Category Archives: Urban Design
DCMS term of reference for the CABE review here.
No mention of DC CABE at all? The dog that didnt bark. Of course since being sloughed off government with limited transitional funding which may not continue DC CABE has not wanted to say any controversial or critical about policy matters or procurement across government. In short it has become irrelevant to anything other than matters for which it has a direct clinet role – such as strategic design review or supporting neighbourhood plans. Of course there is one thing architecture and urban design is and must be – controversial. Imagine English Heritage when consulted on proposals to knock down a listed building simply said, heres how to drive the bulldozer faster, or Natural England, heres how to gas some Badgers – woops after the Francis Maude injunction t0 shut up or lose all your funding, we are not far off that. Similarly with DC CABE, Quangos that cant say no go have no chance, and no future; they become empty bureaucracies ready for the chop and no longer serving the function that brought them into being.
There is an increasing trend in the staged release of architectural imagery on major projects before submitting planning applications. Thankfully we are well past the helicopter imagery age dominated by images from viewpoints few would ever see and of architectural models that give little sense of scale or views at street level.
The trend is a welcome focus on street level views, especially of the animated public spaces within a scheme and vistas and links opened up. A classic example being the release of images for PLP Architecture’s project to redevelop Sampson House and Ludgate House in AJ, what will the scheme look like from across the Thames, no idea. There are many other examples, perhaps the most breathtaking was the recent exhibition for the redevelopment of Sainsbury’s at Vauxhall – an exhibition focussing on reopened railway arches and ground floor active frontage uses but giving no clue as to the height of the towers on top, and at a riverside site.
The aim clearly is part of the PR/Engagement strategy for the site. Release images of ‘urban design goodies’ first to get people exited, new open spaces, dramatic new views, life breathed back etc. Do those images say much if anything about the overall site vision, architectural concept, how it will look from middleground views, is massing and form – no. So we have imagery of streetscape but not wider urban design – let alone architecture. So im setting a new rule on here which in vain I hope the professional press follow, not to publish images of schemes which dont allow you to form some impression in your mind of what you are looking at in terms of the form of the project in space. A 30 second sketch on the back of a napkin can allow you to do that – thats all we need, as in the recent skecths for Battersea Power Station for Chelsea, which showed that a large part of the pitch will spill over onto an adjoining waste and concrete wharf in different ownership showing straight away the scheme was a non starter unless it bought and shifted them.
Design now has an even stronger role to play in the planning system, both in terms of plan making and decision taking. While the Government has announced a strategic review of guidance documents, there is a wealth of expertise and evidence on how best to achieve good quality design outcomes which are still relevant today.
Design Council Cabe has commissioned a short ‘wayfinding’ document to help planners and others make the case for good design. This document is supported by the Planning Officers Society, RTPI, RIBA, and Landscape Institute.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published in late March, makes it unambiguously clear that achieving design quality is an important part of good planning. The NPPF is deliberately short and has swept away other policy guidance, particularly PPS1, on design that has informed and influenced development plans and decisions on applications.
In future planning authorities, applicants (and their advisers) and local communities will be expected to take responsibility for securing good design, and for taking the opportunities available to improve an area. The Design Wayfinder provides help for authorities, developers and communities. It identifies the main sources of guidance and best practice on good design, on robust local plan policies on design, and the type of analysis required to decide whether proposed development is acceptable.
Today we’ll cover chapter 7 of Raymond Unwin’s ‘ Town planning in practice; an introduction to the art of designing cities and suburbs‘ of 1909.
Uniwn here moves beyond Sitte’s focus on individual places to look at town and city wide design issues. Sometimes urban design is criticised as architecture writ large, te same skills used to design buildings just scaled up. Unwin here and throughout showed how he never held this big architecture view, rather it looked at the city as a whole and zoomed in looking at the design ideas needed for each structural component of town planning.
ROADS are primarily highways for traffic. They serve also a secondary purpose in affording sites for buildings. They should therefore be considered in relation to both these functions, and in the order of their relative importance. For the roads in a town to satisfy properly their primary function of highways, they must be so designed as to provide generally for easy access from any point in the town to any other. But they should provide, in addition, special facilities for the ebb and flow of particular tides of traffic, such as that from the outskirts to the centre and back again which daily takes place in most large cities, or that across the town from a residential district to a quarter occupied by works, factories, or other places of employment, or to important railway stations, harbours, and other centres of industry.
The first decade of the C20th was also the period during which ideas on traffic/transport planning began to emerge. In 1905 we had seen the first Royal Commission on the Traffic Problems of London. It is too easy to forget that despite few cars towns were clogged with carriages and horse drawn trailers.
Unwin was critical of the typical grid/trellis arrangement
This arrangement, while it is convenient and economical for the building blocks, is open to serious objections ; it does not provide convenient roads for passing to and from the centre, and, except when going in two directions, all traffic must travel along two sides of a triangle to get from point to point. In addition to this, the arrangement produces a monotonous effect; the street pictures are not closed, and the vistas wander off in an indefinite, vanishing perspective, often devoid of interest or variety.
Today when layouts so often replace grids with main roads and culs-de-sac is is easy to miss some of the functional problems with a pure grid.
So what of introducing diagonal streets?
In many of the more modern systems the objection to the trellis arrangement of the roads is to some extent being met by introducing diagonal streets to accommodate the traffic to and from the centre of the town; the result produced, however, is not entirely happy. The shapes of the plots, spaces, and road junctions which are created by these radiating streets crossing the square network of roads, are not such as to produce satisfactory buildings, or beautiful open spaces.
And historic towns
we find that to a very large extent they consist of main arteries branching out from the nucleus of the town in different directions—forming, in fact, an irregular radiating system; we find, further, that there has been a general tendency for cross roads to grow out from these main roads, approximately at right angles, and that these have in many cases been diverted or curved round to meet others ; and that in the end a very irregular network of streets has grown up, the outline of which would be more nearly represented by a spider’s web than by any other figure.
In terms of designing modern towns
Except in cases where it is desirable to keep open distant views, straight roads indefinitely prolonged without change of direction or deviation of line are not only monotonous and destructive of satisfactory street pictures, but when running parallel to the direction in which high winds are liable to blow, are objectionable as developing their force to the utmost
The traffic problem is a complicated one, and there is a rather marked difference of opinion between the German and French schools as to the best way of dealing with it…German town planners now constantly break the direction of their cross roads partly in order to secure increased immunity from collision, but also to secure the closing of the street vistas…There is, however, much to be said in favour of the theory upon which the French school of town planners have acted, that it is in every way advantageous for traffic that a number of streets should meet at one point, and that ample provision should here be made for its circulation….in cases where the traffic is comparatively sparse, the chances of collision would be but slightly greater at a point where many roads meet than at the point where one road joins another. Danger arises, and delay is caused to traffic, by every change of direction of the vehicle, and it is obviously simpler, and less likely to cause confusion, to drive straight across a main street, when the condition of the traffic will allow it, than to drive into the street, take a turn, go along the street some distance, take another turn and go out of it; particularly is this the case with such vehicles as motorcars and electric trams, any turn of which, especially at right angles, always causes difficulty and danger.
Unwin thought such a geometrical approach did not fully take into account the human factor, what today we would call design by negotiation, that for example in complex junctions where traffic crosses drivers will slow down. He goes on to discuss the French concept of the traffic circle, which became the Engliush Roundabout, the first of which was installed at Letchworth, which significantly reduce the number of crossing points. He considered though in place formed by a large traffic circle
no sense of enclosure can be secured in a place of this character, and some care is required to produce anything like a satisfactory effect in the buildings themselves, so that one would regard it as an undesirable form of place except in cases where traffic considerations must be the all-important ones.
Unwin recognised the multiple functions that roads could serve
For our most important and busiest highways we may well take a hint from the main railway lines, where central tracks are provided for the through expresses, and outside tracks for the slow stopping trains. This system has been largely adopted in continental cities, where on the main roads and boulevards multiple tracks have been provided. Through traffic in such a system is not impeded by vehicles stopping, turning, entering, or leaving the track, only by those which have to pass right across it; and the number of points at which these crossings can take place may be restricted. In many of these roads special tracks are provided for tramways, for riding, and for cycling, in addition to those for the ordinary fast and slow traffic of vehicles. With such an arrangement a great improvement is possible in the position of the tram lines; these can be so planned that the trams pass along the side of the footway, so that people boarding or leaving the cars do so in safety. It is our English custom to run our trams in the centre of a wide roadway, and the poor pedestrian has to make a dash, at the risk of his life, through all the traffic of the street before he can reach the car. In the case of cars driven by electricity or motor power it has been found possible, both in America and on the Continent, to run the trams along a belt of grass, with a footway on each side, and thus the tramway becomes a street decoration, introducing a wide grass margin. These wide streets or boulevards are further decorated with avenues of trees, and are favourite promenading grounds in the evening, when the amount of traffic is reduced.
A great innovation of Unwins now widely used is to draw streets in section analysing the arrangement of multiple paths. In criticising the one size fits all approach of English Bye Laws.
very great variation in widths should be provided for, and roads of different types and characters arranged.
And he argued that neither planning for beauty or planning for traffic need primarily triumph over the other
Roads, however, in addition to being avenues for traffic, serve the only less important function of providing sites and frontages for buildings, and it does not always follow that the form of road and road junction which would be the most convenient for traffic would necessarily afford the best sites for buildings, or provide the most beautiful grouping of these when erected ; it will therefore be necessary in some cases to concede something from one point of view or another, in one case sacrificing the beauty of the buildings for the greater convenience of the traffic and in another sacrificing a little of the directness of the traffic lines for the purpose of securing the more beautiful grouping of the buildings.
We see again in relation to streets Unwins key theory of the street picture
We have seen in speaking of places and squares how important to the effect is a sense of enclosure, the completion of the frame of buildings ; and much the tame applies to street pictures. When considering the buildings therefore, in order to secure a fairly frequent completion of the street picture, we shall desire to close from time to time the vista along the street; this result is secured by a break in the line of the street; or by a change of direction, or curve, either of which has the effect of bringing into view at the end of the street some of the buildings on the concave side.
Unwin then goes into an extended treatment about how roads meeting at different angles can be used to form places. This is impossible to summarise and I can only recommend looking at the original text and diagrams.
Whilst acknowledging the advantages to creating street pictures of curving streets, Unwin giving High Street Oxford as an example, he also acknowledges the functional advantages of straight streets in getting from a to be and economy in services. His recommendation to avoid the monotony of long lines of straight streets is to allow
judicious variation of the building line to build up a street picture in a straight street, in which a long vanishing perspective is very largely replaced by portions of the sides of buildings seen in front elevation, and in this way quite picturesque street effects may be arrived at. The setting back of some of the individual buildings in a street not only has the effect of breaking up the monotonous row, but affords an opportunity for the creation of forecourts to some of the buildings, which, when suitably treated, are very charming in themselves,
So if used carefully and judiciously that straight streets could be ‘freely used by the modern town planner’ ‘
For town and city centres Unwin favoured, at least when planning places for major public buildings straight streets ‘combined with some simple and regular curved lines’
On a regular site it is not difficult to erect an irregular, picturesque building, if such be desired ; but for an irregular site it may be very difficult to design a successful building in a style which depends largely on symmetry, balance of mass, and simplicity of line for its effect. In the suburbs of towns and in villages, where anything of a stately effect may not be attainable or even desirable, a much freer arrangement may be adopted.
Unwin concludes the chapter with an extended treatment of the landscape treatment of roads. He was critical of the Victorian vices of overly formal and fussy beds and generally preferred simple, bold and more formal treatment. His philosophy was that open spaces should be designed to meet a purpose, larger open spaces to meet multiple purpose in different areas and smaller open spaces only one.
The gardener, like the architect, has fixed his eye too exclusivdy on the individual plot; he has thought too much of the bulbs in his own individual beds. We need to think of the street, the district, the town as larger wholes, and find a glorious function and a worthy guidance for the decorative treatment of each plot and each house in so designing them that they shall contribute to some total effect. For is it not a finer thing to be a part of a great whole than to be merely a showy unit among a multitude of other units ?
A bakery with books! Just the kind of mash up third space we need to save our high streets.
Leeds has been losing a number of high profile planning appeals for Greenfield housing and is now facing allocating several thousand new houses on greenfield sites.
Similarly Bradford is proposing allocating many thousands of houses in the valleys to its West, with some villages facing 600 extra houses each. Naturally this is causing some opposition.
It would be very easy to cry build brownfield, there are many sites, not greenfield.
But West Yorkshire faces particular pressures.
Firstly the shortfall is particularly high, especially in Leeds which faces over a 10,000 unit shortfall, around three years of supply. The truth is the pressures are demographic and economic, the sub-region being much more successful than any other northern sub-region.
Secondly the number of ‘suitable and available’ sites is not bottomless. Bradford reckons it only just has enough SHLAA sites to cover its housing provision levels. West Yorkshire is not like Manchester or Birmingham, there is not a vast seemingly bottomless supply of brownfield sites. Vacancy rates are much mower than elsewhere in the North of England and so of course are turnover rates.
Clearly there are sites stalled in the recession and no longer considered viable, but recent appeals in Leeds have shown these as numbering several hundred units only – they arent enough.
The problem is that a conventional solution to this, episodic greenfield releases is not a ‘smart growth’ solution. It would place housing away from public transport and services and would wreck the character of many attractive pennine villages.
Both Leeds and Bradford have large areas of land which is not in the best use for the location. In Bradford for example there have been colossal planning mistakes. A retail park and tesco cover many hectare just north of the town centre and Forster Square Station. In Leeds there is a huge area of riverside land near the City Centre the process of redevelopment for mixed uses had begun.
We need to move out much of the low value industry to peripheral locations near the Motorway or Leeds Bradford airport and link by good public transport to the cities. This would result in some green belt loss, but because it would enable a smart growth solution it would be much less than the alternative. The retails sheds in Bradford need to be redeveloped into mall and shop floorspace in a redeveloped City Centre with high density family townhouses in terraces alongside the canal, with a tram route running the several miles along its length. Similarly in Leeds we need to develop a new town in town alongside the river. In the longer term we may need a planned major expansion of one or more of the satellite towns.
This is just one idea. It would require mayor development corporations, and the recouping of land values through TIF to make it work. And in the localist world would require the cities to come together to make it happen.
What we are seeing in West Yorkshire is not planning but the operation of the market on the softest sites when certain planning flags are triggered. We need a proper strategic study to assess the alternatives.
Heritage inspectors claim projects by Chipperfield, Squire and Hopkins would destroy views
Unesco is threatening to delay work on a string of high-profile schemes near London’s Waterloo Station because it is worried they will destroy views from the Palace of Westminster.
In December, a team of inspectors visited the World Heritage Site, which also includes Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church, and is drawing up a report for this summer’s meeting of the World Heritage Committee in St Petersburg.
While Unesco has no statutory powers, it can ultimately remove World Heritage status and planning authorities will be anxious not to upset it.
Its concerns centre on a view from Parliament Square running between Portcullis House and Big Ben to the other side of the river Thames where it says planned redevelopment work could spoil views of the World Heritage Site.
Among the schemes in question is David Chipperfield’s Elizabeth House, which developer Chelsfield is expected to submit to Lambeth Council planners this spring.
Also under threat are Squire & Partners’ Shell Centre and Hopkins’ proposed masterplan for Waterloo station — which is linked to the Elizabeth House scheme. All are part of a prominent redevelopment zone called the Waterloo Opportunity Area which was launched by the London mayor’s office in 2007.
Unesco’s visit was prompted by a report made last summer which raised a number of concerns about the Palace of Westminster site. It said not enough had been done to protect views and, as a result, local planners “should refrain from approving any new development”.
But developers have accused the heritage body of scaremongering. One developer, who asked not to be named, said: “They want to cause a fuss and scare the government in an Olympic year. The heritage protection in place is absolutely adequate.”
Another developer added: “They were talking about a buffer zone a few years ago, which is just mad.”
A Unesco spokesman defended its most recent visit and added that conservation sites were regularly reviewed to ensure safeguarding was adequate.
As part of an attempt to appease Unesco, mayor Boris Johnson has unveiled proposals to protect the views between Portcullis House and Big Ben. A four-week consultation about this view ends next week, but in the consultation document architects and developers are told that any developments within the Waterloo Opportunity Area should be “sensitively designed and be of the highest architectural quality”.
It adds: “Any development that appears in the interval between the Clock Tower and Portcullis House should not compromise a viewer’s ability to appreciate the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site.”
Last year Johnson gave his backing to developers working on plans close to London’s four World Heritage Sites, which also include the Tower of London, Kew Gardens and Maritime Greenwich.
He said: “The challenge is to ensure we protect the qualities of the designated sites that make them worthy of international designation, while allowing the city to grow and change around them.”
Chipperfield and Squire & Partners both declined to comment.
Have developers met their Waterloo?
Unesco is concerned that the view from Parliament Square across the Thames towards County Hall will be destroyed by new developments on the skyline.
Shell Centre in London
1 Elizabeth House
David Chipperfield’s planned 25-storey tower on this site will include seven floors of residential while a more classical nine-storey building will be more aligned with County Hall and the Shell Centre. The Chipperfield design replaced the “Three Sisters” by Allies & Morrison which was thrown out by the government following objections by English Heritage and Westminster Council.
2 Waterloo Station
Hopkins is working on a masterplan for the redevelopment of the station, including new platforms for the former Eurostar terminal. This would be funded by commercial development on the site.
3 Shell Centre
Squire & Partners has been asked to help revamp the Shell Centre after developers Canary Wharf and Qatari Diar were asked to draw up proposals for the 2ha surrounding the 27-storey tower. These will include new offices, shops and homes, but planning permission could be as far as three years away.
You should note that the gap between ‘big ben’ and Portcullis house is very narrow and careful massing of buildings should reduce any impact. If tall buildings were clustered along Waterloo Road and not towards the southern end of York road they would not be seen. It was the intrusion into this view that killed off the ‘three sisters’ project at appeal.
DUBLIN CITY centre will be predominantly for pedestrians, cyclists and those using public transport, with through-traffic discouraged, according to a new strategy developed by city planners.
Titled Your City, Your Space , the draft strategy notes that more than 500,000 people access the city centre daily – 235,000 workers, 45,000 students, 120,000 shoppers or other visitors and 116,000 inner city residents.
Notwithstanding the recession, it states that projections for 2020 suggest figures could increase to 350,000 workers, 70,000 students and 180,000 residents. This would “put pressure on the public realm”, requiring reallocation of road space.
“While economic needs require private car and service vehicle access . . . the predominant movement pattern in the city centre will be on foot – which means it is vital that the public realm is easily accessible, pleasant and safe.”
Dublin City Council says it recognises that a “collaborative approach” is needed to “develop a standard of public realm befitting our capital city”. The draft strategy sets out detailed actions to achieve this, in collaboration with other agencies.
City manager John Tierney says the purpose of the strategy is not to propose expensive master plans or signature redevelopments for the coming years but is about working to create better ways to carry out the work that goes on each day in the city.
Key players carrying out works in public spaces are identified as the city council, transport agencies, utility companies, State agencies and private developers.
However, there is “no overarching control mechanism other than a permit system”, the draft states.
“Establishing an effective code of practice for doing work and reinstating afterwards would be beneficial . . . it would also reduce waste and costs,” it adds. A need for consistency in materials used is also noted.
“There has been a proliferation of street furniture, signage and other forms of street clutter in recent years [which has] negatively affected the accessibility of spaces and their visual quality,” it states. Removing such clutter, where possible, would improve the public realm.
Among the proposals listed in the strategy are a pilot project to tackle an unidentified “high-profile dereliction blackspot in the city centre”, develop designs to upgrade Grafton Street, College Green and a “project” to improve the Liffey quays.
“This strategy proposes an ambitious schedule of actions [that] will require innovative solutions. It is a first step in promoting a world-class public realm for Dublin, and delivering its objectives with energy and enthusiasm will be a significant achievement for the city.”
The draft concedes that funding for public realm improvements, or even maintenance, “is an issue in the current economic environment, and new methods of funding need to be found” – by encouraging the private sector to manage public areas.
The closure of the Hammersmith Flyover due to the discovery of structural failures should lead to a bolder long term approach – tear it down.
After all in 1989 earthquake damage led to the closure of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francico, it now reconnects the city with its waterfront.
Madrid has buried a six km stretch of motorway to reinstate a river.
There are examples all over the world, from Milwaukee to Seoul, with a freeway now planned for redevelopment as parks and houses in the Bronx New York.
Even where roads are not replaced there is rarely congestion for the simple reason that heavy amounts of traffic should not be in the centre of cities anyway and traffic on such roads must inevitably reach normal urban roads leading to time savings to be insignificant.
The only urban motorways or equivalent built in London were the first phases of the inner London Motorwau Box, soon abandoned, leading to roads which go nowhere except from one jam to another. Why did the Hammersmith Flyover get past, well it did help that the main contractor was the family firm of the then transport minister Ernest Marples.
Now a TfL whistleblower is claiming that the safety problems are far worse than reported.
100s of homes were demolished to create the flyover, it separates Hammersmith from the Thames and a ghastly giant roundabout separates King Street from Hammersmith Station.
My plan would be to return the flyover to grade with traffic looping north of St Pauls church, but in both directions, and closing Queen Caroline Street to Traffic, There then could be created three new public spaces, one north of the Apollo, one between Kings Street and the Station, and one south of St Pauls Church. Two 1 Ha or so development sites would be created west of St Pauls Church. Butterwick would become two way so all traffic looped south of the Broadway. I would also end the King Street Gyratory system making King Street two way but with pedestrian priority/shared surface.
Brompton Road I would reduce to two lanes with much wider pavements creating a grand pedestrian boulevard from Knightsbridge, Via Harrods to the Museums. Cromwelll Road and Talgarth Road would be managed to be much more pedestrian Friendly, like Kensington High Street.
At the moment the only traffic function the Great West Road fulfills is to get out of Mayfair quickly to the airport – this should not be a priority – there is a train which is quicker.