Urban design fuses the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture and planning to develop visions for successful places, most commonly in the form of masterplans and design frameworks. It is about the process as well as the product of placemaking, because how a vision is developed and then delivered is critical not only to the successful creation of attractive and sustainable cities, towns and villages, but to whether the plans themselves come to be implemented at all.
At Austin-Smith:Lord we pride ourselves on the number of masterplans and frameworks we have prepared which have subsequently been delivered by us and others. This stands in sharp contrast to the numerous reports that litter urban design practice, gathering dust and failing to deliver any positive change whatsoever. The key to producing work that actually becomes real, work that is viable, and which then goes on to make a difference to people is a great deal of experience, recourse to a broad range of skills to inform every aspect of the process, and a high degree of sensitivity in order to understand needs, manage the process itself to maximum effect, and ensure the correct application of design skills and innovation. It’s one thing to deliver and understand a shape on a page, but quite another to know how it works in three dimensions, in place, in time, and with real people. It is this difference that makes all the difference.
By adaptable we mean looking to incorporate inevitable long-term economic and social change into our plans from the outset – fundamental when operating within long-term timeframes. We ensure that the key elements of a plan do not hang on a single solution, instead balancing strong and robust direction to ensure delivery on the one hand with inbuilt flexibility in the design in order to accommodate new ideas and needs as they emerge on the other. The results are inevitably stronger and more relevant this way.
Sense of Place
Successful place-making and place-mending requires sensitivity to sense of place – a site’s ‘genius loci’.
Through a careful reading of the qualities of a place we develop a clear picture of the strengths and weakness of its location, and the constraints and opportunities for future development. We employ a range of analytical techniques, working with other specialists where necessary, to survey the landscape setting and townscape context, understand the socio-economic characteristics, conduct market analysis, geo-technical, hydrological and services analysis, assess site accessibility and connectivity and review the policy framework to map the influencing factors on development. Furthermore, where appropriate, we undertake research into the historic context of a place; revealing its social history, collective memory and the significance of its physical heritage. This enriches our knowledge about a site’s historic legacy so informing, and adding value to, the development of a future vision.
Delivering Vision & Innovation
Masterplans and Urban Design Frameworks need to encapsulate a clear vision, providing a resilient and durable concept of what is to be delivered. Given the extended timescale for the implementation of these Masterplans and Frameworks it is essential that there is sufficient strength of purpose and an appropriate level of innovation to ensure that core principles are maintained through to on-site delivery.
How attractive, accessible, and vibrant a place is greatly affects how competitive it is. Retaining and attracting investment or people to a location is of paramount importance to cities, towns or organisations in the public and private sectors. Urban design can greatly enhance the potential competitiveness of places through the considered development of a deliverable vision to create attractive places for investment, living, working or visiting whilst augmenting and enhancing their specific and unique ‘sense of place’.
Much of our portfolio of work involves the development of design guidance which establishes priorities for future action to ensure the increased competitiveness of a town, city, region or institution.
Urban design is, by definition, an interdisciplinary activity. At Austin-Smith:Lord we have a rich diversity of design disciplines in-house, all of whom support and interface with our core urban design teams. Our architects, landscape architects, conservation architects, planners and sustainability specialists provide valuable input in the preparation of urban design guidance and enable a level of specialist peer review to ensure that our proposals are technically viable and optimise value for money.
In addition we have a network of regular collaborators who provide specialist engineering, socio-economic, cost, property and regeneration advice. We work with other consultants on many projects that ascribe to our interdisciplinary team approach and methodology. This ethos involves our client teams and ensures a holistic and comprehensive approach to urban design.
Diversity of Experience
Across our practice we have a formidable range of recent experience. We undertake hindsight reviews of our projects and apply lessons learnt through mentoring and design discussion. Through this knowledge-sharing approach we benefit from feedback from projects across all disciplines and sectors. We have prepared urban design documentation for government, local authorities, urban regeneration companies, enterprise agencies, developers, health boards, universities and colleges, transportation executives, house builders, heritage and environmental agencies, community groups and landowners.
Our urban design work includes;
- development frameworks
- preparation of supplementary planning guidance
- policy formulation
- site appraisals
- feasibility studies
- development concepts
- development appraisals
- implementation strategies
- development audits
- visual impact assessment
- design and planning briefs
- planning appeals / public enquiries
- public and stakeholder engagement and consultation
Collaboration & Consultation
Our collaborative approach extends to our extensive experience in facilitating community and stakeholder engagement and involvement in urban design projects. We welcome current guidance regarding the involvement of residents, businesses, landowners and other interested parties in the preparation of urban design guidance in which they have an interest, and we have a long-standing commitment to this approach.
Consultation and engagement has to be appropriate and informative to the design process. We can cite numerous examples of projects that have benefited greatly from the input and insight of those most affected by urban design proposals in their area, and we enjoy the opportunity to actively engage with these stakeholders. Through workshops, meetings, exhibitions, newsletters, websites, one-to-one interviews and design charettes we have an array of techniques to ensure that consultation is effective and proportionate to maximise the positive input stakeholders can make to a project.
Places which are successful are durable and adaptable. Our holistic approach to urban design is one which seeks to build upon the positive aspects of a place and enhance these characteristics, whilst addressing its shortcomings to create a vision which will sustain itself socially, economically and environmentally. If the fundamentals of sustainable urban planning are applied then the benefits of this approach can far exceed the value of technical fixes to building construction addressing solely environmental issues. Urban design enables sustainable place-making and we champion a common sense approach which learns lessons from what works and when it should be applied, based on observation, evidence and experience.
Places that are cherished, easy to manage and maintain, flexible and adaptable to change are sustainable. Places which provide a mix of functions as a place to live, work and visit will sustain urban living. Districts and neighbourhoods which enable access to an array of services and activities with ease and without reliance on the car will endure and promote healthy places which are animated and activated by people in the spaces between buildings. Through careful planning and design, resource efficiency can be promoted by creating places with good micro-climates which capture the sun and shelter from the prevailing weather, and minimise energy consumption and running costs whilst supporting ecology and bio-diversity.
Policy & Research
Our under design practice is informed by our involvement in policy formulation and research. The reciprocal relationship between research and practice is highly instructive and ensures our urban design teams takes cognisance of best practice and contemporary thinking. Several of our principal urban designers are actively involved in urban design education and pioneering research which has been published by various outlets and agencies, including government.
We also have key members of our team involved in advocacy and championing design through involvement in key agencies including Architecture + Design Scotland. Many of these activities demonstrate our commitment to the profession and the wider promotion of best practice.