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.
Earlier this week I was invited to give a talk on well being and urban design for the North West Region RTPI event, ‘Planning for a Healthy Future’.
This is a subject I have been interested in for some time. Based on the New Economic Foundation’s 5 Ways to well-being the talk proposed a new approach and methodoogy for making new and happy communities. You can download it here: Happy by design
There is huge anmount of work being done on Happiness at the moment. It ties very closely with the emerging Mindfulness work which is spreading across the internet and, it seems, Waterstones in Deansgate.
For me its liberating and could be the basis for new ways of talking about design and place making over and above the usual design guidance we have. Its also very inclusive in that invites other professionals to get involved in design, particularly from the health sector. The 5 ways also puts the advantage back onto the developer and their design team to think more freely and creatively about how we can make lasting places. I have always thought design guidance should invite and encourage what could be done rather than what can’t be done.
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…
I have just finished (again) George Orwell’s trio of English political novels, Coming up for Air (1939), Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) Some of you know that Penguin have published new versions this year. Here are two of my copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four, ( I think I have about 4). On the left is my very first copy given to me at school while doing my CSE’s in 1974, 10 years before it was supposed to happen. It features a detail form William Roberts painting, ‘The Control Room, Civil Defence Headquarters. The other copy is this year’s Penguin, given to me for my birthday, designed by David Pearson.
Its brilliant in that its ‘redacted’ title (you can just see the words under the black in the right light) tells us more about where we are in relation to what Orwell wrote about regarding control, manipulation of truth and ‘Big Brother’. Of course many people take Orwell’s picture of a highly controlled society too literally. They say it’s never happened and that Big Brother doesn’t exist.
Plus those telescreens in Airstrip One, located everywhere, watching your every move, listening to everything you say and to whom, never really took off.
Well sitting on the tram this morning heading into the city I was completely struck by the countless number of people staring vacantly into their smartphones. Like the telescreens those things know who you are, where you are, what you are saying and to whom and through twitter, exactly what you are thinking – all the time. Unlike Winston Smith we all seem to be very willing participants.
The key question is who is watching it all?
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.