this period the port boomed but the emphasis shifted from international to coastal trade.
Lord and Lady Nelson settled in Ipswich in 1797. He was appointed High Steward of the town in 1800. Although probably not there very much because of ongoing naval action, it might be inferred that Ipswich was chosen because of its qualities as a port. Certainly earlier in the century Daniel Defoe (1724 -1727) could plainly see these qualities leading him to reflect on what must have been a lull in the town’s fortunes at the time of his visit:
What I have said, is only to let the world see, what improvement this town and port is capable of; I cannot think, but that Providence, which made nothing in vain, cannot have reserv’d so useful, so convenient a port to lie vacant in the world, but that the time will some time or other come (especially considering the improving temper of the present age) when some peculiar beneficial business may be found out, to make the port of Ipswich as useful to the world, and the town as flourishing, as nature has made it proper and capable to be.
The port was naturally situated either side of the estuary with the town centre nestling to the north in front of rising land. Industry developed alongside the port and spread, during the 19th century, up the river into the masterplan area (Fig. 3). The Orwell becomes non-tidal about 400m further on from the subject site where it changes its name changes to the Gipping – it is thought that the name Ipswich derives from “Gippa’s wic” (wic is an old word meaning port). When the railways came to Ipswich – the Great Eastern Line running from London to Norwich – the topography kept the line to south of the river with the station at the closest point on that side of the river to the centre and linked to it with a new bridge (Princes Street Bridge). A branch line came back over the river allowing a substantial goods sidings to serve the industry and then trace its way along the edge of the port to re-join the main line further south – it is the potential closure of this branch that is the reason for this masterplan.
One of the town’s most famous sons was Cardinal Wolsey (born here c.1473) and even though most of his subsequent life was spent elsewhere he did try to create a school as a seat of learning that could rival Oxford and Cambridge. Fig. 4 shows a gateway, the only remnant of this exercise, which folded when Wolsey fell from Henry V111’s favour. His memory endures in many of the street names around the masterplan area: Wolsey Street, Cardinal Street, the Wolsey Theatre, and indeed PRUPIM’s main existing assets – a group of commercial leisure buildings – are known as Cardinal Park (Fig. 5).
Street names also attest to another aspect of its history. Before they were closed in the reformation Ipswich had two priories and three friaries and hence: Grey Friars Road, Friars Road, Priory Street, Franciscan Way. Furthermore a striking aspect of the townscape is the constant encounter with flint stone churches – Ipswich has 13 medieval churches within its boundaries, more than any other town outside London, Norwich, York and Bristol. Strangely, though, after the reformation Ipswich became very protestant and non-conformist embracing puritanism wholeheartedly – the legacy, perhaps, creeping through to the present day where most of these buildings, belonging to the Church of England, are redundant.
Today, church buildings apart, the town is experiencing a renaissance (Fig. 6).
In keeping with its history of always being able to find an industrious role, Ipswich has evolved a strong raft of modern, knowledge based industries. In common with many cities in this informational age it acts as part of several overlapping polycentric clusters: it is a major part of the “Haven Gateway” sub region, in which the five Haven ports of Felixstowe, Harwich International, Harwich Navyard, Ipswich and Mistley, partnered with the important town of Colchester to the south, represent the single most important cluster of ports in the UK and second today only to Rotterdam in all Europe (Fig. 7);
it is one hub of the “Ipswich2Cambridge Hi Tech Corridor” (Fig. 8); and it is the heart of IP-City a 2000 strong knowledge based business network including Adastral Park – one of the world’s top five research centres (Ipswich Borough Council (IBC) et al 2005).
Thus far a history of Ipswich has been scampered over, selecting a number of geographical, economic and religious matters that seem to have a bearing on its cultural landscape. The port and industry have clearly driven the shape of the cultural landscape throughout its history – a shape continuously evolving. By contrast, in the sense that it is not evolving, we have seen how the church from its time of power in the middle ages and tudor period, generally and through a particular individual, has left its imprint on the cultural landscape. But these are not the only things that shape the town and the way it sees itself.
And yet, Ipswich is rightly referred to as the biggest village in East Anglia. It is a gentle, intimate town, with none of the urban scale or cosmopolitan edge of Norwich and Cambridge, despite its towering 1960s office blocks and ethnic diversity. This is mainly because of the people of the town; wherever they come from, they are, first and foremost, Suffolkers. They are a rural people. (Simon Knott, 1999)
Simon Knott’s observation, in his piece on the churches of Ipswich, echoes other sentiments that have been heard in conversation with people from the town.The fact that Ipswich is the county town of Suffolk is not just an administrative nicety. Equal in measure to the business-like outward facing identity derived from its history and function as a port, is the identity it appropriates from the surrounding countryside. This identity can be symbolised by the reputation and proximity of two of England’s most illustrious landscape painters who were born and bred within 20 miles of Ipswich. Gainsborough (1727-1788) before settling in Bath also lived and worked for seven years (1752-1759) in Ipswich and Constable (1776-1837), although he never lived in Ipswich, continually returned to the area for his “Constable Country” subject matter. The Ipswich Museum Service has the largest collection of Constable oil paintings outside London.
SPECIALNESS OF ORDINARINESS
Various aspects of the work of these two artists bring out added dimensions for a place identity brief. Both in their own ways depicted ordinariness with outstanding brilliance in non academic, arguably revolutionary ways. Gainsborough painted more from his observations of nature than from any application of formal academic rules.
He was an independent and original genius, able to assimilate to his own ends what he learnt from others, and he relied always mainly on his own resources…….. Recognizing the fluid brilliance of his brushwork, [Joshua] Reynolds praised `his manner of forming all the parts of a picture together’, and wrote of `all those odd scratches and marks’ that `by a kind of magic, at a certain distance… seem to drop into their proper places’. (Pioch 2002 ).
Whilst Constable found highly original ways of presenting raw realism, for example the white flecks artfully applied to evoke the play of light on the surface of things – people, foliage, water, etc. – known as “Constable Snow” (Russell 2006).
Constable turned away from the pictorial conventions of 18th-century landscape painters, who, he said, were always `running after pictures and seeking the truth at second hand’. Constable thought that `No two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of the world’, and in a then new way he represented in paint the atmospheric effects of changing light in the open air, the movement of clouds across the sky, and his excited delight at these phenomena, stemming from a profound love of the country: `The sound of water escaping from mill dams, willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts and brickwork, I love such things. These scenes made me a painter.’ (Pioch 2002 )
Sentiments that have come out in conversation are: that Ipswich sees itself as a “cloth cap” place compared with the academic, high brow pretensions of Norwich (and Cambridge) on the one hand or, the vulgar pretensions of the nouveau-riche, barrow boys from Essex on the other. This is why Constable and Gainsborough are so apt as symbols for Ipswich because, not only do they represent Suffolk countryside (more so Constable), but they also take pride in the “specialness of their ordinariness”.
Ipswich’s pride in “its” countryside has been expressed as muted resentment when properties in Suffolk are acquired by the wealthy from Essex, who they feel cannot respect the true beauty of the place and are using their money to buy a superficial picturesque setting which could have been anywhere but happens to be here for convenience and then (to cap it all) invade its tranquil country pubs with loud and vulgar conversations!
This tension is fundamental to any thinking about place identity as pointed by Butina-Watson and Bentley (2007: p19):
….what makes us “us”, at least in part, is that we are not “them”. Distinctions of this kind can never be avoided, for they are part of the identity-construction process itself: the conception of “them” is central to the process through which we identify “us” in the first place.
They illustrate the very real dangers of “us” and “them” but use these as lessons to justify one of their five theses: that the challenge for the design of place identity today, in a world where there is increasing overlap of culture, is to achieve a “transculturality” through design. In the case of Ipswich, as we have seen, the logic of modern world has led them to be part of clusters that include “them” – Cambridge and Essex (Colchester) – and one part of their cultural landscape (the Suffolk countryside) is shared by others who read different meanings into it. Nevertheless it works because they can share the same cultural landscape without harming each other (apart from muted resentment of those from Ipswich – snobbishness? – which should fade as they begin to appreciate the benefits of mutual cooperation). It is easy to see how the same is true of the symbol of the countryside: Constable’s paintings which are enjoyed and appreciated by high, low and mid brow alike!
CULTURAL LANDSCAPE AND IDENTITY
So far we have established two major components of Ipswich’s cultural landscape: the port and the countryside; and one minor: the church. We have also established some of the imagined communities that will be overlapping each other in a modern polycentric city cluster and thus occupying each others spaces: “high brow” Cambridge, “low brow” Colchester, and “cloth cap” Ipswich. Before looking at other imagined communities that are likely to be using Princes Square and concluding this section with a place identity brief, the impact of two further “cultural landmarks” needs to be considered.
CULTURAL LANDMARK 1
Ipswich Town Football Club (ITFC) is “a stone’s throw” from the site and highly visible when crossing the bridge from the station (Fig. 9). Many of its supporters will use Princes Square. It is easy to see how they are a distinctive imagined community with a clear sense of identity but this institution also has meaning for other imagined communities in Ipswich.
Firstly supporting football has traditionally been regarded as a “cloth cap” activity, (although this is less so these days). Thus it is easy for many who are not supporters to, nevertheless, have warm feelings towards the institution because it fits their identity profile. Secondly, although not so at the moment, it has enjoyed several significant spells of success on the top flight of national stage. This tends to foster a sense of pride amongst others who are not associated with football. Thirdly two of England’s most loved national managers, Sir Alf Ramsey, and Sir Bobby Robson (Fig. 10), were chosen for that position as a result of their success at Ipswich. Ramsey of course is a legend because of his 1966 world cup success. Again this means that the football club cannot be but important amongst the non-football community. This all goes to resonate with the same meaning that Ipswich folk can read into Constable’s work – the specialness that can be embedded in ordinariness in a non-pretentious way.
CULTURAL LANDMARK 2
Only some 250m further on from ITFC is the second “cultural landmark” – the Willis Building by Sir Norman Foster. Built in 1974, it was the most ground-breaking building of its time (and arguably few have matched the scale of its achievement since), shattering all conventions of how to think about offices and how to think about urban design (Fig 11). It is argued here that this is a supreme example of really special ordinariness. The ordinariness being that the building is no different to its surroundings because all that it is, is a reflection of those surroundings.
Some pretty clear meanings in relation to the cultural landscape for some people seem to be emerging but what are the imagined communities to which they belong, are they likely to be using Princes Square, and are there others for whom these meanings might not be valid?
The categories of people likely to use the space will be listed next and examined to see if they fit into the imagined communities identified so far: high, low and mid brow/ “cloth cap”, and ITFC supporters. Sweeping generalisations will be made but as the goal of the exercise is to create a transcultural design, the quality of the method at this stage is less important than generating of a number of possible view points that the design can go on to address. Clearly any such hypotheses should go on to be tested if and when the project progresses to the next stage .
Established residents – are likely to welcome the improvement to an unsatisfactory part of their town; to a greater or lesser degree will inevitably use the station and therefore at the very least pass by Princes Square if not pass through it if they are inclined to walk (it is on a Pedestrian route 2 from station to town centre – Fig 12); many will make recreational use of the riverside once it is transformed making them also part of the “outdoor enjoyers” imagined community (see forward); and some will go to Princes Street as a destination if the bar/restaurant turns out to be as important as this masterplan sees it. According to this essay’s earlier analysis most of this group will be part of the mid brow/ cloth cap imagined community with a significant number also part of the ITFC supporters community.
New residents – there is an eight fold increase in house completions in the decade from 1997 (IBC et al 2005). Much of this is along river (e.g. 450 homes just to west of the masterplan) and around the wet dock area, and therefore the masterplan area as a whole and Princes Square in particular will form part of these new residents’ movement pattern. These people will have migrated to Ipswich because of its economic prospects and therefore be natural subscribers to the “port” part of its identity (“port” symbolising both its port and industry facets). But they will also have been persuaded by the attractiveness of the environment, which has two aspects: firstly access to the surrounding countryside making then honorary “Suffolkers” of either the mid or low brow variety described earlier; secondly its emerging waterfront character (which will have both marina/ harbour and riverside facets) and because this has a certain ubiquity to it – there is very little to distinguish between modern watersides in Bristol, London etc – does not help much with unique raw material for place identity but does help insofar as it begins to define an imagined community who inhabit such places: “waterfronters”; and thirdly its value for money – Ipswich is the one of the most affordable places nationally for becoming a “waterfronter” (Sky Channel 279 & Virgin TV, 2006) – this probably makes them ordinary people with affinities to the “cloth cap” imagined community.
ITFC – are their own imagined community, as noted earlier, with many supporters arriving by train and therefore passing over Princes Square, whilst others who arrive by car (parking elsewhere) may choose before or after the match to recreate along the riverside possibly using the bar/ restaurant making them also “outdoor enjoyers”.
Users of the leisure park – the masterplan is adjacent to Cardinal Park (see page 5 above). The users comprise young families, young singles and couples including students. As most will be car bourne, this group is not likely to use Princes Square very much. In any case they do not form a discrete imagined community and as Princes Square will be designed with most of the other imagined communities that they could belong to in mind, their impact as a group on its place identity can be discounted.
Commuters – for these people Princes Square will be a daily landmark, passing either over it or through it, and its sensory qualities will be most relevant. This group could be part of any of the other imagined communities identified here, but the incoming commuters probably united by the “port” symbol as their main reason for being in the town is economic; and the outgoing commuters united by “cloth cap” symbol because of their choice of Ipswich as a place to live.
Business visitors – given Ipswich’s success as a “port” (port and industry) there will be international, and national visitors and many coming from its various regional cluster partners. Similar comments to incoming commuters would apply but their use of the space would be different. Firstly it would not be a habitual landmark for them but a novel experience and therefore the sensory qualities may be read in a different way to the commuter. Secondly for a proportion of this group, time schedules will permit some recreation, with this space providing one of a choices of things to do. Thirdly some business meetings are bound to occur in the bar/ restaurant facility, in sense being regarded as an extension to the facilities in the station.
Office workers – the masterplan shows that there may well be significant new office space immediately adjacent to Princes Square. Both the borough and county council have new offices in the so called new “Civic Quarter” for which the riverside walk will be a popular choice of route to the town centre and the only connection to the wet dock area. For the existing 1960/70’s office district, including the Willis Building, the riverside is equidistant to the town centre and therefore will be often chosen as a destination. Like some of the preceding groups, there is no one uniting imagined community but it does have a distinct usage of the space for lunchtime breaks and after work social activities. In that sense they probably have most in common with “waterfronters”.
Shoppers – this is currently an important activity for the town and set to increase as Ipswich deals with shortcomings in its “retail offer” including a major food store further east within the masterplan. However, as not many shoppers will arrive by train and the area is not set between a multi storey car park and the town cenre, this category of people will not have much contact with Princes Square and the earlier comments relating to the leisure park users would equally apply.
Students – a major plank of the town’s strategic planning is to create a step change in tertiary education including the creation of a university. In one sense this a move away from that part of their “cloth capness” which sees academia as high brow posturing but is probably consistent with the realism inherent in their “port” identity that recognises the necessity for an educational base to make their business vision sustainable. Thus the inclusion of an academic environment probably fits within the existing strands Ipswich’s identity portfolio. However the student population itself, from whatever different backgrounds its members have come, does have enough distinct and shared values to be its own imagined community. Moreover it is more than likely that student accommodation will be provided on or adjacent to the masterplan area and cause Princes Square to be a regular part of their of the cultural landscape. Their values are along the lines of living life to the full, and inhabiting “cool places”.
Tourists – Suffolk is a tourist destination with most visitors giving Ipswich some time in their itinerary. As the town continues to regenerate its waterside areas this trend can only increase and there will definitely be a proportion of visitors who will pass through and potentially linger in Princes Square. Although from many different backgrounds they will tend to align in identity terms with the “watersiders” the “Suffolkers” and the “outdoor enjoyers”.
“Outdoor enjoyers” – the new riverside amenity will attract a group of people who actively seek to pass recreational time in outdoor spaces – parks, country walks etc. Of all the groups likely to use Princes Square this will probably have the greatest age diversity with the “active elderly”, families with small children and dog walkers. Their values would be similar to “Suffolkers” and “watersiders” but with a greater emphasis on safety, seating, and a preference for soft as opposed to hard landscaping.
“Suffolkers” – this group inhabit the Suffolk countryside and appropriate Ipswich as part of their identity in equal measure to Ipswichers appropriating the countryside as part of theirs. Most will visit or pass through Princes Square from time to time in the same way as described earlier in relation to established residents. They probably have the same set of values as the town folk but with more emphasis on “Constable Country” and less on “Port”.
Ethnic diversity – census figures appear show that there are no large groups warranting the inclusion of a separate imagined community with values that are not already encompassed by the groups already set out above.
PLACE IDENTITY BRIEF
From the earlier sections looking at how Ipswich has been shaped by its history and geography it was found that the “Port” and “Constable Country” are both symbols of its cultural landscape and symbols of the meaning read into the cultural landscape, rather poorly translated as “honest endeavour” and “honest beauty” respectively, but perhaps the most interesting meaning that can be read into the cultural landscape is a “Celebration of Ordinariness”. Traces of the influence of the church in former times were also found in the cultural landscape.
Butina-Watson and Bentley (2007) conclude from their evaluation of case studies throughout the world that there are five key questions for the designer when addressing place identity issues:
…maximising choice, constructing the rootedness of imagined community, overcoming nostalgia, supporting transcultural inclusiveness and co-dwelling with the wider ecosphere, for as many users as possible. (p262)
The immediately preceding discussion has brought forward a provisional list of imagined communities that will at some time or other share the public facility of Princes Square: “Mid brow cloth cappers”, “High brow partners”, “Low brow partners”, “ITFCers”, “Students”, “Suffolkers”, Waterfronters”,and “Outdoor enjoyers”. The discussion also seems to show that a place identity profile of “Port”, Constable Country”, and “Celebration of Ordinariness” would be transcultural enough to enable all these groups to subscribe to at least one facet of the profile. It is also taken as self-evident without the need to argue the links, that the profile can also meet Butina-Watson and Bentley’s criteria. Therefore this profile will be taken forward as the brief for the design of place identity in the next part.
Weaving in the church material is here abandoned because of its lack of relevance to the imagined communites.
CONTEXT OF THE MASTERPLAN
The masterplan attempts to show a shape for the design for Princes Square without carrying out a design itself through: plan drawing (Fig. 1 earlier); modelling and diagramming (Fig. 13); perspective sketch (Fig. 14); suggestive photographs from elsewhere (Fig. 15): and narrative text (Fig. 15).
It can be seen from this material that Princes Square comprises two spaces one each side of the bridge linked by an access through one of the former railway arches. Each spaces steps down from the bridge level in a series of terraces incorporating a ramp at the rear and steps alongside the bridge. The eastern space contains a 3 storey building intended to be a bar/ restaurant facility and is included in the design of the square being included here. This building has access both from the bridge and from the lower level of the square. An existing narrow walkway, not much above river level is retained on the river side of the flood defence wall.
CELEBRATE SIGNIFICANCE OF STRATEGIC NODE WHERE TWO MAJOR TOPOLOGICAL CORRIDORS CROSS
The river is a strategic ecological corridor connecting back into the countryside but also linking to another major urban green space, Alderman Park. The other topological corridor is the connection from the station to the town centre. Princes Square is thus privileged to be part of both major systems which cross each other and join but without the human corridor impeding the non-human corridor which flows underneath and is a perfect urban example of co-dwelling with nature. This part of the design has already been achieved in the masterplan by enlarging of the node to form a relatively expansive public open space. By celebrating the node in this way Princes Square can be said to embrace the “Constable Country” part of the identity brief along with “Celebration of Ordinariness”. The river in the other direction connects straight into the port and therefore it captures the “Port” identity as well.
TWO PARTS ONE WHOLE
It has been seen that the Ipswich identity holds in tension the duality of “Port” and “Constable Country”. Let the fact that the space is made up of two halves separated by the bridge reflect this duality each with its distinct identity. Let the western half which faces the countryside be designed embrace “Constable Country” and the eastern half to embrace “Port”. The east should be predominantly hard landscaped and the west predominantly soft. The east contains a building in the focal corner and the west a pocket park. From above on the bridge the duality can be viewed and pondered upon but from beneath the unity can be experienced by walking under the bridge. Furthermore commission the design of the building to reflect the “Celebration of Ordinariness” part if the identity brief – perhaps it could refer in some way the the Willis Building.
For place identity to be realised people need to get to and through the place. Here place identity includes the “Constable Country” dimension and so nature (non-humans) needs to get through the space as well. The masterplan already achieves these design objectives. From the bridge there is visual permeability – all aspects can be viewed. Then rapid descent to the lower level can take place on either side via steps or gradual descent via ramps at the back of the space. People can get through the space by passing under the bridge as can non-humans via the green corridor which runs parallel to this. Finally there is the path at the lower level by waterside and there would be steps down to this. The terraces will also be designed with a difference between each level that will suit both seating and stepping between levels – yet another way of experiencing the place through movement.
Allow the design of Princes Square elements tell a narrative about identity. On the basis that the western half with its soft landscaping will be the more contemplative of the two, design each terrace as a stratum that progresses from hard (“Port”) at bridge level to soft (“Constable Country”) at the lower level and very soft at river level. This is a vertical equivalent of step 2 of this rationale except that it gradually transforms from one state to the other whereas the change between the two states in step 2 is sudden as you pass under the bridge. Use objets trouvés as appropriate within the design layers to reinforce messages of “Port” of “Constable Country”. For example salvage sleepers from the branch line to be closed for this purpose; and remove some of the bricks from the bridge where if forms a brick parapet to make way for the modern galleries in step 5 ahead and reuse them in the terraces; and it should be possible to find other objects around the town to aid this narrative.
Set coloured lighting in the vertical face of the terrace steps with a progression of colours vertically that at night will tell the story of the strata.
Use the walls of the passage use the bridge for mural painting that can pick up this narrative – here using the east west progression from country to port.
Provide interpretation boards.
Again for the place identity meanings to have their fullest effect facilities need to be provided for non-movement use of the space – seating and viewing. At bridge level remove existing parapets where they change from shaped balustrading to functional brickwork over the railway arches and provide modern viewing platforms/ galleries so that pedestrians can choose to pause in their journey over the bridge and watch what is going on in the place below. As noted earlier the terraces provide abundant lengths of seating. The bar/ restaurant will have a terrace with chairs and tables. On the eastern “Port” side of the bridge provide conventional waterside seating. On the western “Constable Country” side of the bridge design the pocket park so that it can act as an outdoor room with some hidden seating. Again on this side provide access to the lower level with further seating galleries nearer the river level – it may be that these can be used for fishing.
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