Category Archives: Architecture

Reflecting ourselves in the city

What can the form of cities tell us about the structure of the brain? And what can the structure of the brain tell us about the form of cities? 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 lives.

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 though, is not just contextual. It’s much deeper than that. Continue reading Reflecting ourselves in the city

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

Growth. Are you old school or new school?

There are two different schools of thought about how to accommodate urban growth. The first says that cities should build more road capacity to handle private vehicle traffic. The second says that less space should be provided for private vehicles and more investment should be made in public transport and “active travel” i.e. walking and cycling. The first approach is generally more costly than the second.

The old school of thought has prevailed for around a century. The new school is relatively more recent, responding to the frequent failure of the former, where more road space has created more road traffic, which has created more congestion.

Cities all over the world are now removing expensive car-oriented infrastructure and introducing space for walking, cycling and public transport. Ring roads and bypasses are being unpicked and cities are thriving as a result. Look at Copenhagen, Paris, London, Birmingham, Boston, Poynton or any number of places that have employed the new school approach.

On Poynton…”This was the busiest junction in Cheshire, with 25,000 vehicle movements per day and the fourth worst performing retail centre in Cheshire East. It now accommodates a similar volume of traffic, but since average speeds have fallen to below 20mph, drive times through the centre are significantly reduced. Anecdotally people feel safer crossing the carriageway and cars will stop for them, make eye-contact and usually elicit a wave of thanks from the pedestrian.” The Academy of Urbanism

Road speeds are being reduced, from 40 or 50mph to 20 or 30mph. Not only on residential streets but at the intersections of major roads too. Why? Because when you slow traffic down it flows more freely. Why? Because at lower speeds, more vehicles can fit into the same space. This isn’t rocket science. It’s simply a different school of thought.

When a city pursues “old school thinking” of road capacity increases and banned turns then not only is this going to generate more road traffic it is also going to make it ever harder for people to do anything other than drive. In these circumstances, walking and cycling become harder. “Walking and cycling facilities” might be put in but these are often token gestures because they are fitted in around the needs of traffic. Desire lines – the paths that people prefer to take – are severed and people are encouraged to walk or cycle on unnaturally twisted journeys. What happens as a result? They don’t use these “facilities” and they take risky alternatives, dashing across road lanes or cycling among fast-moving traffic.

Old school thinking is voracious – once started it is hard to stop. Nevertheless, evidence, analysis and creative thinking can help. If there is a willingness to listen.

I speak from the perspective of practice – of having observed the behaviour of people on foot, on bikes and in vehicles in a scientific manner for over 25 years. Of having presented evidence of fact to local authorities and of overturning poorly thought-through, old school proposals. Of having designed alternatives that don’t put anyone in particular first but instead balance the needs of all. This isn’t about being pro-bike and anti-car. It’s about being pro-place and pro-cities.

And let’s be clear, new school thinking is fundamentally about being pro-growth. But pro a form of growth that is smart and sustainable: growth that doesn’t sacrifice the profound benefits of local places for the expedience of cross-city commuting, but growth that promotes alternative ways of traveling and enhances the attractiveness of cities as places to live in and invest in.

Backwards plans for Newcastle’s Blue House Roundabout

Newcastle City Council’s plans for the Blue House Roundabout are appalling and unnecessary.

I know the junction and have walked and driven across it more times than I can remember. The last thing it needs is what is proposed and I intend to do what I can to help stop the scheme.

There is already a significant body of local opposition to the proposals, for example:

https://wordsmiths2801.wordpress.com/2016/08/13/self-loathing-on-a-city-scale/

“At present, it’s a busy, but functioning, junction occupying a particularly striking location – the intersection of two broad avenues of lime trees, some 130 years old, which cross the historic open spaces known as Duke’s Moor, Little Moor and the Town Moor. These spaces belong to the hereditary Freemen of Newcastle upon Tyne, who have been exercising their right to graze cattle here for a thousand years or so. They form a green belt around the city centre and make its inner suburbs surprisingly pastoral.”

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Yet the more weight that can be brought against these unnecessary, expensive and car-centric proposals, the better.

Don’t let this nonsense be foisted any further. Take Newcastle forwards not backwards.