The Ducks of Oxford Business Park

Blog post from 2017 written for a former blog, Wandering in Cities


Awhile back I lived in Oxford and took up adhoc agency work to make money whilst I submitted applications for things.

Most of the work that came up was in offices in the Oxford Business Park, originally established purely for the BMW factories.

I was immediately captivated at how utterly sterile the site was.

The office blocks and entrances identical to one another, spare the simplistic plaques at the front telling you of the business residing within.

Sterile roundabouts, sterile parking lots, sterile entrances and exits.
Roads lined with thin strips of un-decorated, plain grass.

The site defies you to forge any kind of relationship with its architecture, its layout.

Inside the offices however there was (relatively speaking) quite a lot of life, a unique quality to each block, but one would never know.

Sat at a reception desk my mind would brainstorm was of injecting a bit of life into the site.

Then one lunch I went outside to eat and came across a duck pond and surrounding green space complete with benches. I took my seat and before long I was joined by 2 ducks – a couple presumably – walking across the grass in from of me.

As they reached the point directly in front of where I sat the male duck looked me in the eye. We held eye contact, he cocked his head and stared deeper, then without warning broke the gaze and went on his way. His partner, close behind, did not look at me.

The moment – our tet-a-tet – stayed in my mind and I became mildly obsessed with these ducks (a relatively healthy kind of obsession) for the duration of my stay at the Business Park.

Next lunch break I hunted for them, but no luck.

I quizzed the grounds maintenance people I ran into (chased down on my bike) wanting to know who they were, where they slept, were the more of them?

Duck huts. On the other side of the site. I went over the next day on my bike and to my delight, I spied them. However they saw me approach and flew off, seemingly as soon as they caught wind of my arrival.

Each lunch time I’d sit on the same bench and wait. No luck.

But what was becoming more interesting to me was the way in which the way in which this duck pond was being used as part of the branding for the business park. I first noticed an innocent looking duck sign by the pond.

Then I spotted more and more, and realised they’d been made the brand for the park, the voice piece.

How dare they implicate the unbeknowning ducks, I thought.

The only non-man-made offering, they some how existed to legitimise this otherwise lifeless site. To be the voice of this flat land, to give a sense of an organic development in this piece of urban planning hell.

Un-consenting were the ducks in this ploy and I was outraged on their behalf.

But it was quite an effective ploy, one can’t hate the ducks and finds themselves (in my case unwittingly, and by proxy) warmed to the site as a whole.

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