Tag Archives: Cities

Cycle design for the workplace

Matt Bugg

 

 

Make’s Matt Bugg on the rising popularity of cycling in the UK and how designers are responding to the growing demands of a cycling workforce.

 

Cycling on the rise

Kuala Lumpur has its crowd-sourced cycle maps, Jakarta its car-free Sundays, Copenhagen its Cycle Snake bridge. In the Netherlands, Groningen is home to heated cycle paths and traffic signals with rain sensors, while Krommenie boasts the world’s first solar cycle lane.

And London? The Mayor is investing £770 million in cycling infrastructure across the capital to improve cycle safety and encourage more Londoners to travel by bike, as well as accommodate those who already do. Two new Cycle Superhighways have been announced, London’s first full-time Walking and Cycling Commissioner has been appointed, and a network of backstreet routes known as Quietways are due to open later this year. Another £90 million is going to the Mini-Holland programme, which is giving three outer London boroughs funding to improve streets and facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.

Visualisation of the new road layout at Blackfriars Junction

It’s not just the capital that’s racing to update its cycle infrastructure. Leeds and Cambridge are each now home to a CyclePoint – a Dutch-style, rail station-adjacent facility that offers secure bike parking plus a repairs service, info centre, rental bike concession and retail shop. With space for nearly 3,000 bikes, the Cambridge CyclePoint is Britain’s largest dedicated cycle parking facility.

All these developments are part of a wave of bike-related infrastructure transforming cities around the world – a collective effort to make cycling an integral form of transport and a normal part of everyday life, something people feel safe and comfortable doing. Popularity for cycling is certainly rising here in the UK. Running and cycling app Strava data shows that riders nationwide logged an unprecedented 803 million kilometres in 2016, while TfL expects there to be more Londoners commuting by bike than by car in 2018.

Given that many of these journeys are work commutes, it’s worth asking: how can architects use their office designs to encourage this upward trend?

The workplace response

With the rising popularity of cycling in the UK comes a growing demand from commercial occupiers for better cycling provision. In the fierce battle to attract and retain the best talent, businesses are under pressure to provide cutting-edge cycling facilities – a trend that’s transforming cycle provision in workplaces across the country. Ample bike-parking, showers and changing rooms are fast becoming obligatory features of new-build and refurbished office schemes. What does the modern office worker want from their physical workspace? Increasingly, the answer is a place to secure their bike.

At Make we have a team of specialists in building and property-related cycle design. We take a progressive attitude towards the integration and delivery of cyclist and pedestrian-friendly spaces, particularly in our office designs. In doing so, we encourage low-carbon transport and help make cycling a safe and convenient option for commuters, including those with disabilities.

Take our work on 5 Broadgate, a new world-class office building in the City of London for UBS. Exceeding best-practice cycling facilities formed a key strand of the transport plan. In pursuit of British Land’s ‘Places People Prefer’ sustainability strategy, we provided an exemplary cycling facility with a dedicated cycle ramp and separate mezzanine level containing 523 cycle spaces, 500-plus lockers, and 50 showers and dressing areas.

Substantial cycle provision also proved integral to our designs for 80 Charlotte Street and Rathbone Square, both mixed use office and residential developments. The former includes 226 secure and covered cycle parking spaces, plus shower/changing facilities; the latter, meanwhile, has nearly 500 cycle parking spaces – including dedicated office, retail and residential provision – and heated lockers and showers.

And then there’s Make’s own studio at 32 Cleveland Street, a converted car park completed in 2015. Intent on giving our employees cycle provision, we repurposed a redundant lightwell to maximise our limited space and open up access to wall rack storage for 30 bikes, plus showers and lockers.

The next steps

As designers, we’re faced with the challenge of producing efficient, innovative designs for workplace cycle provision – ones that not only address cyclists’ individual needs but also integrate into the wider infrastructure. This means considering the population at large and allowing for a far greater cycle provision in our public realm projects. There’s even scope to embrace automation. Just look at ECO Cycle in Japan, which provides large-scale automated underground cycle parking facilities – a boon for densely populated cities.

Ultimately, we share the view of architecture writer and friend Peter Murray, who is adamant that “cities which have fewer cars and more active transportation are better cities to live in.” As noted in TfL’s London Cycling Design Standards, which Murray provides training and guidance on, cycling is fast becoming a mass transportation mode, and new developments must reflect this shift and allow for future growth too. We support the guidance these standards provide, and we strive to produce workplace designs that further this vision.

This post has been adapted from Make Annual 12.

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Unique Cities – Questions of Identity

By Greg Willis

What makes a city liveable? That was the question posed recently by a national newspaper. Readers were invited to share pictures and stories in response. From graffiti to open air barbeques, street scenes to ice creams, identifiable monuments to ubiquitous landscapes, the collection was so broad as to make the answer to the question self-evident: the only thing in common was the originality of the response.

It is hardly surprising that it is the uniqueness of our cities which define our emotional reaction to them. After all, cities are made of people and people are as diverse as the cities in which we inhabit. That there is an inextricable link between identity, uniqueness and that which we determine as being liveable only highlights the problem of non-organic growth in many modern urban conurbations.

Organic and non-organic growth

Non-organic growth could be described as when a large urban centre comes into being quickly to meet a specific or a series of time-critical needs. Very few successful urban environments arrive fully formed, with the possible exception of Disneyland. (Although it is debatable whether one could describe this as being liveable and it’s probably not even considered unique considering the proliferation of the brand around the world).

In contrast, organic growth allows multiple peoples, events, markets and cultures to shape the environment in which they live, occur, serve and inhabit. Critically, organic growth also has room for the misguided or the temporary, allowing the loved, workable, pragmatic and lasting environments to remain. It could thus be argued that it is the ability for cities to grow organically, shaped by many different elements with the potential to change, adapt and renew, which gives birth to that which may be considered unique and therefore what we like to define as a place’s identity.

Ultimately, what makes a city liveable is the very fact that, by definition, it is living – capable of change, not complete, alive with possibility – like the occupants who inhabit it, completely unique.

Organic Growth

Organic growth

Inorganic Growth

Inorganic growth

Is it possible to ‘design in’ uniqueness?

Protecting the uniqueness of an area could be argued as championing its identity, or at least acknowledging it and responding to it. The appropriateness of any design response in reinforcing the unique character of an area is of course subjective, with approaches ranging from being complementary and sympathetic to being contrasting and challenging. Both attitudes however, still acknowledge the presence of an original identity.

What happens when there is no, or little, conceived present identity from which to respond? What of those times when non-organic growth is unavoidable? This is a more unique challenge for the designer. One could employ a unifying element to the overall project, a kind of rubber stamp to the component parts which points us to the sense of the whole, however obviously. While this might indeed reinforce an identity, it’s hardly the most persuasive argument for uniqueness. In striving to impose a character, there is a danger of crowding out those myriad of possibilities which might appeal to the multitudes of communities who reside there. A more subtle approach might be one of scale. Care and attention should be given to every element of our cities; streets, neighbourhoods, districts and conurbations. Large or small, macro or micro, every scale of our cities serves to form its identity. Surely our own uniqueness is determined by the minutiae of our fingerprints as well as the more obvious characteristics of our facial features? The skill of the designers and planners is to navigate through the various scales with uniqueness of design which in turn enforces the strength of the overall identity.

Ask the community what they want

Ask the community what they want

How then should we approach the ‘design of densification’, so that the city in which these new homes are being built retains its character?

It is a misconception that densification need be the enemy of character. Instead, considered densification should be championed as the preservation of character; it can allow for the protection of the elements of the city which are standard bearers of its identity while allowing the city to survive, grow and thrive. The successful densification of urban areas should allow for the red line protection of those jewels of our cities which we should jealously guard; the parks, the canals, the squares, the notable buildings in which we all stake a common claim.

Densification should not only be protecting the unique areas of our cities, it should also actively contribute to the character of its landscape. Density should not be a simple multiplication of a base unit, the designer should look for opportunities in densification – height offers views and critical mass requires amenities. Density therefore, should equate to a myriad of possibilities, each unique and identifiable.

The ingredients only a dense city can provide

The ingredients only a dense city can provide

Unique cities

Unique cities

 

This essay was extracted from the Future Spaces Foundation report: Vital Cities not Garden Cities: the answer to the nation’s housing shortage?

 

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Relevant Cities

By John Prevc

Cities need to keep pace with societal changes in order to ensure that they remain relevant for their inhabitants. This means designing flexible and adaptable cities where streets, spaces and buildings are able to slowly metamorphosize into places that resonate in their own time. Cities need to mature carefully, keeping the best and most significant markers of their culture and identity and hence preserving their individuality and essence.

We are unable to accurately guess where we will be even in the not-too-distant future. Keeping our cities relevant for the communities that inhabit them requires an understanding of the human condition and in particular our social and economic interdependence and our need to exchange information with each other. The human condition is consistent and universal, adapting to the context of place and time. Relevant cities are therefore a product of time and how we as humans interface with it.

Today’s relevant cities

Successful cities are cities that offer people opportunities to improve their lives. Whether it’s through an increase in employment opportunities, better housing, a well-established social infrastructure, a connected and well-maintained transport system or simply a cool place to be and hang out, it’s choice that’s the differentiator.

So how do successful cities optimise choice? We believe that one of the most significant factors is greater density. The exchange of information is at the heart of both economic and social success in the community. Through increased density connections are improved. Dense cities encourage social inclusion, foster business development, improve connections between members of the community and help to reinforce identity and a sense of place through design excellence.

High density life

High density brings life to the city

How do we deliver design excellence within a high-density city location? Our starting point would be to ask the community what it is that they feel they need. Consulting with the community and broader stakeholders will make cities more relevant. The specifics of place and the maintenance of uniqueness is something that lives in those who experience the area on a day-to-day basis. It is when a community is asked to adopt a commercial or political vision imposed from those on the outside that relevance is lost.

We can no longer consider the family unit in the traditional way. We are a more mobile society, more often than not living away from our families as we follow work opportunities. We live on our own for much longer at both ends of our lives and the fear of isolation brings us closer to those living and working around us. Our city communities are an extended family and often bring more relevance to our lives than our own blood line.

These social changes, together with an escalation in property prices especially in London, suggest that homes need to become more affordable either through a policy of subsidy or/and the consideration of smaller homes for single person habitation. Smaller homes will not however help families with children. Families with children are finding it increasingly difficult to afford three and four bedroom homes. If we are to encourage whole life city living and a more balanced community we will need to build variety of size and tenure.

Cities with greater densities encourage people to walk and cycle as distances between destinations are reduced and more accessible. Improvements in health and wellbeing are tangible results of this, with all of the social, environmental and economic benefits that this brings. The reduction in the pace of movement increases opportunities for people to meet informally and exchange information. This improves social cohesion and has economic benefit. It also makes for a more vibrant and active public realm which is safer.

Lower car use

Dense cities have lower car use than small suburban towns

Dense cities are green cities in both the physical and figurative sense. They offer visual and functional amenity at all scales, from the balcony to the private garden through to the public square and park. Density is a balance between building and open space giving people an environment where there are clear and well-defined boundaries between their public and private lives.

Density improves choice not only in terms of jobs and housing but also in terms of the types of goods and services available on the high street. Competition increases choice, reduces costs and improves quality. A significant population within the local community allows the market to offer a bespoke service which is adaptive and flexible following the societal needs which it will reflect if it is to be successful. For cities to remain relevant they need to be nimble and responsive adapting to the community they serve.

Flexible buildings

Flexible cities enable buildings to evolve with time

 

This essay was extracted from the Future Spaces Foundation report: Vital Cities not Garden Cities: the answer to the nation’s housing shortage?

 

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Greener Cities

by Frances Gannon

The value of green
Describing his vision of the ‘Town-Country’ Garden City, Ebenezer Howard said: “Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together.” This chimes with contemporary research relating a connection to nature to people’s psychological state and social cohesion. Close proximity to nature has been linked to healthier babies, less lonely and depressed seniors, and more productive workers. Dutch researchers have investigated the value of ‘Vitamin G’, the effect of green space in the living environment on health, well-being and social safety. The Biophilia and Biourbanism movements are strengthening, asserting that humans seek connections with and gain positive feelings from ‘the rest of life’, including the whole of the natural world, be it plants, animals or the weather.

Vitamin G

Vitamin G: Visibility in a green city is just as important as direct use

Increasing densities = intense green
Accommodating an increasing population in higher density urban environments gives the opportunity to intensify the connection to nature. Rather than walking for 20 minutes through a suburban sprawl of tarmac driveways and fenced-off back gardens to reach a park, in dense urban environment accessible green places can be layered throughout. Faced with urban growth and limited land, the Singaporean Government has developed a strategy to transform Singapore from a ‘Garden City’ to a ‘City in a Garden’. This aims to raise the quality of life by creating a city that is nestled in an environment of trees, flowers, parks and rich bio-diversity. Key elements in bringing parks and green spaces right to the doorsteps of people’s homes and workplaces are: roadside greenery, planting and maintaining one million trees and creating a network of ‘park connectors’, green corridors which link between parks. Singapore is also tackling ‘vertical green’ with roof gardens and green balconies becoming the default.

Functional green
Green spaces provide a setting for relaxing or sunbathing, meeting and entertaining, walking, jogging, playing, gardening or bird-watching. In a subliminal way, walking past trees keeps us in touch with the seasons. Modern life is often disconnected from food production and there is value in re-establishing that connection: be it views of wheat fields, grazing animals, tomatoes in allotment polytunnels or lettuces growing in window boxes. Reducing suburban sprawl leaves more land available for food production, protecting that possibility for future generations and as-yet unknown challenges. Trees and planting in cities reduces air pollution and the urban ‘heat island’ effect. It reduces flooding and pressure on drainage infrastructure. Planting provides habitat for animals, birds and insects. It gives character and identity to an area and enhances local pride in the environment.

Embedded green
A wide variety of green spaces should be embedded at all scales of the city. The greater the density of the inhabitants, the more parks there should be and the closer they will be to each resident. Filling streets with trees and planted verges is an easy win in terms of visual amenity, environmental benefits and birdsong. Private individual back-gardens are the default British model for families and later life but investment needs to be made in other models in order to maximise value and relevance to a wider variety of households.

Most balconies built today are too small to be valued amenity spaces, usually home to drying washing and bikes. Making balconies large enough to be real useable ‘outdoor rooms’ with space for planting would make apartment-living immediately more appealing to a wider demographic, perhaps reducing the flight of young families to the suburbs. A simple move, such as offsetting apartment layouts on alternate floors so that a double-height outdoor space which is much more bright and airy. Built-in window boxes encourage micro-scale gardening, personal expression and character, giving visual amenity to many. Green and brown roofs play an important role in providing habitats for birds and insects, reducing water run-off, increasing insulation as well as visual amenity, without necessarily having to be accessible useable spaces.

Open space

There are many different types of open space that can be used in a dense urban setting to give residents the benefit of the vitamin G effect

Shared green
Shared private spaces, such as roof gardens or courtyard gardens are very popular in other European countries but not so common in the UK. Allotments or community gardens are being set up in neighbourhood parks and empty sites but these could also be established on roofs or in courtyards of new residential developments. Gardening, composting and play equipment, for example, can be much more effective on a scale bigger than a single household. The key is finding the size of the community where a sense of individual investment, responsibility and defensible space is maintained – easiest with a group of families perhaps. The exploration of semi-private or shared spaces can unlock many opportunities. Commercial units can also provide amenity in a city, such as a plant nursery or urban farm or café garden.

The built environment must always make way for some areas of ‘deep rooted’ green: mature trees or parkland that can become long-term habitats for plants and animals. Embedding nature at all scales and vertical levels of a building, a street and a city brings a vital connection into everyday lives.

Maximising green

Maximising green space in a dense city:
1. Juliet balcony
2. Balcony
3. Roof terrace
4. Private garden
5. Communal garden
6. Playground
7 Public square
8. Park
9. Avenues and boulevards

 

This essay was extracted from the Future Spaces Foundation report: Vital Cities not Garden Cities: the answer to the nation’s housing shortage?

 

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The future of architecture – Jet Chu

We asked ten architects – each of whom joined Make in a different year since 2004 – to write about how they see architecture and the built environment changing over the next ten years. Here is ex-Make partner, Jet.

Rebecca Woffenden
Jet Chu
Make Partner since 2010

China is a big country with a huge population. Lots of skyscrapers and high-rise apartment buildings are being built here at the moment and living vertically will soon be a normal way of life for many people. Because a building is such a large object and has to last for many years, it is really important how it is incorporated into the bigger picture of a community and a society. At this stage, most people in China are just paying attention to a building’s appearance, yet in the coming ten years it seems to me there are two other main areas to focus on.

The first is sustainable design and living green. People have a growing interest in and awareness of our impact on the planet and the environment. With new advancements in technology, we should actively use more natural and renewable energies in our day-to-day living, and so reduce our impact.

The second focus is that as more people move into high-rise living, it is important to think about how to rebuild a neighbourhood and a sense of community. In essence, the challenge is how can we bring the ground to the sky?jet-chu-quote

I think the future of architecture should incorporate both of these focuses – using high-tech ideas to provide a modern style of living that also minimises the impact on the environment. We are already working towards that goal but there needs to be much more force. A building is about four walls and a roof in the end. It all depends on how we use what we know to change the way we live for the better.

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Designing for a Liveable City

Future Proofing London
By Ken Shuttleworth

Experience has shown us that prediction can be a bit hit and miss. So when planning for resilience and risk we have to consider what we do know versus what we don’t. For example, we don’t know exactly how climate change will affect us; but we know that it will.

And when we are unsure of what is to come, there is an instinct to play it safe and stick to what we do know. But if we never open our eyes or ears to other things, we stop exploring and discovering. We fail to take a risk. Excitement is lost and the benign wins.

Everything that gets built in a city reflects an ethos. Architecture always expresses a hope or a fear – an argument for an idea or a resistance to another. So as architects and designers aspiring to create long-term value, our future-proofing can only be based on what those ideas are.

Cities are centres of innovation and freedom, havens of tolerance and sophistication. They provide information, association, choice and security. But when you look at London how many of these functions were actually planned in terms of their future application? Or have they evolved through the vigour that the built environment has facilitated?

The essence of any city comes from a combination of its fabric – the spaces and buildings – its geography, and its people. But we also have to remember that a city’s identity is interwoven with its fabric of buildings and spaces.

And what should London’s identity be?

London skyline (c)Will Pryce

We know that London is recognised for its economic and political importance and its cultural diversity. We know that with the evolution of traditional office working practices, third spaces and public spaces are becoming the meeting places of choice. And we know that such factors have to be accommodated by the spaces and buildings we create – their typology, flexibility and adaptability.

Without accurate prediction of the future, we as architects can’t make any meaningful dictats in isolation – and I’d question whether it’s our job to do so anyway. We have to be part of the communal endeavour that ‘is’ the city. We have to join the conversation. Listen. Share. Explore. Discover.

To help create resilience and long-term value for the future, we have to support London’s evolution. We have to nurture public space as the glue between the city and its citizens. We have to ensure that London above all is a liveable city.

This post was adapted from Ken’s talk at the Base London conference.

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The future of architecture – David Patterson

We asked ten architects – each of whom joined Make in a different year since 2004 – to write about how they see architecture and the built environment changing over the next ten years. Here is the second instalment.

 

david-patterson-profile

David Patterson
Make Partner since 2005

By 2024 the population of London will have increased to an unprecedented level. While this is representative of London’s success globally, it also places significant pressure on the city’s already overstrained infrastructure – in particular our streets, which have lost their sense of purpose. Over the next ten years we will need to fundamentally rethink how our streets are used.

London is world-famous for its green parks and squares, which make a significant contribution to the unique qualities of the urban environment. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the city’s streets. Clogged with traffic, they are hostile to pedestrians and cyclists. This has not always been the case; in the recent past our streets had a real sense of purpose – they were destinations in themselves, places to go to rather than go through. They were elaborately balanced in order to meet a variety of different needs. Today they have lost that sense of purpose – the balance is firmly in favour of the car, above all else. Our streets provide a significant opportunity to improve the quality of life of the people who use them; they should be an integral part of our built environment rather than a separate entity.

We urgently need to rediscover our streets’ sense of purpose, in order for them to become destinations rather than routes to other destinations. I see our role as architects becoming more significant in creating streets which address this. If we are to successfully meet the needs of our increasing population, this transformation will become critical over the next decade.

david-patterson-quote-v2

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Safer streets for all

In just one two-week period late last year, six people lost their lives while cycling through London’s streets. In addition to the inevitable questions about safety and the calls for quick, preventative action, there is also a need to ask how we plan to support moves towards more sustainable transport options in the long term.

Bicycle

The networks that connect communities underpin the work that we, as architects, do to create buildings, streets and spaces that are fit for tomorrow. People should feel as if they can move through a city with ease and comfort and an holistic approach to infrastructure planning is needed to bring this ambition to life.

Through good design we can remove the need for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians to jostle for position on our roads and make getting from A to B much less challenging that it often is now. After decades spent accommodating more and more motor vehicles, we’re now returning to a time of putting people first.

London’s complex mix of the old and the new gives us the ideal opportunity to achieve this. High streets that have been redesigned to force cars to move more slowly and allow pedestrians to move around safely attract shoppers and visitors and create places for people to meet. Oxford Circus, for example, has been transformed through the removal of clutter from the pavements and by introducing clear routes and crossings for people.

Regeneration schemes, such as the Heygate Estate at Elephant & Castle, promise wider reaching benefits. The scheme aims to reconnect communities that have suffered because of past errors which left them isolated from their surroundings, and shift the balance away from a dependence on vehicles. Instead, the focus is on the benefits that can be derived from having easy access to an integrated public transport network and open spaces that encourage social interaction. Walking and cycling are promoted through the provision of appropriate facilities and safe, family-friendly cycling lanes.

There are no easy answers to the challenges we face as we move towards more sustainable transport options and the infrastructure needed to support them. And of course, we’ll only find solutions if we work with local communities to understand the issues. However, I believe the one area that requires consistency is our collective commitment to high quality design. This is something that Sir Terry Farrell is looking into as part of his review of architecture and the built environment in England. His findings are expected shortly and I would welcome any recommendations that help us break down barriers in communities and connect people quickly, safely and sustainably.

Originally posted on Ken Shuttleworth's Building magazine column.

Bicycles

   People

 










Images: Rebecca Morrison and David Hunter
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Curious Sir Christopher Wren

Sir Christopher Wren portrait

Copyright Royal Society

Back when architecture was just a branch of applied maths, Newton rated Christopher Wren as one of the top three mathematicians alive. The scope of his talents was prodigious; he’d made groundbreaking contributions to optics, astronomy and anatomy before he was sixteen, and never stopped inventing things thereafter.

He was a curious boy in the age of curiosity, and curiosity underpins invention. It feeds the imagination and drives the quest for better solutions. Brits see inventiveness as our defining characteristic, the unifying thread of our national narrative. Spinning Jenny. Stephenson’s Rocket. Bouncing bombs. Jets. Cat’s eyes. Minis. From Brunel and Baird to Tim Berners Lee and Jonathan Ives, we think of ourselves as hot stuff at invention. If inventiveness is part of our mythology, we’re a curious bunch. Curiosity is certainly what drives us at Make.

It shows in Wren’s architecture, too. Where his peers generally applied formulaic design rules, Wren drew on intuition as well as rigour, and his theory was tempered by pragmatism. And he could certainly see the big picture. The plan for rebuilding London he submitted to Charles II after the Great Fire would have worked, as his cathedral does, because it was based on a coherent vision that took due note of time, place and context.

Those who only value the serendipitous and organic argue that any all-embracing vision is by nature authoritarian. Citing his 50-odd churches as focal points for London’s villages, they contend that Wren would have hated his unifying plan, had it been built. I disagree. Curiosity and thinking big are inseparable. And when you’re charged with rebuilding a capital city, big ideas come in handy.

So what’s our Big Idea? Because we face a challenge just as daunting, though less immediate, than the devastation of 1666: to tame the sun.

Managing the light of the sun necessarily entails shade, of course. In Junichiro Tanizaki’s 1930s essay ‘In Praise of Shadows’, he describes the West, in its pursuit of progress, as continuously seeking light and clarity – unlike the East, where shadow and subtlety are prized. It’s a hymn to delicacy, understatement and nuance, which concludes that these qualities engender an attitude of appreciation and mindfulness beauty that is central to life lived well.

These complementary themes – taming the sun and valuing shadow – echo Corb’s famous definition of architecture as “the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses bought together in light.”

All architecture is architecture of the sun; we must respect light and enjoy shade. Driven by curiosity, these imperatives are what underpin our quest for a new architecture that takes our responsibility for the future seriously.

Peter Rees once compared London to a kitchen garden, where the paths (the streets and squares) and specimen plants (the listed buildings) remain constant, but in between, all sorts of new crops are planted. In the bling years before the crash, these new crops took bolder forms. Shape ruled. Wren would have loved it. As the nation’s pre-eminent geometer, he wouldn’t even have needed computers. But austerity has ended the shape race, for now at least; most of us who are submerged in the reality of generating value have seen the welcome return of back-to-basics Euclidean geometries: a new age of reason.

Reason requires us to replace gas-guzzling glass boxes by a new generation of buildings with carbon savings at their heart. Resource and energy efficient. Responsibly procured. Community conscious. It may mean being curious enough to see what happens when you turn convention on its head: 5 Broadgate, for example, was inspired by seeing the building as a solid whole to be carved, rather than a structure to be built in increments.

Curiosity creates the diversity we treasure in our surroundings. Being curious means never being satisfied, forever questioning and searching for better outcomes, using fewer resources.

In his inaugural lecture when he took up the chair of astronomy at Oxford, Wren said, “A time will come when men will stretch out their eyes.”

More than ever before, that time is now.

Adapted from Ken Shuttleworth’s ‘Wren Talk’ in aid of St Bride’s Inspire! Appeal.

St Bride's Spire

Copyright Daniel Shearing

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The socio-economic value of people focused cities

By John Prevc

Cities throughout the world are locked in battle with each other as they try to attract capital investment from both private and public funders. Their focus is to try and attract new jobs and they are happy to entertain both the well-established and the new start-up businesses to help kick start their generally static economies.

Significant financial incentives from both local and national governments tend to be the biggest deal makers, but as businesses try and attract the best people, the quality of the city’s built environment is seen more and more as a significant factor in this extremely competitive decision-making process. This has meant that the role of urban designers and architects has grown significantly over the last ten years. They are seen as being the people who are best able to refresh a city through sometimes small interventions which can really help to change people’s perception and therefore help attract investors.

Very much linked to economic investment is the real opportunity of repairing the social ills that seem to ravage certain areas of our inner cities. If we are to design socially cohesive, well-used, popular cities we need to better understand the relationship between streets and spaces, and the buildings that form their edges.

Public spaces 1 Public spaces 2 Public spaces 3

Public spaces can often feel anonymous – nothing more than connections between buildings. They should, however, be places of substance which add to the interest and excitement of city life. If designed well, they can instil a sense of ownership, pride and wellbeing, as well as promote economic growth. If designed badly, they can produce ghettoes, social tension and communities which may well fail.

The role played by buildings cannot be underestimated; their uses, especially at ground floor level, are critical in defining the nature of the spaces they spill on to. The edges between inside and outside spaces are often where much of city life is to be found; the broader the edge, the better the relationship between the building and the public realm.

Urban edges have a number of characteristics; they have different “thicknesses” relating to their level of accessibility, both physical and visual; they can be external or internal spaces, or both – such as shops, cafes and markets; their use and character can change depending on the time of day, the day of the week, the season and the weather. An appreciation of both the context and the culture of the place in which the edge exists will better ensure the success of the urban realm and the community which occupies it.

Successful cities operate at a very simple level. They need to take the ultimate building block which determines scale, the human being, and measure life accordingly. Having successfully attracted new businesses into our cities, the real challenge then is to have them stay and expand and attract others to join them. I believe that the quality of the public realm and its interface with the buildings that enclose it is so incredibly significant in the success of city economies that if it were to fail, the city would ultimately fail too.

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