PART ONE – THE ELEMENTS OF SUCCESSFUL URBAN PLACEMAKING
How the site fits into its context, including complementary and competitive attractions; in other words, what else is nearby to which the design should respond? The success of any development, no matter how large, is a function of the wider setting.
The specific points at which connections can be made into this context, including public transport connections; in other words the “gateways” into the design.
The spatial layout design of the project itself in terms of its streets and spaces, whether public/private or open/covered, and the importance of:
– first, encouraging through movement connections between gateways
– second, providing a simple, intelligible internal circulation network through a grid of streets and other connections.
This is the most important of the five elements since the spatial layout, once created, tends to be the most permanent part of the development. It is the most expensive to alter once constructed since it sets out the footprints of buildings and, importantly, since it carries the bulk of major services such as energy, water and data supply as well as waste handling.
The quantum of different land use attractions and the disposition of these within the spatial layout both in two and three dimensions; in other words where uses are and how they stack up, especially the land uses that occur at street level and any other principal pedestrian levels.
The location of land uses should follow the hierarchy of spatial connections created by the spatial layout design, with the most movement-sensitive land uses located on the most spatially important connections and so on. This alignment of land use attraction with spatial layout attraction is a fundamental property of both historic cities and successful modern places.
How the spatial layout is “dressed” both in terms of the “green/blue” landscape of planting and water and the “architectural” landscape of building frontages at the principal pedestrian levels.
Here what matters is that the spatial layout is not overly fragmented or dispersed by planting and that the principal pedestrian levels are lined with open, active frontages.
PART TWO – THE DESIGN
The five elements of successful placemaking establish a framework for design practice. What matters next is the way in which these generic principles are translated into a specific design proposal. This is a creative step, which relies on a blend of imagination and craft, honed by experience.
The challenge for future urban practice is that the five elements are not commonly appreciated in the field of retail development, which has instead adopted principles of gravitational attraction that tend to create anchored, inward-facing, covered malls rather than open, street-based shopping streets, whether we call such streets “high streets” or “souqs”.
PART THREE – THE WAY FORWARD
It has been, and will continue to be, down to pioneering organisations to point out what is increasingly obvious to all but those who are too immersed in it: that anchored malls create sterile places; and then for these pioneers to deliver new places that work because they employ the timeless elements of successful placemaking.
Fortunately, this challenge is facilitated by the continued emergence of technology-based tools for analysing location, identifying points of linkage, testing different layout concepts and modelling the interaction of these with different land use and landscape treatments.
We don’t guess the structural performance of individual buildings so why do we guess the human performance of entire cities?
The structural steelwork of a large and complex building would not be designed without running engineering calculations. Even the smallest of buildings is subject to objective structural analysis. No client and professional team would rely on guesswork, no matter how famous or experienced the architect or engineer.
So why do we leave the human performance of places to the whim of architects who run no calculations and rely only on their instinct and ego? Why is the science of human behaviour so poorly developed? Why is chronic failure still tolerated?
In the early sixteenth century, William Harvey challenged the medical profession to take a more objective, more observation-driven approach to the understanding of the circulation of blood. At the time, medical thinking was largely based on the beliefs of Galen of Pergamon, who had set these out in the second century. Harvey challenged a medical mindset that hadn’t changed in one and a half millennia. And he encouraged his peers to embrace advances in science that allowed new forms of investigation.
We can see a similar state of affairs in the prevalence of, and institutional inertia around, twentieth century planning. Based on belief, not observation-based science, a doctrinal approach to urban planning and design pervades the professions. This is the case, whether the specific approach is Modernism, the Garden City movement or (and especially) Landscape Urbanism. Each is to some degree unscientific.
These approaches propose different kinds of urban outcomes but what unites them is a belief that the future should look fundamentally different to the form of continuously connected, dense and mixed-use urbanism found in cities for as long as there have been cities – the kind of urbanism that architects and town planners visit on their holidays.
The kind of urbanism – and here’s the irony – that Galen would have recognised. If only architecture and town planning were stuck in a fifteen hundred-year-old mindset. We would still have vehicles on the road but we wouldn’t have vehicle dominance. We wouldn’t have land use zoning that generates long-distance commuting, traffic congestion and negative health impacts. We wouldn’t be encroaching on the rural landscape with semi-detached, density-fearing dwellings.
Fundamental change in our professions is needed and science has an important part to play. In the spirit of Harvey’s observation-based approach, we need to embrace the new capabilities offered by sensing, analytics and modelling. We need to understand how cities truly work before we then form ideas about how to change them. We must move beyond the beliefs of twentieth century practice. The evidence is there to demonstrate that practice based on belief hasn’t delivered great places with the consistency required either by the investors in them or the users of them.
We can learn from Harvey, even if our end goal is the urbanism of Galen.
The subject of “connectivity” is much mentioned in urban planning practice, not least by the Space Syntax community.
But what do we mean by connectivity?
1. Urban practice should connect across different scales of activity:
Urban Planning (macro scale)
Urban Design (meso scale)
Building Design (micro scale)
ie 3 scales of space.
2. Urban practice should also connect across different phases of activity:
Design (before construction)
Construction (during construction)
Operations (after construction)
ie 3 phases of time.
This gives urban practice a clear space/time organisational framework.
3. This framework can then be used to discuss the subject of connectivity according to several key dimensions:
Physical connections – connecting buildings, streets and spaces.
Human connections – connecting people with each other.
Environmental connections – connecting human interventions to the natural environment: climate, topography.
Digital connections – using data to support physical connections and enhance human connections.
Professional connections – connecting across practice boundaries.
Connectivity is key. But how we connect is complex and multi-dimensional.
How has Space Syntax been applied in China and are the findings different to those outside China?
Space Syntax is not a prescriptive planning and design methodology. Instead it is a culturally responsive planning methodology. It begins by analysing the spatial layout of urban and rural areas and studying patterns of human behaviour, land use and land value. It then shows how spatial layouts influence these patterns. And it allows planners and designers to predict the outcomes of their proposals with greater accuracy than they could before. But it doesn’t prescribe a particular solution. Instead it responds to local cultural differences.
For this reason I am keen that Space Syntax is used by Chinese people to study and to plan Chinese cities, towns and villages. Only Chinese people fully understand Chinese life. We can train Chinese practitioners how to use Space Syntax tools, but how the findings of the research are interpreted is a different problem. It is a problem best answered by Chinese planners and designers.
[Speaking notes for Tim Stonor’s opening presentation at the First Conference on Space Syntax in China, Beijing, 5th December 2015.]
Good morning. It is an honour to be speaking at this important conference alongside so many distinguished speakers and attendees.
My talk today will cover the past, present and future of Space Syntax Limited’s experience working on projects in London and around the world, including here in China.
As you heard from Professor Hillier, the relationship between academic research and practice is fundamental. Practice provides an opportunity to apply Space Syntax techniques – and it also provokes new research questions. Read More
Cargo bikes are an urban game-changer. The combination of online retail and out-of-town mega-distribution centres means that town centre retail must transform. Shops don’t need so much storage space because goods can be sent straight from depot to home. That storage space can be repurposed as retail or office space, bringing new life back to town centres.
Trucks can interchange with cargo-bikes at the edge of town.
Town centres don’t need large swept curves at traffic junctions, making it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to move.
Towns can be designed for slow but effective movement, with all the opportunities for socially and economically beneficial interaction that slow movement supports.
National government has strong convening power – look at this event today (UK-China Sustainable Urbanisation Conference).
In the UK the national government has created the Smart Cities Forum to bring together those involved in policymaking, research and practice around Smart Cities. The Government Office for Science has brought together cities across the UK in its popular City Visions network. A Future Cities Forum could continue this effort, perhaps merging with the Smart Cities Forum to integrate the national effort.
To set standards
We have already heard about the need for common standards in urban policymaking. The British Standards Institute and the Future Cities Catapult are creating a set of Future Cities Standards to provide a common reference platform.
To connect towns and cities
Individual towns and cities do not work in isolation. They form networks, with people ebbing and flowing between them every day. National government can help emphasise the importance of network thinking, thinking about the national system of cities.
Some projects are too big for local purses.
To step back
And let local places get on with the process of delivery.
We heard it said this afternoon (UK-China Sustainable Urbanisation Conference) that SMEs need large businesses to help them find work. I have a different perspective, born of twenty years’ experience in creating and running an SME, Space Syntax.
First, not all small companies want to become large companies. Bigger is not always better, yet this is the conventional wisdom. Small companies are agile. Large companies are often slow and conservative.
Second, small companies help large companies find work. It doesn’t only work the other way round. My company regularly introduces large companies – some of the largest in our industry – to new opportunities.
Of course small companies benefit from the strength of large companies. But don’t let’s think the large companies are doing us a favour. Far from it.
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:
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.
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.
Notes for the Connected Cities Conference, London, 15th September 2015.
How long has Space Syntax been going?
Space Syntax was established as a consulting company in 1989.
Why did you set it up?
Space Syntax was set up to exploit academic research at University College London: computer-based methods of analysing space in buildings and cities and predicting human behaviour. I joined the company to practise a new kind of architecture: one more attuned to human needs and one powered by new analytic capabilities that de-risk an otherwise data-light and judgment-heavy spatial planning process, one which has a history of social and economic failure. Read More
2nd September 2015
Good evening. It is an honour to have been asked to speak this evening and I’m grateful to Lady Sondes, Sir David Melville and Chris Wright for their invitation. As I prepared for this evening I wondered if I had ever given a talk on the water. I thought I hadn’t and then I remembered I once spoke at a conference on board a cruise ship between Genoa and Marseille. I’m pleased to say I’d trade the crystal waters of the Côte D’Azur for the muds of the Côte de North Kent any day.
We are lucky to be here and lucky to be part of Faversham. Simon Foster mentioned the work I’m involved in that’s looking at the UK 50 years from now. This may seem like a long time but it’s a drop in the ocean/Creek for Faversham. Here we have at least 9,000 years of continuous human habitation. There aren’t many other places in the UK that can claim this. In fact we don’t yet know of any that can.
And why did people first come here and then stick around for so long? It’s the Creek. First for the hunting: its game, its fish and its fowl. Then for its waterborne trade. We are one tide from London, where merchants could poise offshore, like greyhounds in the trap, waiting for fire signals from London to tell them their stock prices were high enough to catch the next tide in.
This place is important. This water is important. Many of us feel this viscerally. Others still need persuading. How can we do that?
I have seven thoughts. Read More
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:
eg building, dress, kettle, car but also
eg software code, analytic algorithm, policy, process.
eg pencil sketch, 3D model, oil painting, words
eg the plan of a building or street grid of a city
eg computer game, smartphone application, spreadsheet-based model, immersive (virtual reality) architectural model, sound
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.
Designers will use tools (pencil, knife, keyboard, other people’s opinions) in both:
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:
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 – notes from Day 1
A note from the Vice-Mayor for Infrastructure to the Mayor
Vice-Mayor for Sustainability
Vice-Mayor for Engagement
Vice-Mayor for Disruption
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
– on ground
– above ground
– below ground.
– physical buildings
– building protection
Set in its ways.
No desire to change.
Reliant on the public sector.
Declining core industry.
Few common places.
Weak cultural identity.
Running out of time.
– not enough revenue to run the city.
– in governance, leading to rivalry and underperformance.
– no sense of belonging.
– of people from planning
– reinforced by physical remoteness of outlying centres.
– class distinctions, unintegrated, breeding distrust.
– when older population retire.
– no fun
– no stimulation
– no sense of belonging.
– no innovation.
– committees to reflect areas
– directly elected mayor
– participatory planning
– devolved management of infrastructure.
– common vision
– built around the creative industries
– attracting people from outside, not only serving existing population
– business development area
– enhance links to surrounding agriculture.
– multiple uses of each infrastructure asset e.g. reservoir is boating lake.
– more affordable.
– intensify existing urban footprint rather than further sprawl.
– revitalise the centre.
– 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.
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.
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.