A Readers Guide to Unwin’s Town Planning in Practice – Part 8 – Site Planning & Residential Roads

Today we’ll cover chapter 8 of Raymond Unwin’s ‘ Town planning in practice; an introduction to the art of designing cities and suburbs‘  of 1909.

What is the difference between site planning and town planning

in site planning the first consideration will be the arrangement of the buildings and the development of the site to the best advantage, whereas in town planning the first consideration must be the general convenience of the town, and the arrangement of the main roads. When the main roads have been laid down and the main traffic requirements have been provided for, the spaces left between these through roads can be developed more from the point of view of making the best of the sites for the buildings, and less from the point of view of public convenience….

Site planning cannot be carried out successfully in too wholesale a manner, without monotony resulting. It requires a degree of thought for the individual buildings, for the aspects and minor characteristics of the site

To what extent do they interplay?

it is impossible when dealing with a plan of a very large area to take full advantage of each individual site, or to give sufficient time and play of fancy and imagination, to produce the best result. It may, indeed, be helpful when engaged in town planning, to work out tentative site plans for different areas. It may, for example, be necessary to do this to see whether the larger parcels of land, which are left between two main roads, are of such shape and size that they will cut up economically for building purposes ; but such tentative schemes if prepared should be left open for revision by the site planner when he comes to deal with them. My experience has been that when the town planner him- self becomes the site planner, and concentrates the whole of his thought on one portion of the site, arranging buildings and open spaces upon it, he can generally improve considerably in detail on the preliminary scheme sketched out in connection with his town plan.

Unwin was very critical o9f the Tableau Rasa approach towards site planning

It has been too common for site planners’ to work out their plans on paper only, and to save themselves trouble by clearing away trees and hedgerows, wherever these happen to come in the way of the plan. No system can be more foolish, for a new building estate, at best, looks raw and poor, the gardens empty or filled only with small struggling shrubs and plants ; and nothing so helps the early appearance of a building site as the preservation of, existing trees, and even sometimes of existing hedgerows.

On how an area should be laid out

In planning out a site, whether large or small, one of the first considerations should be to determine the centre point of ‘the design.  In  any but very small sites there are likely to be required some buildings of a larger or more public character than the dwelling-houses — such, for example, as churches, chapels, public halls, institutes, libraries, baths, wash-houses, shops, inns or hotels, elementary and other schools ; and it would probably be well, having decided which, if any, of these are likely to be required, to group them in some convenient situation, and of them to form a centre for the scheme….

In the case of shops and refreshment-houses, the requirements are rather different, the essential thing being that they should front to the roadway which has, or is likely to have, the greatest amount of traffic passing to and fro.

Shops, moreover, generally succeed best  when in groups of a sufficient number to form what is known among the shopkeepers as a ‘ market ‘ ; odd shops scattered about are not liked. Sometimes it would be best not to attempt anything in the way of a centre beyond a portion of wide roadway, which might contain shops and a few public buildings, on the lines of the main village street with which every one is familiar. In other cases it may be possible, while keeping the shops on the main streets, to  develop opposite them a green or square around which some of the other buildings may be grouped ; but whatever be the form, there can be no doubt of the importance, even on small sites, of having some central feature up to which the design may lead.

This is one of the few sections where Unwin goes beyond aesthetic considerations to talk of teh conveniences and benefits of walking connection’s, here referring in the concept of a ‘market; what today we would call linked trips.

Unwin is sometimes charactatured and criticised as someone who promoted low density for low densities sake, but the following puts the lie to this, he was simply a pragmatist knowing his clients tastes:

types of beauty must be sought which do not clash with strong prejudices or desires on the part of future householders. This will often lead to a greater degree of openness in the spacing of the houses than from a purely architectural point of view might be desirable. But here again it may be possible, by grouping buildings, for them all to command a wider outlook ana have a more general sense of space than could be obtained by scattr them ; and it may easily be possible to reconcile those whose first idea would be to secure a detached house in the middle of its own plot of ground, to taking a house forming one of a group, if the grouping is so arranged that there is obviously a considerable gain in the matter of outlook.

If the creation of street pictures, which we looked at in the last chapter was Unwin’s first lw of town planning then the following was his second.

It is far safer, whether one’s plan leans to the formal or informal, to do nothing for which one has not good reasons.

& small left over spots within plans can provide good reasons

We may well remember the value of little open spaces, spots where folk may repair from the bustle of the street to stop and rest awhile ; very small spaces may serve such purposes. Playing places for children may often be secured in the centres of building areas, which without the making of an additional and costly road would be of little value for building purposes; points too where fine views are obtained, and where the sunset can be seen, can often be preserved by the devotion of a very small area of ground and would add much to the pleasure to be obtained in the district.

Qouting Henrietta Barnett over the Hampstead Garden Suburb

Both in town and site planning it is important to prevent the complete separation of different classes of people which is such a feature of the English modern town….

It is not within the power of the town planner to alter the prejudices of people, or to prevent entirely the growing up of the East End and West End in a town ; but a good deal may be done in this direction by care and forethought ; certainly within limits, more or less wide, there is no difficulty in mingling houses of different sizes. There is nothing whatever in the prejudices of people to justify the covering of large areas with houses of exactly the same size and type.

The growing up of suburbs occupied solely by any individual class is bad, socially, economically, and aesthetically. It is due to the wholesale and thoughtless character of town development, and is quite foreign to the traditions of our country ; it results very often in bad municipal government and unfair distribution of the burdens of local taxation, misunder- standing and want of trust between different classes of people, and in the development and exaggeration of differences of habit and thought ; it leads, too, to a dreary monotony of effect, which is almost as depressing as it is ugly.

Unwin quoted the traditional English village street where (then) houses of the rich stood alongside the cottage of the farm labourer as an example of the aesthetic benefits of such mixing.  Today the concept of mixed and balanced communities has lost some of its lustre because it was not based on such pragmatic considerations but on the theory that was a ‘neighbourhood effect’ on poverty from living in a very poor community.  That theory has been blown asunder by research.

From a practical point of view Unwin recommends running rods along natural hollows rather than across them to aid natural drainage.

Unwins ideas on street bye laws were highly influential.

The question of the character of building roads in this country certainly requires much re-consideration. There are two circumstances which have complicated the situation. First, the width of roads has been used, under our form of building bye-laws, to determine the distance between the houses, and as a means of securing a greater degree of open space than would otherwise be obtained. The result is that the widths of roads under the bye-laws commonly in force in the English towns, are not regulated with regard to requirements of traffic, a minimum width for streets is arbitrarily fixed, 40 to 50 feet being usual, and all roads are required to be laid out at least this width ; usually there is no power for the local authority to require greater width, although 40 to 50 feet is as utterly inadequate for the main roads of a town as it is excessive for the purpose of giving access to a few cottages. As a consequence, roads have to be wide-eyed at vast expense to allow for trams and for traffic, while cottages are built fronting to dreary wastes of asphalte and macadam, one half of which could with great advantage be added to their gardens or laid out as grass margin.

The second problem was requiring all roads regardless of traffic , to be laid out at standard low maintenance high cpital costs standards.  Which at then time he considered unnecessary

it is virtually certain that the road will only be used for the d^ly visits of the milkman’s cart and the daily rounds of the coal merchant’s van or the doctor’s gig, it is clear that a well-made track, more of the nature of a gentleman’s carriage drive, with a grass margin on each side, and in some cases a simple gravel or paved footway of narrow width, for use in wet weather, is all that need be demanded.

We may laugh today but there is plenty of examples of small private estates which suffice with only gravel roads, where because they arnt through routes and have low traffic they manage. A good example is the Kent House Conservation Area in Bromley which manages despite the roads leading to a railway station.

Unwin recounts how at Hampstead Garden Suburb a special Act of Parliament had to be obtained to allow freedom in road widths and laying out roads around open spaces which would otherwise have been impossible, whereas in Letchworth there were no bye laws and so it was possible to experiment with road widths.

Unwin talks at length about laying out streets to maximise daylight whilst avoiding excessive summer overheating, as well as layouts in relations to the prevailing wind.

In areas where major traffic roads run through residential areas Unwin talks of building most houses faces subsidiary roads to reduce dust noise and small. alas this has been overused especially on characterless and often lightly traffic ‘local distributor roads’ in many sites.


A Readers Guide to Unwin’s Town Planning in Practice – Part 5 – Boundaries and Approaches

Today we’ll cover chapter 5 of Raymond Unwin’s ‘ Town planning in practice; an introduction to the art of designing cities and suburbs‘  of 1909.

It is this chapter that sets out Unwin’s ideas on Gateways most firmly, arguably where he has had most influence on urban design practice.

Historic towns are girdled by walls, with careful use of every part of space within, avoiding

that irregular fringe of half-developed suburb and half-spoiled country which forms such a hideous and depressing girdle around modern growing towns.

It is undesirable to fortify modern towns but

is most necessary in some way to define our town areas, and in the case of large towns to define and separate new areas and suburbs. It would seem desirable to limit in some way the size of towns, but how far this may be possible we have yet to learn.

Unwin was speaking well before any Green Belt was defined beyond the scale of that he himself proposed for Letchworth and he himself proposed for London a few years later.

Unwin then uses the example of Faubergs built outside of city gates, built in peace but abandoned in war to lend doubt the possibility for highly restrictive containment.

we may well doubt whether it will prove possible for us to limit the population of a modern town to a given number, should the town become so prosperous and popular that natural tendency would cause that number to be greatly increased. The attempt would bear some resemblance to King Canute and the flowing tide. There can, however, be little doubt that it is possible to set a limit to the size to which a town shall extend continuously without some break, some intervening belt of park or agricultural land ; and this at least it is most desirable to secure.

So here we see the origins of the concepts of regional planning, seeds already sown in Howard’s idea of the Social City, with urban containment not seen in isolation but one component of a policy to manage not twart urban growth.

the line of limitation may take many forms. Where woods exist and cannot be entirely preserved, a narrow belt of woodland, just enough to serve as a screen, may be secured, and through it may be taken a path or drive. An avenue of trees requires some years to mature, but a wide grass glade with such an avenue would be in time a most successful feature ; and while the latter trees were growing it might be  rendered delightful if planted with fruit-trees or other blossoming trees or shrubs. In large towns or areas it would be desirable to secure wide belts of park land, playing fields, or even agricultural land. In any case, we should secure some orderly line up to which the country and town may each extend and stop definitely, so avoiding the irregular margin of rubbish-heaps and derelict building land which spoils the approach to almost all our towns to-day. These belts might well define our parishes or our wards, and by so doing might help to foster a feeling of local unity in the area. As breathing spaces, they would be invaluable ; as haunts for birds and flowers, and as affording pleasant walks about the towns, free from the noise and worry of modern street traffic, they would give endless pleasure and would in a very true and right way bring into the town some of the charms of the country.

But this is hard as ‘the attempt has often led rather to the destruction of the beauty of both.’

A certain concentration and grouping of buildings is necessary to produce the special beauties of the town, and this is inconsistent with the scattering of buildings which results from each one being isolated in its own patch of garden ; but it is not inconsistent with the grouping of buildings in certain places and the provision of large parks or gardens in other places. If we are to produce really satisfactory town effects combined with the degree of open space now thought advisable, we must work on the principle of grouping our buildings and combining our open spaces, having areas fairly closely built upon, surrounded by others of open space, rather than that of scattering and indefinitely mixing our building and our spaces. 

Unwin even wished to make allotments harmonious through arrangements of hedges, walls and sheds.

Having dealt with open space and edges Unwin turned to Gateways

we must not forget the gateway and the importance of marking in some way the entrances of our towns, our suburbs, and our districts. The character of treatment will be quite different from that of the ancient gateway… but in many ways it would be fitting to mark the points where main roads cross our boundaries and enter towns, or new districts within the towns. For example, some little forecourt of green surrounded by buildings and led up to by an avenue of trees would strike at once the necessary note ; and many other simple devices will occur to the designer for giving the required emphasis and dignity to these points of entrance.

But Unwin noted that in modern times far more people will arrive by rail (still true in the centres of most great cities) where Gateways can be created.

The great archway at King’s Cross Station has about it such suggestion ; and if an open space in front of it could have replaced the low mean buildings and the narrow entrance lane, where the cabs and omnibuses jostle one another and threaten destruction to the arriving and departing passenger, some little dignity could have been given to this one of London’s modern gateways. Too often, as at Paddington, the station is entirely obscured by the hotel building In front, and the actual entrance and exit is nothing but a mean gangway on each side of, or through, the hotel building ; but one can imagine other treatments of railway stations with ample space in front for traffic, and with the hotels flanking the entrance, leaving the opening of the station with some genuine suggestion of gateway as the central feature.

Unwin will have been pleased that the masterplan for in front of Kings Cross is doing precisely this.  Lets hope the lesson is learned as well at Euston, where Unwin complained that the design was compromised because the only way for the station to expand was through Euston Square.

Unwin also wrote about how to make bridges more gateway like and recommended placing buildings servicing useful purposes in the abutments.

Eliot Noyes’ last UK petrol Station Listed

Radio 4 was slightly mystified that a 1960s petrol station has been listed however radio is hardly a visual medium is it?

Eliot Noyes was one of the pioneers of modern industrial design, a pupil of Gropius and with IBM probably the designer that created the modern unity of brand and product.

Noyes designed 18,000 of his classic spinning top petrol stations around the world yet now only one remains, in Leicestershire, and rightly it has been listed.

A Fair Nomination for Carbuncle Cup – Victoria Hall Wembley?

A slightly surprising nomination for the Carbuncle Cup – Victoria Hall Student Accommodation North End Road Wembley, near Wembley Park Station and the Stadium.

Not a truly dreadful, just like so many disappointing compared with the computer renderings which tried to hide the western lumpen block which looks like a Travelodge.  A bolder and more consistent approach would have made it more interesting.  Part of the problem as well is that the two tone approach stops it being read as a single building.  Ok for a large block scheme but here the aim was to create a gateway landmark.  Near miss rather than a carbuncle.

Cutting Greenfield Land Take to a Quarter – The Example of Jakriborg #NPPF

In a previous post we examined how it was possible to still build single family detached homes with one or two parking spaces per dwelling (on -street) at 50 dwellings per Hectare double the current typical mass housebuilder density.

But it is possible to cut down land take to a quarter – by developing at 100 dwellings per hectare, and still have mostly single family homes and miasonettes rather than apartments , if you take a further design leap.

A good example is the new village of Jakriborg Sweden.

This was built in the 1999-2008 by two brothers in the Hanseatic style.  The street layout is decidedly old urban with car free streets and alleyways.  It was deliberately built next to a train station and only occupies 10% of the site.  The idea being that it will grow organically over many years.  Some architects have criticised it as pastiche but of course you dont have to design in Hanseatic style at this density.

The parking area, like for those living in medieval towns, is on the edge of the village, and seems to get little use.

Now ask yourself, does it feel overcrowded?


Saving Pullman Chicago – could become a National Park

Pullman Illinois is one of the most important North American sites in the history of urban planning, its most important company town – alongside Lowell.

But it has been neglected as the areas around it have declined.

Now according to USA today Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr is sponsoring a bill for a study that would see the US National park Service take over.

Lynn McClure of the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association says the study would determine the suitability and feasibility of making Pullman a national park site. Having such a site in Chicago would be “incredible,” she says. “It is the only big city in the country that just has zero national park presence.”

The Pullman District is an industrial and residential complex built in the 1880s by George Pullman to build the famous Pullman sleeping car and house workers in a company-owned community with homes, a church, hotel, market and recreational facilities.

A strike in 1894 by Pullman workers and the formation of the first all-African-American union in 1925 helped shape the black labor movement.

The African Americans hired to work in the factory and as porters allowed many to move into the middle class, and porters helped spark the historic migration of blacks from the South to northern cities by spreading the word about jobs in the North, says Lionel Kimble, who teaches history at Chicago State University. The porters’ “impact on history can’t be seen in a negative light,” he says.

Jeff Soule, outreach director for the American Planning Association, says Pullman was “the first industrial city designed with the inhabitants’ welfare in mind” and included nice, if modest, homes for workers and proximity to the goods and services they needed. Planners “are trying to re-create the community that Pullman already is,” he says.

A Pullman national park site could be modeled after Massachusetts’ Lowell National Historical Park, which highlights the early textile industry, says Patrick Brannon, president of the Pullman Civic Organization and a resident. “It could have a lot of tourist draw,” he says, although some residents worry about being inundated by visitors.

Michael Shymanski, a Pullman resident and president of the Historic Pullman Foundation, says the district was the birthplace of many “significant ideas in the experiment of America. It’s an international icon.”