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Urban Design

February 8, 2006

Urban Design

The appeal of London and many of our other cities is their rich history, illustrated most profoundly by the presence of the large number of historic buildings. I believe that most people of our nation instinctively understand the importance attached to preserving the best of our built heritage for t…

Urban Design

The appeal of London and many of our other cities is their rich history, illustrated most profoundly by the presence of the large number of historic buildings.

I believe that most people of our nation instinctively understand the importance attached to preserving the best of our built heritage for the enjoyment of future generations. Alongside this constant reminder of the past we must support innovative design and sustainable architecture. Today’s new buildings should be worthy of conservation in the decades ahead as well as creating breathtaking and impressive landmarks today.

The design of the public domain and open space plays a crucial role in enhancing the quality of life of all urban dwellers. These considerations must be at the forefront of urban regeneration and improvement.

Parks, pedestrianised areas and more haphazard green and paved spaces should ideally be integrated into the streetscape to promote greater connection between neighbours, friends and fellow city folk. This is especially important in densely built-up areas, where residents, visitors and those who work in our cities can reap the benefit of a programme of imaginative schemes.

We should actively promote the socialising effect of cafés, walkways and uncluttered street and park furniture to help focus the presentation of historic buildings alongside good aesthetic design for the future. Much is now being done to help bring about the harmony of the old and the new in our cities but there is still much that needs to be achieved to repair the mistakes made in the decades after the Second World War.

It is easy to criticise some modern design without understanding that the central failure of much post-war modern building was that it was implemented by reference to socialist planning principles. Post-war urban designers created buildings that did not reflect the desires of those who wanted to live there. Indeed they rarely gave any consideration to what people wanted from their home and local environment. Too often priority was given on raw economic grounds to quantity over quality, both in terms of design and materials.

Failures in the past have further encouraged architects and house builders to be overly conservative in design. This has had the effect of creating dull, homogenous blocks and streets. Architecture can and should inspire. The dazzling effect of a building of stature and fine design enhances all those who live and work close by.

Imaginative and innovative design should now be welcomed. Some areas of design, such as homewares, have been democratised with high quality pieces available at low prices. This huge boom in public interest for aesthetics must be reflected in the effort that goes in to designing buildings.

We should rejoice at the prospect of urbanites striving to reclaim the ownership of the open space that is around them. We must all work to create opportunities for people to debate the future shape of their own local environment. Residents’ associations and amenity societies should be encouraged to step in to create an initially positive environment. Canary Wharf is a prime example of the role of a public authority promoting and leading the way to the highest quality market development.