research

ten days in Las Vegas

A research project that led to new ways of thinking about design.

novona-nevada

Nolli’s Map of Rome – Learning from Las Vegas 1972.

Learning from Las Vegas (Venturi, R., Scott Brown, D., Izenour, S. 1972) is an example of a research project that led to new ways of thinking about design. In 1968 the researchers and a group of students spent ten days in Las Vegas with free board and lodging at the Stardust Hotel. Having spent three weeks in the library they carried out observational research recording the characteristics of the town. The surveys were designed to explore the relationship between; movement, iconography and public space in the car orientated landscape of the Las Vegas strip. Each element was recorded as layer of a map recording the disposition of: undeveloped land, asphalt, autos, buildings, ceremonial space and finally ‘Nolli’s Las Vegas’ which brought the layers ‘asphalt’ and ‘ceremonial spaces’ together to show how the commercial strip was structured as a series of public places.

Since then designers routinely use layers to observe and analyse the key features of a site, adapting and extending this set of layers to describe a design proposal. Some layers record a general background understanding of the site but some like the layers in Learning from Las Vegas are much more specific  about the particular drive of the project or the specific character of a place.

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blue infrastructure a design opportunity

There is plenty of sound advice and exemplary design available to guide designers and developers when integrating sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS) and make this an opportunity to add to the character of a place.Integration of SuDS

The excellent diagram (above) from Planning for SuDS (sustainable urban drainage) – making it happen published by CIRA in 2010 shows the range of ways SuDS can be integrated in the more formal or urban edges of a scheme by being integrated in paving, tree pits, rain gardens and roofs or running alongside streets in rills, bioretention strips or infiltration trenches. It shows how SuDS can provide contrasting spaces such as filter strips, naturalised swales, wildlife and wetland areas. Advice about the appropriate assembly of components is continued in more detail in the document with illustrations of the best components to use for high, medium and low density development and descriptions of how to embed SuDS in Design Codes or Retrofit into existing streets and spaces.

The authors of Planning for SuDS identify the “need to embrace water management as an opportunity” and advise design teams to consider the benefits and opportunities early on. A good scheme will be compatible with the landscape and integrated with the overall design strategy providing multiple benefits, for example, drainage and public open space or car parking. As well as managing flood risk benefits could include improved; water quality, amenity and biodiversity, water resources and recreation and education for communities. The benefits to developers in integrating SuDS are the reduction of maintenance costs associated with heavily engineered drainage and a possible increase the value of nearby homes.

Some important design principles are that sustainable urban drainage should mimic natural drainage, control water at its source and use sequence of components to manage flows of water and improve water quality. They note that: SuDS mimic natural drainage patterns by:

  • storing runoff and releasing it slowly (attenuation)
  • allowing water to soak into the ground (infiltration)
  • filtering out pollutants
  • allowing sediments to settle out by controlling the flow of the water
  • creating attractive environments for people and wildlife.

Focusing on SUDS strategies for urban design projects the most illuminating case studies featuring in this and other more recent guidance are:

  • Upton, Northamptonshire – which set out a design code for two street types integrating SUDS, one with SUDS at the centre and another with SUDS to one side with a footpath to the inside.
  • Cambourne Pool Redruth Surface Water Management Plan (SWMP) – where a design approach has been developed across an area with the strategic integration of swales or leats to open up new areas for development.
  • Malmo, Sweden and Reiselfeld, Feiburg, Germany are widely cited as good examples because of the bold way they integrate SuDS bringing water and wildlife features close to homes. The indefatigable Essex County Council have produced a design guide illustrated by these examples from Malmo and Reiselfeld and expanding on the advice in ‘making it happen’ with Essex focused case studies.

Dickie, S, McKay, G, Ions, L, Shaffer, P –  Planning for SuDS – making it happen, CIRIA, 2010 http://www.eastcambs.gov.uk/sites/default/files/C687%20Planning%20for%20suds.pdf.pdf

Upton Design Codes V2, Northampton Borough Council, 2005

http://www.northampton.gov.uk/site/scripts/download_info.php?downloadID=332

Nicholls, D, Cornwall County Council – Surface Water Drainage and Green Infrastructure

Sustainable Drainage Systems, Essex County Council, 2014

https://www.essex.gov.uk/Environment%20Planning/Environment/local-environment/flooding/View-It/Documents/suds_design_guide.pdf

See also ongoing archive of case studies at Susdrain:

http://www.susdrain.org/case-studies/

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integrating space for play in housing leads to more social interaction

The research identifies the need for supervised spaces near the home as well as the ability for older children to move about safely and independently across a ‘network of interconnected spaces around the development’.

3017666_GREENSPACES-LIMETREESQUAREDinah Borat of ZCD Architects has published a summary of research into the sociability of streets and public spaces in housing design in the Architects Journal. This offers findings from studies of six 20th Century Estates in Hackney and a further 10 recent schemes across England. The study recorded activity in the streets and public spaces of housing developments over twenty-four hours over two days. This used Jan Gehl’s categories of activity; necessary, optional and social – also recording the gender and age of people and the numbers talking or playing together at any time.

The research identifies how the streets and public spaces provided, function in terms of their accessibility and describes their success in supporting activity to understand how well ‘social activity, children’s independent activity and their extended use of space’ is supported. The research demonstrates the need for supervised spaces near the home as well as the ability for older children to move about safely and independently across a ‘network of interconnected spaces around the development’. Which is evidence for my more empirical observations in an earlier blog ‘Playing Out’.

The research found play to be the dominant outdoor activity and discovered that when there was room for this other activities followed with more sociability occurring between adults as well. The full report will probably tell us more – but the plan diagrams (see above) recording accessibility seem to suggest that the position of the street or space in the layout is important as well as the types of street and range of spatial types used – with developments that are more generic supporting less social opportunity.

The Architects Journal; Designing Green Spaces that people want to use, Dinah Borat – AJ 21.04.16 VOL 243/ISSUE 10

http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/buildings/designing-green-spaces-that-people-want-to-use/10005102.fullarticle

Research funded by; The Homes and Communities Agency, NHBC, ZCD Architects, University of East London, Levitt Bernstein and the Hargrave Foundation.

See also:

Housing as if people mattered, Clare Cooper Marcus and Wendy Sarkissian, 1986Child’s Play – Rob Wheyway and Alison Millward, 1997.

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how to make the most of trees and wider contemporary green infrastructure solutions

TDAG

It might seem obvious to say that: “having trees in development should be the normal and expected thing to happen” but too often a lack of commitment on behalf of whole delivery teams means that trees are lost from proposals one by one. Its good to see eight local authorities grasp the nettle and be proactive about integrated approaches to including trees in street design. The 8Cs (Derby and Derbyshire, Leicester and Leicestershire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire and more recently Blackpool Council and Cheshire East) are planning to deliver a new design guide that builds on MfS and MfS2.

With the support of the Tree Design Action Group (TDAG) they held a workshop earlier this year to look at how the guide could promote and support the integration of trees and wider contemporary green infrastructure solutions. They explored the key principles of: collaborative design, priortizing walking and cycling, supporting innovation and delivering welcoming, inclusive, resilient and safe places. To make sure including street trees in projects does become the norm 8Cs and TDAG recommended that:

  • Design choices for trees should be context sensitive, identifying the right tree species,
  • When weighing up benefits value the whole life benefit of the tree. Trees have immediate and wider value. Can use i-tree to assess.
  • Realise the opportunity to impact on air quality, reduce flooding, sequester carbon and prevent overheating in urban areas.
  • Place trees intelligently and consider integration with footways and carriageway, parking and vehicle speed management, utilities and microclimates.
  • Technically – seek space efficient integration with utilities, protect trees, ensure adequately nourished and watered and minimize maintenance.
  • Take a joined up approach when advising developers.

The knowledge base to support integrated approaches is developing internationally with some excellent advice being published by TDAG. Their publication: Trees in Hard Landscapes, A Guide for Delivery, TDAG 2014 includes 30 Case Studies from the UK, Europe, the USA and Canada and some excellent diagrams and sections offering technical design solutions and notes on appropriate species selection.

http://www.tdag.org.uk

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space to park

Intelligent integration of parking is key element in the success of residential layouts in use as evidenced by research for Space to Park. This is is a follow up to ‘What Works Where’ the English Partnership/Design for Homes guidance on approaches to parking published in 2006. It gives updated recommendations based on current policy and research into user satisfaction with parking at 402 schemes in Kent. Six case studies selected from the 402 schemes record why user satisfaction as an average was as low as -83%.

51Parking in use was recorded on a Saturday morning when most people would be at home. Each case study is illustrated with a diagram showing rogue parking or “cars parked not in accordance with design”. In the case studies visited on Saturday mornings fifty percent of parking was outside allocated bays with people preferring to park on street (or pavement) rather than in courts.

The second of the four recommendations is: “Allocated parking spaces should cater for the average parking requirement of households based on the house size. Unallocated spaces should provide for at least twenty percent additional spaces.”

  • Link the maximum number of allocated spaces to the average car ownership. One and two bedroomed houses and flats – one space, three bed units – would have a mix of one and two spaces (depending on their location) and four bed plus – two spaces.
  • Ideally this figure would include garages that to be counted need to be at least three meters wide internally.
  • This level of allocated spaces needs to have around twenty percent of unallocated spaces to take up the slack.

The research demonstrates what is already quite widely understood that over reliance on rear parking courts does not work well with actual user behaviour and that a variety of approaches to parking should be adopted in schemes to give more flexibility.

www.spacetopark.org

Space to Park (2013) is part of the AHRC funded Home Improvements Knowledge Exchange and has been developed jointly by Urbed, Design For Homes and the University of Edinburgh.

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prize book: young – old, urban utopias of an aging society

The Urban Design Group (UDG) Book Prize for 2016 goes to a book that offers a celebratory framing of the third age; ‘a generation embarking on a new bodily experience’. I have been a judge for this award for the last five years a process that is as rewarding as it is elongated. Judging begins in late summer when two books arrive to be reviewed, then when all four judges have published reviews we circulate the books and debate a shortlist for the prize that is announced in Spring at the UDG annual award ceremony in London.

We chose Young – Old, Urban Utopias in an Aging Society by Deane Simpson (published by Lars Muller) as it stood out for its important subject matter, for its coherence and ambition and elegant and intelligent design. The book lays out an expansive and at times entertaining survey of purpose built retirement communities in North America, Europe and Japan since the 1950’s. It interrogates the particular qualities of these places in carefully designed drawings and photographs, developing a commentary and critique of a series of ‘active adult’ communities including nomadic RV communities in North America.

YOUNG_OLD_RFS

Young – Old reveals a way of thinking about neigbourhoods that is pleasantly liberated from usual norms. Simpson shows how retirement communities evidence new forms of urbanity that are emerging in relation to a new phase of life – forms that engage in utopian aspirations. Setting aside moral judgements as Venturi and Scott Brown did in their study Learning form Las Vegas (1972) he allows these new forms to be revealed and offered as more general prompt to innovation.

This is an abridged version of a review published in the Urban Design Group Journal, No 137, Winter 2016.

Young – Old, Urban Utopias in an Aging Society by Deane Simpson

published by Lars Muller, 2016: https://www.lars-mueller-publishers.com/young-old

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playing out – space for children in residential masterplans

The 400 meter radius circle that connotes pedestrian accessibility gathers significance if you have a small baby in a pushchair and no access to a car or if you are walking small children to school. You start to appreciate the scale of a neighbourhood very vividly. If in your radius as well as a nursery and school there is a small shop and better still a café and maybe a park or somewhere to sit out then there will be room for parents and babies and small children to congregate. This is where communities which span decades start to take shape and designers should think of these spaces in sequence with one another.

As children become mobile then play spaces become a fixation, plays spaces and swimming pools (and later forests or woods). The scale of neighbourhood activity grows as children do. If your children are happily amused you know they are spending their time well then the chances are you’ll be amused too. A recent review of the evidence of the benefits of free play reported that playing has a wide range of benefits for children including; cognitive development, physical health and emotional wellbeing, social development and resilience. The availability of play space points to wider benefits for families also: ‘Parents associate playing in playgrounds with family well-being, and those who live near playgrounds and visit often report higher levels of family well-being’ (1).

From around five to ten years of age children want assert their independence and play out with friends somewhere near to their homes. For a few months the boundaries of home are stretched into the street and there are difficult decisions to be negotiated. It is helpful initially if there is space apart that is still near enough to be supervised. So designers need to consider how to provide a range of incidental play spaces as part of the landscape of any new neighbourhood, such as well functioning home zones and slivers or margins of spaces that can be safely purloined. The Playing Out campaign grew out of a resident led project in Bristol that aims to encourage and support street play across the UK and enable every child the freedom to; ‘play actively and independently in front of or near their own home’ (2). Playing Out is also supported by Play England.

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Footbridge to the Parish Field, Juliet Bidgood – Photo: Kevin Nicholson

On foot links to bigger and wilder spaces are important for children as they gain independence. By ten they may want to go further afield to play or go on an errand to the shops to experience the wider world for themselves. Even better a day out in the woods with backpacks. A study for Save the Children found that children enjoyed spaces that might not be considered by design teams: “The ‘wild’ areas, which included the fields, woods, ruins and the local bing (an old coal slag heap), were highly valued by the young people and were places where they went climbing trees, biking and to generally socialise and play” (3).

Finding opportunities for these three scales of activity for parents and children: of the street, the neighbourhood and connection to wild spaces beyond is a good test of a residential or mixed-use masterplan. It is another way of asking the Building for Life question two: “Does the development provide (or is it close to) community facilities, such as shops, schools, workplaces, parks, play areas, pubs or cafés?

  1. The Play Return: A review of the wider impact of play initiatives, Tim Gill for the Children’s Play Policy Forum, 2014 – www.rethinkingchildhood.com
  2. http://playingout.net/ – http://www.playengland.org.uk/our-work/projects/street-play.aspx
  3. Outsiders, Children and Young People and Their Use of Public Space, Susan Elsley, 2004.

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