Category Archives: Buildings

Integrated Urban Planning – balancing the multiple flows of the city

Notes for the UK-China Sustainable Urbanisation Conference in Chengdu, China on 24th September 2015

  

My job as an architect and urban planner is to design new towns and cities – as well as new parts of existing urban settlements. This means designing the multiple systems that make up a city. We often think about towns and cities in terms of their physical stuff: their buildings. Perhaps also in terms of their roads and rails. But for me the success of any city can be seen and measured in terms of its flows, the flows of:

  • energy
  • water
  • data

and, most important of all, the flows of:

  • people: in cars, on public transport, on bicycles and on foot.

Each of these flows is impacted by urban development: how much of which land uses are placed where, and how they are then connected to each other. Flows impact on other flows.

Sometimes these impacts are positive, sometimes negative. They have enormous social and economic implications.

Urban planning is as much about designing flows as it is designing buildings.

We live in an age of unprecedented computing power – this gives us the ability to better predict the nature of these impacts.

This is especially important to avoid the unwanted effects of urban development: congestion, air pollution, social isolation and unsustainable stresses on natural resources.

And computing can help create the positive impacts that are needed to support the essential purpose of cities: to be:

  • machines for human interaction
  • crucibles of invention
  • factories for cultural creation.

The last decade has seen the emergence of Integrated Urban Modelling. My company, Space Syntax, is a leader in the field: one of the UK companies referred to by the Chancellor as contributing to China’s growth and development. Working, for example, with the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design across China in Suzhou and Beijing.

Integrated Urban Models link the data generated by the multiple flows and reveal the interactions that help architects and urban planners create sustainable plans. Space Syntax has identified the essential role of spatial layout as the principal influence on urban performance. Spatial analytics are at the heart of our approach to Integrated Urban Modelling and we have made our discovery open source and openly available so that others can benefit too.

The Space Syntax Online Training Platform is a freely available, web-based resource through which urban practitioners, policymakers and local residents can equip themselves with information and skills to create more sustainable urban futures.

I’m pleased to announce that this platform is currently being translated into Chinese so that the Space Syntax’s discoveries and experiences can be more readily disseminated here in China.
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Integration, balance, glue, pivot: space
In many ways, urban planning is the integration and balancing of multiple flows. Integration needs glue and balance needs a pivot. Spatial layout provides both.

 

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What did the Romans ever do for us? Pompei’s 5 lessons for placemaking…

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In looking forwards it is important to learn the lessons of history.

Look at Pompei. A city built for efficient mobility. 

A model of the 1st century with lessons for the 21st century. 

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The grid – no cul de sacs. Built for mobility. Built for commerce. 

More or less rectilinear – not labyrinthine. A layout that brains like. Easy to wayfind. Hard to get lost in.

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A Main Street with shops – no inward-looking shopping malls. Active frontages. About as much surface for pedestrians as for vehicles – the right balance for then. Perhaps also for now?

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And shopkeepers of great wealth! It was not a compromise to open onto a Main Street. It was a sound commercial investment. Who would turn their back on the flow of the street?

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Pedestrian crossings! The deep kerbs channel water when it rains, flushing the dirt from the road and keeping it clean. Integrated infrastructure.

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Pedestrian crossings that are aligned with pedestrian desire lines – not following the convenience of traffic engineers’ vehicle turning arrangements. Pedestrians first because its the pedestrians that carried the money, not the vehicles.

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A small, pedestrian only zone in the very heart of the city. No bigger than it needs to be…

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…unambiguously signed that this is where you have to get out of your chariot and onto your feet. 

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Pompei: a city of great streets – great street sense.

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But in recent times we lost our street-sense. 

Look at Birmingham then…

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And now. What happened to our street sense?

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And Birmingham was not alone. 

Look at US cities:

What they were…only 60 years ago – recognisably like Pompei: simple, rectilinear grids.

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Then what they became…

We became entrapped by traffic models. 

And a love-affair with the car. 

We need to regain our street-sense. 

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Fortunately this is happening. 

Trafalgar Square,

Nottingham.

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At the Elephant & Castle, this design puts the pedestrian crossings on the pedestrian desire lines – just like those crossings in Pompei. We’ve talen pedestrians out of subways and given them their proper place at street level, next to the shopfronts. We’ve made the humble crossing an object of beauty, spending many different budgets (landscape, planting, pedestrian, cycling, highways) on one project so that each budget gets more than if it had been spent separately.

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This new approach – a rediscovery of street sense – has been made possible through advances in science that have made us see the errors of previous ways.

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The more we look into this the more we find of value: for example, how connected street grids create higher property values in the long run.

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And Birmingham has pioneered this science:

Brindley Place – the bridge on the straight east-west route – a lesson from Pompeii! It may seem obvious today – because it’s a natural solution – but it wasn’t obvious to some people at the time, who wanted the bridge to be hidden round the corner because, they said, there would be a greater sense of surprise and delight! What nonsense. We had to model the alternatives and show just how powerful the straight alignment was.

We still have to do so today. Many urban designers and transport planners have been slow on the uptake. The average pedestrian gets it immediately. What does that say for our professions?

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Now cities all over the world are recovering their street sense, creating plans for their expansion that are street-based, not mall-based.

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In time to accommodate a new, two-wheeled chariot: the bicycle.

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SkyCycle – a new approach to urban mobility. Creating space for over half a billion cycle journeys every year. Constructed above the tracks, allowing smooth, predictable, junction-free movement between edge and centre. Developed by a consortium of Exterior Architecture, Foster + Partners and Space Syntax.

Adding to cycling at street level – not taking it away.

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Recently, at the Birmingham Health City workshop,a discussion about the location of healthcare facilities quickly became one focused less on hospitals and wards and more on streets and public spaces. On “free”, preventative public health rather than expensive, clinical curative care. Free in that it comes as the byproduct of good urban development. 

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Rob Morrison’s drawing of the Birmingham Boulevard…

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…an idea to turn the Inner Ring Road into an active street.

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And to achieve this there are clear principles to follow:

1. Connected street layouts.

2. Mixed mode movement – not separated by tunnels and walkways.

3. Active streets ie lined with street shops not mall shops.

4. Pedestrian crossings on desire lines, not where it’s most convenient for traffic turnings.

5. Limited pedestrianisation of the most important civic areas.

A thought – yes Pompeii was a city of commerce but the houses of the city are filled with references to literature, poetry, music: the arts. 

Huge cultural value. 

After all, this is the important, aspirational aspect of living in cities that comes with the efficient mobility that results from pragmatic planning: the grid, mixed modes, active frontages on main streets and special, limited, high intensity, pedestrian only places. 

When we get this right we have time to truly enjoy ourselves in the arts and sciences. In culture. That is truly great urbanism.

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Space Syntax City Projects Walk

On Tuesday afternoon, 3rd September, I led a walking tour of built projects by Space Syntax.Space Syntax City Projects Walk

Trafalgar Square

Royal Festval Hall

Tate Modern

One New Change

New Bloomberg Headquarters (under construction)

Willis Building

30 St Mary Axe

Heron Plaza (under construction)

Liverpool Street Station retail concourse

Broadgate, Exchange Square

Barbican Arts Centre Continue reading Space Syntax City Projects Walk

MSc Advanced Architectural Studies – graduate employability

A talk given at the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the MSc in Advanced Architectural Studies – the “space syntax” MSc at University College London, 3rd September 2013.

Good evening, everyone.

Let me begin by paying tribute to the genius of Bill Hillier and Julienne Hanson. Not only for pioneering a theory – the theory – of architecture, but also for finding a way to teach it that has had such an effect on us all.

I’ve been asked to speak this evening about the issue of employability: does taking the MSc in Advanced Architectural Studies either enhance or inhibit the job propsects of its graduates?

Here’s what I want to say:

First, I’d like to review the perceived problem of Space Syntax – why it’s sometimes viewed with skepticism and how that impacts at interview; second, the nonsense of this criticism: why do I even need to be up here to defend the course; third, the “Hang on, maybe there’s an element of truth here” moment; and finally a belief that we can’t rest on our laurels. Continue reading MSc Advanced Architectural Studies – graduate employability

Old Street – putting the genie back in the bottle?

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Old Street Roundabout is a heady intersection of urban movement flows: on foot, on cycles and in vehicles, including the Tube. But it is currently a mess, out of place within the surrounding network of generally convivial streets. In order to appreciate the severely negative condition of the place you only have to walk to Old Street Roundabout from a few hundred metres in any direction to witness the sudden, dramatic degradation of public space, the increase in traffic speeds and the disappearance of pedestrians into subways.

Yet, as a nexus of movement, the Old Street junction has the urban design foundations – the DNA of urbanism – to be a great public space, serving the local area as well as acting as a global emblem of Tech City. Not a valley, glen or vale but a truly urban object: a forum, a plaza, a piazza, a market place a square: Old Street Square. Or even, in keeping with the open source/open access aspirations of many in the technology community: Old Street Commons. For this to happen, the public realm of the Old Street junction needs to be overhauled. Radically. Continue reading Old Street – putting the genie back in the bottle?

Going to “work” is actually going to “interact”

Why is people movement important in buildings?
In a knowledge economy, the key role of buildings is the production and dissemination of new knowledge to drive innovation.

Awareness leads to interaction leads to transaction.

Spatial layout works with management style to create a “spatial culture”.

Corner offices v corridors
People should sit based on need not based on status. Needs change during the day and during the week so people should move. Offices should provide different kinds of work environment. Open plan and busy when you need more interaction. Corner office/cellular when you need less. Management should permit workers to choose where they want to sit – this is part of trusting workers to perform and businesses will perform better as a result of having great space and great people.

Effects of technology
Technology will not replace the office because what matters is making “first contact” and this is harder online – much easier face to face.

Going to work is about going to interact.

A short film about Space Syntax

Tim Stonor, Managing Director, Space Syntax
“The population of the world is increasing and, as it increases, more and more of us are living in cities. As cities have grown in the 20th century they have often grown to disconnect people.

Space Syntax has discovered that many of these problems in cities – disconnection, lack of contact between people, lack of access to jobs – come down to the way in which the city is planned as a layout of space.”

Ronan Faherty, Commercial Director, Land Securities
“As a developer, the most important thing for us is understanding the consumer and anything that assesses the consumer and helps us understand them provides real value. When you’re putting down a new property into an existing space we want to understand where consumers are coming from and then how they should engage with the property: where we should put escalation and movement and flows. Continue reading A short film about Space Syntax