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

A definition of design

I believe that a definition of design needs to be more than a list of designers. A list is certainly useful but the definition should also capture:
– what is designed
– how design happens.  

I think a longer – or more dimensional – definition is needed so that designers can better communicate with non-designers who may not understand design and who may therefore be sceptical/fearful/cautious of design – people who may see design as a kind of Emperor’s-New-Clothes-creating hype. 

Design is a) the creation of b) a proposition in c) a medium, using d) tools as part of e) a process. 

The nature of each component of this definition may differ between designers:

b) Proposition

Visible objects 

eg building, dress, kettle, car but also 

Invisible objects

eg software code, analytic algorithm, policy, process. 

c) Medium

Physical 

eg pencil sketch, 3D model, oil painting, words

Non-physical

Spatial

eg the plan of a building or street grid of a city

Digital 

eg computer game, smartphone application, spreadsheet-based model, immersive (virtual reality) architectural model, sound

Temporal 

ie designing with the medium of time eg a process: a construction sequence or cash flow model. 

All the above are different forms of design medium. 

d) Tools

Designers will use tools (pencil, knife, keyboard, other people’s opinions) in both:

Creative and 

Reflective/analytic modes. 

e) Process

Designers will use one or more means of design inspiration and design review, working alone or in collaboration with others. 

While the nature of b), c) and d) may vary between designers, I believe the consistent ingredient is:

a) Creation

Design is innately creative and creativity is a rare and precious commodity that is fortunately found in abundance in the UK – not always buried deep but often sitting right at the surface. 

Designing Resilient Cities – creating a future Avalon

Designing Resilient Cities – notes from Day 1
A note from the Vice-Mayor for Infrastructure to the Mayor

cc
Vice-Mayor for Sustainability
Vice-Mayor for Engagement
Vice-Mayor for Disruption
The Public

Avalon faces the risk of functional failure. The only way forward is to change.

Our infrastructure is inefficient. It needs to become efficient. This is not just a question of maintenance. There won’t be enough money to run the transport network, supply water, remove waste, provide broadband. Unless the city either shrinks to a size its current economic structures can afford; or grows to create a larger tax base – so long as the city can retain control over how that tax is spent.

The view of the infrastructure team is that Avalon should grow. But not off the back of its existing industries. These are running out of steam. The industrial infrastructure of the city needs to expand and to reinvigorate. Creative industries will be central to this.

A new population will come to Avalon. A younger population, joining the older, wiser and more experienced population that built the city’s wealth in the 20th century. Joining young people who, having grown up in Avalon have chosen to stay there rather than take the increasingly well-trodden path elsewhere. The city has seen too much of this. Its infrastructure of talent must be rebuilt.

And these people will need somewhere to live. Houses that are affordable. We need to build.

But this does not mean ever further sprawl into our precious countryside – which is too beautiful and too productive to become a building site. No, it means building on our existing urban footprint. We need to find space within the city, not outside. Some of our redundant industrial sites will provide excellent places for new housing: close to transport infrastructure, with excellent, ready-made supplies of water and power. We need to look hard at the vast city parks that were built many years ago and have simply not worked as they were intended – they have harboured crime rather than nurtured culture.

And culture is central to what we must do. Avalon needs to recapture the spirit in which it was first built: a pioneering spirit where anything was possible. Music, art, sculpture, performance: song and dance – we were good at it when we tried. The future memories of Avalon will be built on the strength of the cultural infrastructure that we put in place in the next few years.

And to achieve all of this we need to change the way that we make decisions in the city. No more top down dictats. We need a governance infrastructure that involves everyone: participatory planning, budgeting and decision-taking. An elected mayor for a start.
_____________

Components of infrastructure
Demographics
Life satisfaction.

Transportation
– on ground
– above ground
– below ground.

Health
Not just
– physical buildings

but also
– insurance.

Security
– police
– building protection
– wellbeing.

Equality

Utilities
– water
– gas
– waste
– digital.

Green environment

Culture
– facilities.

Place
– connections.

Diagnosis
Avalon is…

Set in its ways.

Boring.

No desire to change.

Reliant on the public sector.

Declining core industry.

Few common places.

Weak cultural identity.

Car-reliant.

Running out of time.

Risks
Functional failure
– not enough revenue to run the city.

Fragmentation
– in governance, leading to rivalry and underperformance.

Disenchantment
– no sense of belonging.

Disconnection
– of people from planning
– reinforced by physical remoteness of outlying centres.

Civic unrest
– class distinctions, unintegrated, breeding distrust.

Poverty
– when older population retire.

Complacency

Cultural sterility
– no fun
– no stimulation
– no sense of belonging.

Industrial stagnation
– no innovation.

Objectives
Governance
– committees to reflect areas
– directly elected mayor
– participatory planning
– devolved management of infrastructure.

Identity
– common vision
– campaign
– slogan.

Industry
– built around the creative industries
– attracting people from outside, not only serving existing population
– business development area
– enhance links to surrounding agriculture.

Public realm
– enhanced

Consumption
– reduce
– reuse
– recycle
– multiple uses of each infrastructure asset e.g. reservoir is boating lake.

Housing
– more affordable.

Density
– intensify existing urban footprint rather than further sprawl.

Connectivity
– revitalise the centre.

Transport
– integrate existing modes.
_____________

Designing City Resilience is a two-day summit at the RIBA, 17-18th June 2015. Avalon is one of four imaginary cities being looked at during the event in a creative approach that breaks the mould of typical, presentation-only conference agendas. By engaging in a rapid prototyping exercise, delegates immediately test the ideas they have heard in the keynote presentations and on-stage discussions. They also bring to the event their own international experiences.

The result is a two-way, creative conversation that produces a richer outcome: a set of designs for the transformation of the physical, spatial, environmental, industrial, educational, healthcare and governmental structures of the four cities.

Green space in cities – when more is less

Tim Stonor‘s response to a study published today, which shows that green space in cities improves the mental development of schoolchildren. 

I welcome the study: the more we understand cities the better; the Science of Cities – the link between the design of the built environment and the way that we use it – much 20th century planning has been based on guesswork and gut instinct. 

The UK has recently embarked on a national effort to develop this science, setting up the ministerially-led Smart Cities Forum, the Government Office for Science’s study on the Future of Cities. My own organisation, Space Syntax, is a keen participant in this effort and has been pioneering the scientific study of cities for over 25 years. 

My concern is not with the study but with how the study might be interpreted by urban planners in the UK. 

The UK has had something of a love-hate affair: we enjoy visiting Barcelona, Paris, Prague, New York as tourists BUT our efforts to build new cities have given us low density, car-dependent new towns; housing developers continue to deliver this, saying this is what the customer wants; and we believe it. 

BUT go to Skelmersdale – built on garden city principles with great swathes of open green space – and speak to residents who rely on a taxi culture because there aren’t enough buses – because it’s not economically viable to cover all parts of the town with public transport when the housing is so far apart; or lonely parents in one-car families who are stuck at home because their partner has taken the car to work. 

Perhaps the most salutary fact is that the study was carried out in Barcelona: high density, mixed use – in other words, not zoned into housing zones, office zones and shopping zones – so people can walk to work, to the shops, to school – this is the sort of place we need more of. 

And, as Barcelona shows, it can be equally green and highly bio-diverse: street trees and grass verges can provide just as good access to green space as great empty swathes where you might come across more discarded shopping trolleys than people.

The Prince of Wales defines the resilient city #DCR15

3 key features:

1. Embracing local culture, knowledge and customs. Local understanding. 

2. Creating places for all types of people to live together – not ghettos. Diversity. 

3. Integrating people and nature at the centre of the process: urban gardens, parks, orchards & allotments – while protecting rural hinterland. 

http://www.designingcityresilience.com/

The Urban DataFrame

Context
The Urban Data Store is a collection of databases on the social, economic and environmental performance of the city. 

The proposal
These databases can be organised by an Urban DataFrame. Like threads being organised by a loom. Without the loom they are just threads: disconnected on reels or tangled in a pile. The DataFrame organises and makes sense of the threads. 

Components of the Urban DataFrame
The DataFrame has spatial and temporal components.

The Temporal DataFrame is perhaps the more straightforward. A linear sequence – 1 dimension ie time goes forwards and backwards, not sideways or upwards. Databases are time-stamped, allowing temporal analysis: what happened when?

The Spatial DataFrame of the City is its street network and building footprints. Being more complex – having 3 dimensions – this is organised configurationally using Space Syntax spatial network analysis. What happened where?

Benefits of the Urban DataFrame
In combination with the Urban DataConnector, the DataFrame makes sense if the data threads, finding cause-and-effect associations and correlational patterns within them. This knowledge forms the basis for future evidence-informed urban policy making and planning decisions, the likely impacts of which can be modelled in advance.   

City resilience – a definition from history

Today’s city planners could learn a lot from ancient history when creating resilient cities, says Tim Stonor, Managing Director of Space Syntax.

In his book, De Architectura, the Roman architect Vitruvius asserted that a good building must have three qualities: “firmitas, utilitas, venustas”. In other words, it must “last long, work well and look good”.

While the relative importance of these attributes can be debated, what is certain is that together they can deliver resilience. Cities exhibiting strength and stability; that function to the benefit of their citizens; and that are pleasant places to live, work and visit are, by their very nature, resilient.

Unfortunately, the last hundred years of planning have demonstrated that by abandoning these principles, resilience has been overlooked in city planning. The rise of car ownership in the 20th Century, combined with a desire to zone and segregate, has led to highly disconnected places, particularly in terms of walking and cycling, and removed what is the very essence of cities: human transactions.

Cities engender collective purpose, deliver great benefits – social, economical and cultural – and drive innovation. This great mechanism, that brings people together, is risked when planning centres around the car. Continue reading City resilience – a definition from history

Pedestrian movement – the forgotten transport mode

In the field of traffic planning, pedestrian movement is often the forgotten transport mode. But the reality is that pedestrians are the most important mode – because it is when we are pedestrians that we are closest to the places where we make money and spend money; when we are most healthy and, above all, when we are most human.