There are some ‘stereotypical’ approaches taken by local authorities in an effort to create quality places and add value. However, not all will provide the best solution – allow me to dispel some common myths.
A scheme doesn’t always need a signature architect centrepiece to be high quality, nor does it need to depart from the status quo to be successful – i.e. the search for the elusive ‘big idea’. It does, however, need to be holistic and start with an overarching vision that is guided by a flexible and beautiful tapestry of streets and open spaces and be underpinned by a realistic economic delivery plan. It is this basic structure of routes and connections between places and destinations that deliver a framework that can adapt and manage change.
The framework provides a canvas for attractive and functional buildings set out with a well-considered distribution of land uses and development densities to create distinctive and characterful places. This approach creates a multiplicity of combinations, by expressing and exploring the possibilities and relationships between buildings and the public realm, in turn providing the foundation for great places, offering richness and delight over the duration of time.
Barcelona and Manhattan in New York are great examples of cities that embrace their flexibility and benefit from a holistic view and a clear vision. They are organised on a very regular grid, yet they offer great depth of spatial experiences and a high quality of life – partially achieved through the dialogue between the composition and relationship of the constituent parts in the spatial plan expressed in two dimensions, and the articulation massing and scale of the buildings defined in three dimensions. This creates a full sensory experience enriched through the use of vistas, landmark features and clustering of land uses that provide identity and legibility.
Places also need to be flexible to maintain their competitive edge within the global and regional marketplace – top businesses are attracted to well-connected locations where it is also great to live and socialise. Cities and towns must be allowed to evolve and have the ability to reinvent themselves to keep up with the pace of change. The simpler the framework, the easier it is to adapt and evolve. As transport networks increase to offer greater connectivity, buildings become defunct, land values increase and the need for space and urban intensification is greater, so will the pressure for regeneration increase.
Once a masterplan has been adopted, it’s over to the private and public sector to deliver it working together. Speed and cost are paramount for both parties, so there is an expectation that the scheme will be value engineered and choices will have to be made about what is really important to achieve a successful outcome. This is where the ‘high aspiration,’ vision and ambition, set at the outset, prove invaluable, as they provide a firm reference point to keep the bar high and the outcome strong.
Critical to the process of ‘value engineering’ is the maintenance of design quality – and by this I don’t mean bright shiny architecture…rather, it’s the control and guidance of the overall design, execution and implementation of the buildings, streets, landscape and public realm to ensure that a lasting and harmonious composition is achieved, to create a fantastic place that will be loved and cherished by those who live, work or visit there.
Extravagant budgets are a thing of the past, so when local authorities embark on city renewal or regeneration, there needs to be a great vision embedded in an understanding of the planning process, an appreciation of design quality and most importantly, a focus on a viable implementation strategy to make sure the money invested is well spent and the best possible result is delivered. As I am constantly reminded by one of my mentors, “many visions never happen, but there aren’t any great places created that didn’t start with a vision.”