making better places
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Urban design qualities handbook
Urban design is
A wonderful variety of architectural forms is included whilst fully integrating with the existing townscape The planning framework articulates a threedimensional vision for improvement of the area
the art of making places Cowan, R (2000) Placecheck: a users guide. UDAL (The Urban Design Alliance)
the relationship between different buildings; the relationship between buildings and streets, squares, parks and waterways and other spaces which make up the public domain; the nature and quality of the public domain itself; the relationship of one part of a village, town or city, with other parts; and the patterns of movements and activity which are thereby established: in short, the complex relationships between all the elements of built and unbuilt space Department of the Environment (1997) Planning Policy Guidance Note 1: General policy and principles. Stationery Office
The built environment [provides] its users with an essentially democratic setting, enriching their opportunities by maximising the degree of choice available to them. Bentley, Ian et al (1985) Responsive Environments. Architectural Press2
Urban design qualities
Permeability Vitality Variety
move and connect
exciting places diversity the spice of life where am I? How do I get there? change and adapt as required
Good qualities in urban design are achieved through urban design principlesPermeability - A desirable characteristic of a place is the ease with which one can move through and get to other locations. Such places are therefore integrated physically or connected to their surrounding areas. Vitality - Places that are vibrant, safe, comfortable, varied, fun, and active. Variety - A successful place also offers a mix of activities to the widest range of possible users. Legibility - A successful and legible development is a place that has a clear image and is easy to understand. Robustness - A desirable quality of a development is to create a place which can be used for many different purposes by different people and can change and adapt for different uses. Rules: Urban design qualities are abstract theoretical concepts. Designing to ensure the inclusion of a particular quality means adopting some kind of rule or urban design principle. When applying design principles to a particular part of town we must always place them in the broader context of that town. The principles are not rigid and are not to be followed slavishly. In real situations some may have to be adjusted in order to benefit the largest number of people. Good design results from a consideration of the widest range of concerns and issues - imaginative, creative resolution of potential conflicts.3
Permeability - A desirable characteristic of a place is the ease with which one can move through and get to other locations. Such places are therefore integrated physically or connected to their surrounding areas. A successful movement system: provides the maximum choice of how people will make their journey takes into full account all modes of movement; by foot, by cycle, by public transport and by car (in that order of importance) makes clear connections to existing roads and facilities.
Perimeter Blocks A well-designed movement system should contribute to the development of small blocks: areas of land entirely surrounded by public routes within or beyond the site Large block size decreases permeability. Within the block, buildings need two faces: the public face is the front of the building which faces the street where the entrances are; the private face is usually the back of the building and faces the inside of the block. This building layout is called the perimeter block development.
A well-designed site has a network of connected spaces and routes for pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles. A network, where possible, should; encourage walking, cycling and using public transport as an attractive alternative to travelling by car. (Public transport should be an integral part of the street system.) minimise walking distances to local facilities.
Vitality - Places that are vibrant, safe, comfortable, varied, fun, and active. Places are more active when they have windows and doors which connect to the street rather than blank facades. Places feel safer with buildings overlooking them. Living spaces above shops will encourage evening activities on city streets because the streets are overlooked and feel safer.
Variety - A successful place also offers a mix of activities to the widest range of possible users. Variety / Mixed Use may be appropriate at different scales from global to local environments: village, town or city; within a neighbourhood or a street; or in a single structure. Benefits of mixed development More convenient access to facilities Travel-to-work congestion is minimised Greater opportunities for social interaction Socially diverse communities Visual stimulation and delight of different buildings within close proximity A greater feeling of safety, with eyes on streets Greater energy efficiency and more efficient use of space and buildings More consumer choice of lifestyle, location & building type Urban vitality & street life Increased viability of urban facilities and support for small business (such as corner shops) (From the Urban Design Compendium, 2000)8
Above/below: Oxfords Gloucester Green has housing, offices, shops and is used regularly as an open market
Mixed use development works well in higher densities because there are more people to support the variety of activities. Get the mix right! A successful mix of use results when the uses are compatible and interact with each other positively. A successful mix is achieved when uses create a balanced community with a range of services, without increasing the need for the car. Narrow plot frontages allow small scale shopping and commercial activities to flourish. Big shared structures such as superstores or multiplex cinemas can be wrapped by small plot units to create active frontages. To promote social inclusion, social housing is not distinguishable from private housing by its design or its location in less desirable sites.
Legibility - A successful and legible development is a place that has a clear image and is easy to understand. Kevin Lynch, a well-respected and often-quoted American planner identified five physical features which play a key role in creating legible places. Paths Edges Nodes Landmarks Districts
Though these elements are abstractions, being aware of the contributions to the issue of legibility should help you, as a designer, to focus on the type of physical forms worth creating in a development as well as helping to analyse key features in a proposed development. Lynch, K (1960) The image of the city. MIT Press
Examples of path, edge, node, landmark and district
Paths The channels of movement: alleys; streets; motorways; railways. Structural and organising qualities. Directional quality. Defined by various clues (tree-lined avenues, landmarks). Develop the site to enhance existing views and vistas and create new ones.
Edges Linear elements which are not paths (rivers, elevated motorways, walls of buildings. Continuity and visibility are important with an edge. Edges as unifying seams. Directional quality. Well-designed corners enhance legibility by creating visual interest and contributing to a distinctive identity. Legibility can be improved through detailing and quality of materials.
Landmarks Points of reference which most people experience from the outside. Individual and local character. Isolated or in groups.
Nodes Considered focal places such as junctions of paths and roads from roundabout to market squares. Could be introvert or extrovert.
Districts A medium to large section of the city recognisable as having some particular identifying character. Defined by soft or hard boundaries. Activity-bound districts.
Above: Former market hall is now a museum Below: Interior provides space for exhibits
Open space can accommodate many activities
Robustness - A desirable quality of a development is if it can be used for many different purposes by different people, and can change and adapt for different uses. Robustness is important to outdoors as well as indoors, but design implications for buildings differ from those for outdoor places. Robust Buildings Buildings are distinguished between large-scale and small-scale robustness. Large-scale robustness concerns the ability of the buildings as a whole or large parts of them to be changed in use. Small-scale robustness concerns the ability of specific spaces within the building to change to accommodate a wide range of activities.
Three key factors support long term robustness: building depth: the majority of building uses require natural light and ventilation Access: all buildings need some link to the outside world building height: the upper floors of tall buildings have restricted outside links.
Active and Passive Areas - some activities within a building may benefit from being able to extend outward into the adjacent outdoor space. Other indoor activities may contribute by visual contact. These are active areas. The design implication of this is that the