All posts by Tim Stonor

Architect & Town Planner | Managing Director, Space Syntax Limited | Visiting Professor, University College London | Director, The Academy of Urbanism | Fellow, Royal Society of Arts | Resident of Faversham

Reflecting ourselves in the city

What can the form of cities tell us about the structure of the human brain? And what can the structure of the brain tell us about the form of the city? These are questions that I’d like to address in this talk. In summary, I believe we can learn a good deal about the interaction between the mind and the urban places in which the global majority of people now live. After all, the city is the largest intentional product of the human species. We’ve had them for millennia and, in them, we’ve manifested our societies, created our industries and developed our cultures. They are the product of our imaginations, the places where we take decisions – and they are the inspiration for new thought. The link, I want to suggest, is not just contextual though. It’s much deeper than that.

Now my role as an architect and urban planner is to design cities, not to probe and dissect brains in the manner of earlier speakers. But that’s not to say that I’m not professionally curious. Far from it because, when architects and urban planners think about the future – where to place new facilities like schools and hospitals, how to connect them with streets, parks and public spaces, and how to make any and all of this look beautiful – when we do any of this we are anticipating human behaviour: how people will flow, where they will want to stop, sit, read a book, interact with friends and colleagues. And in anticipating human behaviour we are attempting to simulate the thought processes, the decision sequences, the navigational pathways and, in general, the instincts of other human brains.

 

Beyond placemaking: 7 dimensions of “Place Performance”

Notes from a talk at the Bartlett Real Estate Institute, University College London, 24th April 2019.

Placemaking is the art and science of planning and designing spaces for human activity, however that is done: ‬

– by a single hand (usually not a good approach) or by multiple hands (usually a good approach)

– by academics, professionals and non-professionals. ‬‬

‪But beyond placemaking is “place working”, or “place functioning”, or “place performance”: when the planning, design and construction work is finished and the place becomes operational. When it fills with the mysterious liquid called human behaviour. ‬‬‬

And key to which is human transaction: the everyday social and economic exchanges that take place between people – these transactions not only sustain lives but bring about inventions that shape cultures.

Place Performance has many dimensions. Here are seven that I have seen work in practice:

1. Create transactions between people, using places as “Transaction machines”. The first function of a place is to create the conditions for human interaction and transaction.

2. Reduce traffic speed and make it easier for people to be in places. Alongside its health and safety benefits, a 30km/h speed limit is a key method to enhance Place Performance.

3. Avoid fragmentation and the risk of over separation between people, created by well-intended but divisive environmentalism. If not, places will be built where there is little everyday human transaction.

4. Enhance functionality so that, as with single use plastics, we avoid the creation of single use places. This has two parts: first, that there should be more than one activity happening in any place and second, that any place should be adaptable to new uses.

5. Build people-centred main streets as the lowest common denominator of place. The people-centred main street has not been part of urban planning practice in recent history and needs to be reinstated in planning policies as well as in the toolkit of designers.

6. Plan grids because, if effective human transaction is the goal, then the continuously connected grid of streets is the fundamental input mechanism. In so doing, plan integrated cities of continuously connected neighbourhoods, bound together by people-centred main streets.

7. Develop a science of place so that the Placemaking industries are provided with better tools to a) understand the value of place and b) create the policies & plans that will deliver Place Performance. The more we study places – their street networks and their use patterns – the more we understand their value. Connected layouts generally create higher property values. Knowing this means that policies and plans can be presented in terms of how effectively their human performance will deliver a return on investment.

Until there is an established science of Place, the Placemaking industries are acting like Galileo in 1610, trying to understand the detailed surface of the Moon with little better than his eyesight.

We need a new science of space exploration – focused this time on place.

Transport & housing: tools, standards, principles

Notes for presentation at Transport & Housing conference:

https://www.transportxtra.com/tx-events/?id=2400

To understand where we are & where we need to go, we first need to understand where we come from. And where we come from is a relationship with the car that has fragmented cities & damaged lives.

Transport & housing

Big problems:

– obesity

– mental health

– social unrest.

The irony. The paradox.

We have never been as connected.

We have never been as spatially segregated.

We need to integrate planning (too diagrammatic) and architecture (too specific).

We need urbanism.

We need to integrate spatial planning and transport planning.

Space Syntax

Academy of Urbanism

We need to integrate the Catapults: that is happening – from Future Cities and Transport to Connected Places

But…

Need:

Principles

1. Slow urban movement

– 20mph national limit.

2. Continuously connected urbanism

– agree the foreground grid.

3. Large urbanism

– public transport

– innovation.

4. protected villages – possibly a premium for non-essential residential or a subsidy for protected employment.

Standards

If we can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.

Processes

– design at the heart of them: value of design industry. Need to recognise this and should want to be part of it.

Need design training: double diamond – bold/analytic, imaginative/decisive.

Summary

We have:

Policies & principles.

We need:

Tools, standards, principles.

In order to achieve:

Integrated practice.

We, robots

The subject of robotics is multi-dimensional, disruptive & urgent.

In my summing up at the Public Debate of the Robotics Atelier at the Norman Foster Foundation, I identified three types of robot:

Type 1_The robot of repetitive tasks

– this kind of robot will end many kinds of manual jobs that people currently have in factories.

Type 2_The robot of super-human activity

– doing jobs that no human can do: because they are, for example, in outer space, under water, in hazardous places; or because they require such precision that they are beyond human ability.

Type 3_The robot of provocative imagination

– this robot engages most intimately with human existence, suggesting ideas, suggesting shapes, suggesting behaviours that were previously unknown. Another word for this could be the “design robot”.

Or even the “life support robot” – a machine, an entity that lives with us, whether it is attached to us, inside us or walking beside us. It cares for us.

Whereas the first kind of robot – the robot of repetitive tasks – is the most straightforward, it isn’t at all the least important because it may have the most profound impacts on current industrial practices and, as a consequence, on social and economic structures.

But the life support robot is the most intriguing/challenging. It conjures up images of an animal on the shoulder, the daemon in The Golden Compass – enhancing/extending our quality of life and provoking thoughts/actions we might otherwise not have made.

My takeaway from the Robotics Atelier at the Norman Foster Foundation is that we need to be more nuanced in our discourse. Robotics means different things to different people and we must acknowledge these differences in order to have meaningful debate.

Cities from scratch – Astana Economic Forum

Good afternoon. I’m delighted to be a member of this panel today.

Let me start by describing my organisation’s approach to the creation of cities from scratch.

Space Syntax is an international urban planning and design studio and has been involved in plans for new cities and new city extensions throughout the world, including here in Kazakhstan.

Our approach is built on three key ingredients: Continue reading Cities from scratch – Astana Economic Forum

The return of the impossible – Astana Economic Forum

Good afternoon. It’s an honour and a pleasure to be here in Astana today with this distinguished panel.

In speaking about the cities of the future I’d like to speak about three technologies that I think are not only exciting but are also capable of genuinely addressing the “Global Challenges” theme of this Forum.

The first is a mobility technology. The second is a physical transaction technology. The third is a digital technology.

As an architect involved in the design of everything from new buildings and public spaces to entirely new cities, these are three technologies that I’m particularly invested in. Continue reading The return of the impossible – Astana Economic Forum

Smart, green & sustainable future cities

Contribution at workshop on UK-China Future Cities Collaboration Programme, Beijing, China
Organised by the British Embassy, Beijing

20th March 2018

I would like to address the first objective of this workshop, namely a framework for UK-China collaboration on smart, green and sustainable future cities.

Let me begin by saying that our task is helped by the fact that many valuable frameworks already exist:

First, we have many long-established academic networks. Second, we have project-based networks that bring professionals together around planning and construction projects. Third we have professional networks formed around the many conferences that have brought together UK and China experts for many years, and continue to do so. Continue reading Smart, green & sustainable future cities