Mick’s original master plan for 1000 new homes at West Gorton, East Manchester is starting to take shape. Demolition has begun on the first of the two tower blocks and most of the original Radburn housing is gone. First phase homes are complete along with two large apartment buildings and a series of terraces and semi-detached villas which are starting to put proper streets back into the community again.
This week we managed to put the Spontaneous Places exhibition over at the RIBA Hub. The Preview is on Tuesday evening 5.30 – 8.00pm. This is your invitation to come along…we have wine!
The work is simply stuff I do in the basement. Its intuitive and spontaneous, hence the title and its really about the process rather than the product. I rely on found material to shape these places. An assembly or a drawing starts with things coming together without a plan. You see things, stumble upon them. Its mostly accidental but you seem to know how it works. Shapes, forms and lines intertwine, collide and intertwine again…you don’t know why this happens. It just pours out. Very much like the wine!
See you on Tuesday…
Today MTUD has been in business three months. It’s going well.
Being back in the city I have made contact with all my old friends, collaborators and colleagues. The new office is great too and I have made friends with barista in the new Albert Square Costa…
Projects are growing. I am working on an interesting strategy for Sandwell Country Park with the Leisure Consultancy, which seems to be leading to more work focusing on concept making and feasibility work.
I am also back designing churches with a nice project in Chorlton.
I am also out, giving talks and workshops. Last month saw me leading a workshop on well being at Lancaster University and next week I am giving a talk entitled Happy by Design for the NW Region RTPI event, ‘Planning for a Healthy Future’, at BDP on well-being and place making. This will be the first time I have put together well being as set out by the New Economics Foundation and place making design tactics…watch this space.
I have finally joined the establishment too. I have just been elected an Urban Academician (about time too) and then directly got roped in as local helper. I have also become an Affiliate of the RTPI and an Ambassador for Placed based in Liverpool.
I am still drawing and making too. Here is the view from drawing table…
Here is one of my heroes talking about ideas and work. Having ideas is not about waiting for inspiration to start. It’s about keeping your eyes open and having what Brian calls a ‘prepared mind’, that will notice things, see things, recognise opportunities when they appear. And they appear all the time. The effort required is simply the need to open oneself up to new things…seeing new relationships etc. No amount of analysis, or ‘doing things because we think we ought to’, will help you open, observant or productive. I like the fact that Brian says we need to ‘surrender’ to the idea, to the work…. become the work and put any ideas of ownership or ego behind you…. very yogic, and very productive.
Enthusiasm is the key says Brian. Its infectious but also helps drive forward ideas and solutions. Of course timing and luck is everything as well as a good dose of talent but if you are open, observant and enthusiastic the timing and luck will fall into place…
For some while now I have been interested in New Urbanism. Not so much the neo classical position taken by but the process of master planning undertaken by studios such as Urban Design Associates and Duanny Platter Zyberk. I like the plot driven approach, run in parallel with say something like a pattern book. With this approach we don’t have to rely too much on any place making attributes of the domestic architecture but more the landscape, streets, and open spaces. Of course views, enclosure and vocabulary still play a vital role but doesn’t necessarily needs to be controlled and defined. A subtle effect can be achieved.
The plot driven process is ideally suited for lower density projects particularly semi-detached, detached and short terraces. It also ties in neatly with the way our UK house builders procure and sell their product.
Essentially this way of thinking continues what is the UK’s most important and place making innovative: the garden suburb. My own particular favourite is Chortlonville. Not stones throw from where I am writing this. Here is the original 1911 master plan, which merits a closer examination. First of all its clear where the centre of this community is: The Mead, a wonderful circular green space enclosed by villas. There is a primary street, which navigates around the whole place linking two other smaller green spaces. There are six main development parcels each divided into house plots. Two of the parcels have small south facing lanes, which serve little enclaves of houses also facing a tiny green.
The point is that the plan is its apparent legible and positive structure. Just a glance across the plan reveals it structure, hierarchy and purpose. There is a sense of purpose and intent, which we rarely see these days.
I spent a happy afternoon drawing some of the houses. Again they convey a sense of home, a sense of habitation related the locality. There are probably only about 5 or 6 house types but they way they are all composed together brings variety and delight. We can learn a lot from these places. Have a look on Google Earth. It’s a joy.
Last week my master plan for Manchester’s first low carbon community was awarded Outline Planning Permission by Manchester City Council.
The master plan is a great example of how to ‘re-stitch’ a Radburn plan back into a more recognisable community. Re-linking roads, removing cul-de-sacs and reconfiguring blocks to ensure that there is clearly defined, defensible space, which is clear and unambiguous. In other words making sure there are proper fronts and backs. The success of West Gorton was the realisation that we had to manipulate space within an infrastructure that was only 40 years old at best. In fact this is the lesson of most regeneration led master plans – Don’t move the roads…unless you really have to.
Like most other Radburn plans the neighbourhood is awash with green space, which is mostly underused, poorly maintained forgotten about or un-safe. These spaces do become development plots as long you can provide better open space elsewhere. This was changed at West Gorton by removing areas of lower density to create a new village green. All the new houses are designed to meet Manchester’s DFA 2 Design Standards.
You can download the project sheet here.
This week I have been working on a nice little design project in Cheltenham. The Regency character of the town has prompted to look again at proportions and harmonic ratios such as the ‘Golden Section’. It’s been years since I looked at this. In fact probably not since Year One at Architecture School. We were all asked to fill a sheet of paper with drawn rectangles. They weren’t measured they were drawn quickly in a way that we thought seemed right and pleasing. Amazingly a significant proportion were near or exact ‘Golden Sections’. This leads me to the conclusion that getting things looking right is a matter of experience but also intuition which I don’t think is a function in CAD. We all know all when things appear to look and feel and right because underneath that perception are the universal harmonics; 1 x 1.618, which underpins the composition of everything in the universe.
So here are some pages from my Moleskin illustrating how I am trying to remember how to do it. I wonder if it’s still taught in Architecture School? Somehow I doubt it…