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. Read More

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

Urban | Auckland ideas 

Inspired by Richard Saul Wurman’s presentation at the NZPI Annual Conference 2015 & discussion afterwards. 

Scales 
Local places are made by virtue of their place in a wider setting. Squares: it’s not the local design that makes the difference, it’s the connectivity with the wider city that matters. 
Patterns – common language
Space Syntax focuses on the common language of space. Seeks to identify the patterns within that language. 
Future thinking framework
Climate change
Resource security
Demographic change 
1. Living in cities: live, work, leisure, innovation. 
2. Governance
3. Infrastructure
4. Metabolisms
5. Urban form
6. Financing
7. Technologies
8. Scenarios – investigating the importance of opposites
Misunderstood cities
We don’t understand the complexity and the interdependencies of cities. The Science of Cities is nascent. There’s much to learn. 
Urban data analyst 
The job of the century. 
Geoffrey West
1. Every city should have a vision
2. Every city should have great leaders. 
Comfort
It’s less about being complacent when feeling comfortable. More about using that feeling to be creative. Mastery. 
Products. Process. Performance. 
We tend to focus on the product.
3 kinds of technology:
Digital
Physical
Ideas
Technology to:
1. Analyse
2. Present

Creating a cultural database

 

Sir Tipene O’Regan
Māori indigenous local and world views 

Notes on the creation of a cultural database using digital technology, presented at the NZPI Annual Conference 2015. 

“Culture needs to be cultivated.”

“We must remember to remember.”

“People who have no memory have no future.”

Cultural mapping – “Stories of death, lust, more lust & bravery”. Google Earth database of >4,000 names with historic references. Songs, stories too. 

“We have to be the proprietors of our own cultural database.” This applies equally to any community as it does to the Māori culture that inspired the sentiment. “Something that is authentically ours with an authentic base”.

“Walk into the future with your eyes on the past.”

Attracting new industry to cities – acting beyond the obvious

I was at a meeting in London yesterday with visiting Chinese national policymakers and was asked what was needed to attract a new industry to a city. 
This is an important question not only in China but in any country where cities are trying to encourage new business growth. In answer I suggested that there were three important factors that needed to be  in place:
1. Distinctiveness – the USP of the city – what makes the place special; its climate and its culture. Each city needs to be able to tell its own story. 
2. Universities and other educational resources – to act as partners to industry to drive innovation and provide a skilled labour pool. 
3. Great streets and public spaces – after all cities are about human beings needing to move around efficiently and also to enjoy being in the place where they work. 
Of course other factors are important: a reliable supply of energy and other services; sites that are ready for development and effective legal processes. But these are the obvious consistencies. 
Cities also need to focus on their story, their academic partnerships and the quality of their public realm: factors that can be neglected in the push to attract new business. 

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

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Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.001

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. 

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.002

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.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.003

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?

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.004

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?

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.005

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

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.006

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.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.007

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

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.008

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

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.009

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

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.010

But in recent times we lost our street-sense. 

Look at Birmingham then…

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.011

And now. What happened to our street sense?

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.012

And Birmingham was not alone. 

Look at US cities:

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

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.013

Then what they became…

We became entrapped by traffic models. 

And a love-affair with the car. 

We need to regain our street-sense. 

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.014

Fortunately this is happening. 

Trafalgar Square,

Nottingham.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.015

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.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.016

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.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.017

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.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.018

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?

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.019

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

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.020

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

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.021

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.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.022

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. 

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.023

Rob Morrison’s drawing of the Birmingham Boulevard…

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

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.025

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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The Garden Street – the essential, unspoken element of the Garden City 

Too often the Garden City is visualised as a place of huge green spaces enfolding small pockets of grey streets. The green and the grey.

But why should streets be grey? What about avenues? Boulevards? Rows of trees? Grass verges? Street planting at various scales. 

And don’t those huge green parks just separate the urbanism? Don’t Green Parks create barriers between people and opportunities? Between homes and jobs and places of leisure?

The city of the future should be a city of green streets as well as green parks? And, if we wish to call it a Garden City then we should remember to include the Garden Streets as well as the Garden Parks? 

 After all, they were always part of the mix.

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Technology by necessity

Notes for today’s talk at the NLA’s conference on “How do we build a smarter London

The London context:

– more people (growing population)
– more data (sensors everywhere)
– more sophisticated computing.

Strategic problem: how to handle it all.

Space Syntax’s experience: address the problem via “the questions of reality”.

The commercial application of Space Syntax research was catalysed by approaches from London residents in the early/mid 1980s eg Limehouse Basin, South Bank, King’s Cross: citizens groups opposing property developments they saw as being alien to London life. Today we work for those developers as well as community groups. Developers have learned to “get it”.

Data and computing create an art of the possible (sometimes the seemingly impossible too eg the wonderful Pigeon Sim). Pass the art of the possible through the filter of reality/market demand. Then it’s possible to make sense of it all – to know what to do.

The questions asked by our clients are the necessary filter.

Then evolve the technology according to new and difficult questions.

This is what we had to do to understand Trafalgar Square – we’d never studied such a complex open space before.

Technology by necessity.

The spatial architecture of the SMART city

Tim Stonor_The spatial architecture of the SMART city_Japanese_141028.001

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Good morning. It is a pleasure and an honour to have been invited to give this presentation today at the Nikkei Smart City Week conference. The subject of my talk is architecture – not only the architecture of buildings but, also, the architecture of public space: the space that we move through and live our lives in; the glue that binds us together.

Tim Stonor_The spatial architecture of the SMART city_Japanese_141028.002

In the first part of my presentation I will address three key questions:

First, what is a Smart City?

Second, how can a Smart City be planned & governed?

Third, where is the place for technology in the Smart City?

And I will relate each of these questions to the architecture of space.

Tim Stonor_The spatial architecture of the SMART city_Japanese_141028.003

In the second part of my presentation I will describe the very significant effort that the UK is making to plan for its urban future, embracing the opportunities that new technologies provide.

Tim Stonor_The spatial architecture of the SMART city_Japanese_141028.004

In the third part of my presentation I will describe the use of computer modelling techniques in the creation of the London 2012 urban masterplanning process. Read More

Defining Smart(er) (as) Cities

I prefer the term “Smarter City” to “Smart City” even if it has already been claimed by IBM.

“Smarter City” suggests the city is already smart and technology can make it smarter, whereas “Smart City” can be misinterpreted as suggesting that the city is dumb and technology, like a White Knight, will ride to its rescue.

And in truth some cities are dumb – or have been made dumb by modern transport planning: choked with congestion in pursuit of car-based sprawl.

But not all cities are dumb. We have cities for a reason. They are fundamentally smart in the way they create intensification of opportunities for people to meet, interact and transact. In this sense, cities are a natural product of human evolution.

To be truly smart, cities need to recognise their fundamental smartness. Real cities – the places that resonate to the “urban buzz” – are already smart cities. Historic cities, unsullied by destructive modern planning, are smart cities. Low technology cities, if they are compact and people-focused, are already smart cities.

Future cities need to be as smart as great historic and low technology cities.

Smart City – good.

Smarter City – better.

Smart as Cities – best!

A new science for cities

A talk given to the Leaders and Chief Executives of the Key Cities, Brighton, 24th October 2014.

Tim Stonor_Key Cities_20141024.001

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We hear a lot about smart cities as the solution to the needs of urban places. But although technology allows us to live remotely and speak to each other from deep forests and mountaintops, humanity as a species has become more and more urban. The more that we could be apart, the more we have actually come together.

Perhaps we need to understand that smart cities is not a new concept: cities were always smart – if they weren’t smart we wouldn’t have them. Read More

Bill Hillier’s Smart London

Notes of Bill Hilliers opening talk about the NLA Smarter London exhibition, 8th October 2014.

Congratulations to the NLA and CASA for the exhibition.

It’s evidence that London is the original smart city – nowhere such a collection of top class practices, imaginative authorities and academic departments developing new ways of doing things, and new technologies –and talking to each other !

But I think London is a smart city also in another sense – the city itself and how it’s put together.

When I was young London was regarded as an unplanned mess, in need of being tidied up into a system of well-defined neighbourhood units separated by main roads – a bit like Milton Keynes.

I’ve been asked to say something about one of the technologies on show – space syntax.

When we apply space syntax analysis to London it suggests it’s not mess at all

That under the apparent disorder, there is a pretty smart city. Read More

Let them smoke ciggies because it keeps them calm

“Cul de sac layouts may be the opium of the unwary – seemingly an analgesic against high-density urbanism – but beware the risks of over-indulgence”.

Steve Morgan, founder of housebuilder Redrow, attacks high-density urbanism in today’s Building Design. He says:

“Build cul de sacs because that’s how people want to live”.

This reminds me of some other things I’ve heard:

“Give them salty food because they enjoy the taste.”

“Let them smoke ciggies because it keeps them calm.”
Read More

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