What do we mean by “good design” Going back to Vitruvius, good design is the combination of Functionality, Firmness and Delight. It is about being fit for purpose, durable, well built and pleasing to the mind and the eye. A good design will achieve a balance between these three factors. You can apply this at any scale – whether you are thinking about the layout of your kitchen, the rooms in your house or the layout of your neighbourhood.
Places like this are not only unpleasant to live in, but they are also a very poor legacy to leave our children.
On the left: Standard house types Narrow pavements Inadequate car parking Minimal landscaping Poor lighting Poor sense of place (where is this?) – Imagine coming home – like I was a few months ago celebrating the peerless Newcastle Utd getting promoted and you’d just moved in, would you know which house is yours – or would even be able to describe it to a visiting friend or family member? On the right: Open green space Sympathetic landscaping Cars and pedestrians share space comfortably More distinctive sense of place This example: Highgate, Durham BfL Award winner, 2005
No-one profession has a dominion over “Urban Design” it is in essence a collaboration between all the professionals of the built environment Architects – design the buildings Landscape Architects – design the public spaces Planners – apply the principles of layout, scale and massing and determine proposals impact Whilst Surveyors, well they count the pennies, but perhaps most importantly Urban Design is about the people who use the spaces and buildings that are proposed. We cannot expect people to be happy with places that are designed for them, if they are not designed with them. To create good, well designed, sustainable places, public involvement is crucial in implementing and managing the aftercare of projects. Involvement and commitment if harnessed at the start of the design process can bear incredible rewards and there are examples to show this. If designers are not aware of the public aspirations they cannot design a project that the public will have any attachment to. Furthermore if the public have an attachment to a project then they are more likely to foster a sense of ownership and therefore sustain a lasting legacy in the built environment.
Engaging with the public is not about giving them an option and asking them whether they like it or not. Its should be about creativly engaging with them and asking their opinions on what they like, or don’t like about an area and what they believe should be improved. You know, you could ask people to submit pictures of some in the town centre that they think defines how they feel about it, or as the example shows, for kids to draw what they don’t like, because we cannot limit ourselves to the adult population – kids after all use the public realm, despite the attempts of many a highway engineer to design out children.
We have done it before though, and it is not difficult, it may require a committed core of officers etc. to implement, but creatively engaging with the public can bring real benefits as was and is the case with Advance Crosby. In Advance Crosby we ticked all the boxes in terms of engagement. Without even drawing a proposal we had asked the public, the children and users of the area what they felt about the area and from there created a series of options, each time going back to the public and asking them what they liked and don’t liked about the proposals. We should be doing this for every masterplanning exercise.
It is also important to understand the scale of development. I use this example in Venice, which although not completely related to the ‘built environment’ shows the importance of relating development to the scale of existing buildings. Here in Venice for example we have ships taller than the most important buildings, but no buildings are taller than the churches. Again, this is something we should always consider when assessing or designing proposals, it is of no use putting a 6 storey building in area that is dominated by 2 storey residential dwellings, as it has an adverse impact upon the amenity of the residential area and irreversibly harms the character of the area.
Scale is incredibly important when addressing important buildings such as churches. Here we have St John’s Church in Church Square and Reims Cathedral. In Reims we see that the public realm and the nearby buildings are all subservient to the cathedral in Reims. In Church Square, the public realm is again subservient to the church, but because of the size of the square and the lack of buildings surrounding it the square doesn’t work. There is no sense of enclosure that is important to make streets and squares work, and the public realm itself is tired, too hard and serves no purpose in terms of public space as it has little or no seating.
I show this as an example of how easy it is to get it wrong. Here in Bristol this is a brand new development of chic city centre apartments. The original proposal, completely obscured the view of the city’s cathedral, so the architects solution was – to simply make a street running through the middle of it, rather than come up with a more subservient proposal.
This figure ground plan shows Scunthorpe in 1950, showing the Victorian grid pattern that is the main characteristic of the town centre.
Here we have the figure ground plan of Scunthorpe as it is today. Already it is apparent that the fine urban grain in the east has been eroded by the town centre redevelopment of the 1960’s and the Parishes development in the 2000’s. I show these figure ground plans as an example of how any new developments should respect the context of their surroundings, here we can see the victorian
Imagine what life would be like if we didn’t have bridges over rivers? You would have to walk/drive miles to get to a safe place to cross. So why do we allow developments to close themselves off to their surroundings, thus forcing people to walk unnecessary distances to get to where they want to be.
Public transport also plays a crucial role. Since deregulation it is of course difficult to control where and when buses run, but if developments are not properly connected to the public transport system then the default option is to use the car, which is not environmentally sustainable. (Incidentally this is the tram in Bordeaux, which uses a fantastic system to pick up power when it gets to the historic core – the “third” line supplies power to the tram, but is only electrified when the tram is over it – thus preventing thousands of volts being transmitted into unwitting pedestrians and also preventing ugly pylons spoiling the character of the streetscene.)
Here we have an example of site that is proposed for development, but first we should consider how best the site can be connected with main routes and nearby public transport connections (Public transport being at the bottom); The typical cul-de-sac layout creates an introverted setting, which fails to integrate with the surroundings, which unfortunately is still all too common in this country; However the cul-de-sac layout gives a start, this option extends the streets and creates a more pedestrian friendly approach that integrates with surrounding community, links existing and proposed streets, and provides direct links to nearby bus stops; This street pattern then forms the basis for perimeter blocks, which ensure that buildings positively contribute to the public realm.
It may sound like I’m making these words up… But what I mean is that along with making the connections, we need to ensure that the developments that we build allow for a pleasant pedestrian walking experience, like here in a town centre which I think is Spain.
Or in relation to housing estates like this example in Malmo in Sweden
And in relation to public open space, like here in Cathedral Square in Manchester, which is a fantastic example of creating an urban green space with pleasant surroundings
A nice little cartoon to show what is normal when it comes to designing in “play” in developments. This is often the case in many big cities, with housing estates dominated by car parking and nowhere for kids to play, although I’ve got to admit, that would be a cracking game of football playing between two tower blocks…
Here we have an example of housing in Malmo in Sweden. Here we can see that play has been integrated directly into the streets, streets which in this case have no cars, incidentally, it does look like the child with the red jumper on is trying to break in to the house, but of course this is Sweden and nothing bad ever happens in Sweden, so he’s probably just knocking on the door – with a stick as you do.
Yet here in North Lincolnshire, this is what we have created in the last 5 years and are still creating now. What exactly marks these estates out as different to those that we were building 50 years ago? The streets are not pedestrian friendly and prioritise the car, whilst play areas are almost an afterthought, often tucked away in some far corner out of sight and out of mind, and often resulting in anti-social behaviour. CABE’s national housing audits and affordable housing survey rated 82 per cent of new housing “average” or “poor” for design quality. Most consumers are getting a raw deal when it comes to the quality of new homes and neighbourhoods. This is also bad news for taxpayers. The national housing audits revealed that the design quality of almost one in three homes was so poor that they should not have been given planning permission. It uncovered family housing with no play areas, windows looking out on blank walls, and broad expanses of tarmac. Schemes frequently lack character or distinctiveness and fail to respond to the local context. Confusing site layouts make it difficult to find your way around, and access to local amenities was often poor. The benefits of good design are many - it improves social well being and quality of life, often via public health benefits. Research shows the links between housing quality, better welfare and reduced costs to society. It increases property values. Case studies for CABE, ODPM and Design for Homes show that exemplar schemes can achieve higher residual values than conventional schemes. It reduces crime. Research shows that residential developments designed to Secured by Design (SBD) standards showed lower reported crime rates and less fear of crime than those without. It eases transport problems and slows traffic down. The Manual for Streets shows how concepts such as home zones can help streets become social spaces rather than transport corridors that give priority to the car. It rewards developers. The additional residual value for the developers of a well-designed housing scheme has been estimated at almost £11 million per scheme, realised over the five years from first completion of the scheme.
Here we are in Bristol again, as I want to show you an example of a town or city centre public space transformed. Here a piece of public art, has had unintended consequences in that the area is transformed into something akin to an urban beach whenever the weather is nice!
A comfortable and stimulating public realm that encourages social interaction requires detailed attention to the structure of a space and the elements it contains. This involves the surfaces; what is hard, what is soft; what forms of planting are appropriate. Here we have Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester which has been transformed from urban wasteland in the centre of the city into a world class area of public space, with both hard and soft landscaping. Perhaps most importantly it shows again the impact that water can have in promoting social interaction. Locally, you can go to the Peace Gardens in Sheffield to see something similar.
Yet I am loathe to criticise the town in which I work, but this is our primary open space area, which I am sorry to say is a thoroughly depressing space. Where is the opportunity to interact with people? Where is the soft landscaping and the creative lighting?. There is massive potential for Scunthorpe to transform its public realm, yet we have not realised it, nor do we have a strategy in place to transform it and the economic rewards are insurmountable – there is a direct link between investment in the public realm and private sector development. Investment in the public realm gives the private sector confidence that the council is serious in transforming the image of the city/town, again we just have to look at Sheffield as a leading example. Yes the sums are huge in comparison, but on the back of £60m in public sector investment in the public realm they have achieved close to £1billion in private sector development including the £500m Sevenstones retail development.
Here we are in Bristol again, one day a week this street is shut for a market to be held – without any cries of derision or any negative impact on the highways. What is to stop something like this happening on Frodingham Road for instance, a thriving multicultural area? Or even bringing the market out into the High Street?
Apologies for the use of the term ‘fighting the philistines’ However, I wanted to show what is unfortunately a most common occurrence, across the country, not just here in North Lincolnshire, but even in the heart of London – or in this case Bristol. Here we have an example of a football stadium being demolished, due to the club (Bristol Rovers) moving to a new ground. The existing ground is located within a residential area, as a most of the historical stadiums in the country i.e. the Old Showground. The default option was of course – to build a new supermarket on the site (Tesco’s), but just look at the layout, how does that fit in to the context of its surroundings? A residential area that will be ruined by the 1,000’s of cars visiting the site every day. But just look at what can be done, if we think differently – a proposal that in essence stitches the area back again, as it understands the urban grain by re-establishing the terraced street pattern that would be irreversibly removed if a supermarket was placed on the site. What I’m trying to say here is that we should not always go with the first option – it may comply with policy, but surely if a better more well designed option is available we should be pushing for that option instead?
Lighting is an important part of the visual environment, contributing to the mood of a place and a sense of security. The fixtures themselves can add distinctiveness, character and structure to a space. Warm colour rendition is appropriate for pedestrian spaces, creating a comfortable environment in which to congregate. A cooler rendition creates a more functional effect and is appropriate for vehicular movement. Lighting should be graded in terms colour temperature from the pedestrian areas to the vehicular areas, up-lighters should be used to highlight important pedestrian routes along main avenues, such as those proposed in Central Park, with post top lighting used in plaza and recreation areas. The examples shown here are both from Sheffield. Both show the impact that creative lighting can have, not only on the public realm, but also in highlighting important buildings.
Here we can see how public art has been integrated into the fabric of a building – a building in Sheffield which is in fact, a car park (affectionately known as the cheese grater). And on the right is an example of a public art installation in the centre of Chester-Le-Street, attractively lit at night, yet during the day the space is also used for a market.
Before I finish, I’d like to end with a sample of a speech that I read recently, highlighting the benefits of good design and the challenges ahead in what is most certainly, challenging times. Well-designed and maintained places have a positive impact on every person every day. They foster civic pride and a sense of local and national identity. They enable us to live in a more sustainable way and improve our physical and mental health. They reduce opportunities for crime‚ and help deliver more efficient public services. They promote fairness and a sense of responsibility towards the community. They create the right environment to reverse social decline and generate wealth. And they save money by being cheaper to build and run and preventing the costs of bad design. Regardless of who pays for or profits from development, everyone wants to live, work and learn in buildings, places and spaces that inspire and lift the spirits, as well as being functional and fit for purpose. So good design is in the public interest and it makes business sense. It also marks us out as a cultured, civilized and creative nation.
Good design in a changing world Britain is dealing with the aftermath of one of the worst recessions of modern times. The need to cut the national deficit means that public funds to invest in new building and maintain and improve what already exists will be scarce. The market for private development has not yet recovered to pre-recession levels. The coalition government wants to empower local communities to shape the look and feel of the places where they live. The planning system will change to allow more local influence over plans and reduce top down direction. Communities will be given the right to build homes with minimal control from above. The NHS will devolve commissioning to GPs. There will be new ways of procuring schools, including those where parents take the lead. All this means that there will be many more inexperienced construction clients. Even experienced clients will have no experience of the new ways of working.
Big risks, but bigger rewards Any big change brings risks and rewards. The risks for design quality are that the shortage of money may make it harder to get good technical advice; that reduced maintenance budgets may lead to a more degraded built environment, especially in poorer areas; that inexperienced people will not have the skills or knowledge to get good design; and that good design will slip below the radar as people try to manage lots of change at once. The rewards can be considerable. Buildings and places shaped by the people who will use them should be more valued and cared for. Parks and public spaces owned and managed by the community should be well looked after and used.
A creative opportunity Changing who makes decisions about what to build and what it should be like could seem risky, creating uncertainty and requiring new ways of thinking and working. For designers this is, in fact, an opportunity. An opportunity to prove the virtues of good design. To contribute to wealth creation as the country gets back on its feet. To listen to people and put them at the heart of their designs. To rediscover the virtues of efficient, low cost design. To get better value for the taxpayer and create greater value for the community and for business. Good design is inseparable from good quality of life. It is efficient, affordable, sustainable, inclusive and beautiful. It lifts the heart and inspires the mind. We need it now more than ever.
Urban Design - An Introduction
URBAN DESIGNScunthorpe Town Team – 30thNovember 2010Graeme Moore BA (hons), Dip TP, MA (Urban Design)
URBAN DESIGN What is it? Many ways of interpreting it – my personal favouritebeing:The art of making successful placesfor people
URBAN DESIGN What is good design?FirmnessWill it last?DelightDoes it look good?FunctionalityDoes it work?