Category Archives: Architecture

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. 

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.

The two types of Smart City technology

There are two kinds of #SmartCity technology. “Smart at” and “Smart from”. Which is yours?

Smart at
Here’s our technology. We developed it for another purpose (often agriculture or aerospace). We’re not sure if it really works in cities but we hear that cities are a big market and we’re prepared to have a pop. 

Smart from

Here’s our technology. We developed it through rigorous research on cities: their current conditions and their future needs. We did this because we recognised the importance of cities some time ago. We’re delighted that the rest of the world has now drawn the same conclusion. 

NB “Smart at” has derivatives eg “We developed this technology for cars because cars were the “be all” and “end all” of urban policy. But now we’re told that bikes and pedestrians are top of the pile so we’re repurposing it and rebadging it for them. We hope it works but we’ve no research to show it does. 

“There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man’s lawful prey.”
John Ruskin