Creative Review’s Place issue examines how creativity is making, changing and documenting places. As part of the project, we wanted to examine the nuts and bolts of what goes into the creation of a changing or new place, and how multiple roles through the process work together, from different design disciplines to those at the interfaces of local government, communities and other stakeholders. How do the skills of designers, architects, planners, developers, community workers and others combine to create an authentic location that will meet the needs of both current and new residents?
To explore the issue, we assembled a group of key players in the process at the Printworks in London’s Canada Water. Around the table were:
Annabel Judd, Director of wayfinding design consultancy Holmes Wood.
Jane Riddiford, Founding Director of environmental education charity Global Generation, which leads on community engagement activities for new developments and runs the Paper Garden community space at Canada Water.
Mel Allwood, Associate Director and sustainability consultant at Arup.
Paul Eaton, Partner at Allies & Morrison, the architecture and urban planning practice which created the masterplan for Canada Water.
Hugh Sowerby, Director at planning consultants DP9.
John Morgan, Director at Leonard Design, the architectural practice with a focus on retail materplanning.
Gary Alden, senior associate, and Robert Townshend, Principal at Townshend Landscape Architects.
Emma Cariaga, Head of Operations, Canada Water, British Land.
Roger Madelin, Head of Canada Water, British Land. Madelin led the regeneration of King’s Cross and describes his role as “a cross between being a producer and a conductor where I scour the world for the absolute best talent in the hundreds of disciplines needed to create a piece of city”.
We started our discussion with a deceptively simple question: What makes a successful place?
Masterplanner Paul Eaton described a successful place as one that “has a sense of purpose. When it knows what it’s about and people somehow know why they are there… You also want places that feel like they are alive, that sense that there are other things going on behind the scenes.” He also argued that places “need a bit of richness and that is often where new places go wrong…. You need enough spatial complexity that you can get a little bit lost or can feel enveloped in a place.”
For Roger Madelin, a successful place is somewhere that people can feel proud of: “If you work there, you don’t go there with your head sunk low … if you wake up at the weekend, you think of it as a place to just go and wander,” he explains. “Those things, to me, are what you can look back on after a place has been developed, and say it’s been successful – that it now has a strong community, social connections, all the things you need in your life, as well as a sense of belonging. There are very few new places that do that very well. We want to be able to look back at each stage of a development and ask ourselves if we have been able to deliver these things.”
Mel Allwood agrees, and believes that the best places cater to people at all stages of their lives: “You might want to move for other reasons, but it should be that the place provides for you throughout your lifespan,” she adds.
Madelin describes the creative process as a dialogue – not just with other architects, planners and strategists but with politicians, local authorities and existing communities in areas undergoing development.
“It’s also a dialogue with all the new communities who will come here – that’s probably the most difficult one. Where’s the voice of all the people who don’t live here yet or don’t work here yet?”
Masterplanning helps set the initial framework needed to achieve planning permission (a framework that includes plans for residential, office and retail spaces as well as public areas), whilst also attempting to allow for flexibility so that places can respond to the needs of their community as it develops.
“You are trying to understand how you give a place a sense of identity that can start quite early, but equally you are trying to set out a framework for a piece of city that will outlast all of us around this table,” explained Eaton. “The job of the masterplanner is to somehow work out both.”
There is always the risk that existing communities can feel alienated by new developments in their neighbourhoods, particularly if that place fails to meet their needs or they feel excluded from decision making.
Jane Riddiford recommends adopting a flexible approach to the parts of a development that do not need to be pre-planned years in advance – for example, patches of park or a rooftop space – to provide communities with a chance to participate in the development of their local area and help shape how it develops.
“That can give a community a sense that they can make something happen and they genuinely can. It’s designing in the unknown, and allowing for a different kind of creativity to come through,” she said.
Riddiford explained how, at Canada Water, Global Generation has been working with existing residents, including children and young people, to engage them in the development. Key to this is the Paper Garden, a community tended garden on the site of the Printworks venue, which is looked after by locals. In her time at Global Generation, Riddiford has also run programmes introducing existing residents to new tenants, arranging office visits for young people and setting up gardens on the rooftops of buildings in other areas of London.
“[The Paper Garden] is really the root of what we believe will bring heart and soul into the public realm – involving children and older people in the co-creation of pockets of gardens, and growing a web of aspirations and possibilities [so] that they can have a role in something that can often be seen as having nothing to do with them…. One of the biggest challenges in London at the moment is this huge increase in ‘us and them’ in society. We like to operate in the middle of the us and them,” said Riddiford.
In addition to fostering relationships between new and existing residents, and helping alleviate residents’ concerns over development, Emma Cariaga said Global Generation’s work helped uncover stories about Canada Water – “We are learning a lot through our community investment work,” she said. “There’s 30,000 people living here in Canada Water, and only a few thousand of them have come to a public meeting or raised an objection to the plan, because only a few people engage through the formal planning process. Through community investment work, you can uncover a much deeper relationship with a whole lot of people who you would otherwise not have met. Young people in particular are important stakeholders, because in a ten to 15-year development, we have to remember they will still be here – what do they want? What are their hopes and dreams for this place? Being able to get those relationships going, to encourage people to want to them to be ambassadors for a place, is as important as the formal planning process but it involves different types of work – like Jane’s Paper Garden.”
MAKING PEOPLE FEEL WELCOME
Making people feel welcome is a key concern in new developments – designing in what is known as ‘permeability’, so that people feel comfortable exploring new spaces and the changing landscape around them. As Riddiford pointed out, the ‘gentrification’ of London has created a kind of divide in some communities – leaving some excluded from areas that have been transformed with the arrival of new houses, offices and businesses.
One way to make people feel welcome, suggested Riddiford, is through engaging various service teams – from security staff to park keepers – who can become “custodians”. In other words, people who are “are not just there to keep people out”. This has often been a problem in privately-run new developments, where young people can be made to feel unwelcome by overzealous security staff.
Robert Townshend believes that installing public spaces such as parks and gardens first (before the arrival of offices and shops) can also help make an area more inviting, and remove the sense of an ‘us and them’ divide.
“One of the interesting things about King’s Cross [which Townshend and many others around the table worked on] is that the public realm was delivered first, so the streetscapes and ‘bones’ of public spaces were occupied and used and then the buildings. I think that changes people’s perceptions: it’s a public space because you can walk through it any way you like, even though it’s privately managed, and I think that then sets the tone for how that development goes. If you start putting public spaces in, then people can begin to see this as part of the city they can occupy.”
CURATING A HIGH STREET
The heart of any town centre – even a new one – is the high street. The right mix of shopping, dining and community spaces can transform an area from one that people pass through on the way from work to home (or vice versa), to one where they will happily while away a Saturday afternoon. But get it wrong, and you’ll end up with an identikit high street: one with the kind of fast food shops and coffee outlets you could find anywhere in Britain, and little else to set it apart.
This is often the case in areas where individual buildings are controlled by different landowners, creating a situation where units are rented to the highest bidder. But if developers own an entire area, John Morgan believes they can curate a more interesting and unusual offering.
This comes with a greater degree of risk – as Morgan pointed out, smaller businesses might need more help setting up a shop, and would struggle to afford the same kind of rent as multiples – but in the long run, this approach could prove more profitable for developers, as well as being desirable for the people who live or work in an area.
“There’s no reason why a local startup business couldn’t end up paying as much to be in a unit as a multiple, if that person is given the chance to scale up and offer the customers in that particular area what they want and what they need,” Morgan said. “That’s absolutely what is happening in many new developments. If you go and find that butcher, that sandwich maker, that ice-cream maker – whatever it is – they will be brilliant at whatever it is that they do … but actually, do they know about fitting a shop unit and the technical Building Control side of opening a store?[If] they don’t, it is then more effort on the landlord’s part in leading them through the process, but eventually, they may well be able to pay more rent than a multiple and the hard work in the early stages is worth it. We definitely saw that with the tenants we worked with coming into King’s Cross. There was so much more handholding to get there, but that created uniqueness.”
As well as deciding which businesses to rent spaces to, planners have to consider which business should sit alongside each other. This requires some careful curation, balancing the useful and the desirable (a post office alongside a gift shop, for example) to create a group of businesses that will complement each other and appeal to a broad range of people at different life stages.
One possible way to create a dynamic high street (and support smaller local businesses) could be through providing mixed-use spaces – for example, a shop that turns into a bar a night, or a café that doubles as a fitness studio or workshop, allowing smaller and less established businesses to share rents and occupancy of a single unit. This could create a high street which changes from day to night, offering residents a greater variety of activities, as well as giving a small business a chance to rent a space they might not otherwise have been able to afford.
“I’m certainly keen that a proportion of either the high street or some retail street in the [Canada Water] master plan has spaces that can be occupied by different tenants at different times of day,” Cariaga said. “As lovely as it sounds for us to have a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker, [those kind of businesses] are in limited supply. Retail is changing and retailers’ need for space will naturally evolve. and, Our job is create spaces where people will still want to visit and make space much more affordable for retailers. Generating sustainable returns in a fast changing environment is challenging , but perhaps how you do that is [by] having a greater intensity of use in the same space.”
Cariaga admitted this would present some logistical challenges – not just in terms of securing planning permission, but also in working out how multiple businesses could happily co-exist within a single space. “But I do think [Canada Water] is exactly the sort of place where we should be trying it,” she said. “[It’s] going to have 24-hour tube access on its doorstep, people working more and more at different times of day, and their needs will be 24 hours, and I think if you can allow a section of our retail offering to be a 24-hour offering – perhaps occupied by three or four people – then we can make a reasonable return out of it as landlords and owners, but there’s less of an upfront commitment from the retailers and restaurateurs because they’re only renting the space for six hours or half the day.”
This requires a level of trust from occupants, but Mel Allwood pointed out that architects, planners and developers could also introduce features or measures to help tackle some of the main issues that might be faced by co-habiting enterprises.
“It’s easier to do if you can sort out that mundane stuff, like making sure there’s a smart meter in there, so that if you have the building from 9 to 6, you don’t feel resentful that you’re paying for the nightclub that has it from 6 until 4 in the morning,” she said. “Getting those things right can make the social fabric work.”
Wayfinding can have a significant impact on our perceptions of a place. Annabel Judd recently worked on the wayfinding for Broadgate – offices, retail and eating spaces near Liverpool Street in London – and believes that the right wayfinding should encourage exploration as well as helping people navigate from A to B.
“Broadgate was a bit of a fortress – people weren’t unwelcome there, but that’s how the place made them feel, so we’ve been working on getting people to feel comfortable – sometimes secure in where they are going, sometimes comfortably lost. It’s [about] finding the appropriate moments for that and welcoming people at the right points. We work very closely with design teams on where you need signs, where you need to direct them … sometimes it’s very muted, [and] sometimes it’s very ramped up.” As Judd points out, wayfinding is about a lot more than just signs – it can include artworks, lighting, landscape, architectural layouts, staff. It is all of these elements that create a unique customer experience, helping navigate visitors, focusing attention on any particular space where required, making it memorable, encouraging people to engage. It is key the wayfinding designer is integrated into the design team from the outset of any project to influence these other aspects of the design early in the process.
CREATING PLACES WITH AUTHENTICITY
Finally, we discussed how to create new areas of a city that feel somehow unique to that place and respect its heritage. As a born-and-bred Londoner, Mel Allwood remembered Canada Water when it was still dockland but made the point that the new development “needs to feel like home for all sorts of different people, I don’t know that connecting it explicitly to my particular past would be right”.
Paul Eaton remarked that “there is an importance in continuity, you want to build from the place that’s there rather than transport something from elsewhere”. The ideal, he said, is a place that “is of the future but doesn’t feel ‘futuristic’ – that feels completely natural”.
And also, as Annabel Judd said, that is integrated with the surrounding area: “it’s really important that it seeps out into the locality. It’s got to have fingers out there with the buildings, the people and then it feels as if it’s always been there. Part of that is engaging with all of the stakeholders right from the outset and getting them to feel part of it and then it will feel part of this place, part of this area and not just this brand spanking new development that people don’t want to engage with.”
If you want to make a community feel like a development belongs to them, says Madelin, “just do it bloody good. Sorry to mention King’s Cross again but it was quite tough going through planning. Once the developments had started and people saw it was half decent, every planning application went through unanimously in favour. The politicians started to feel very proud and planners started to be very involved; it became a much more collaborative process because people could see that actually it was quite good and it became ‘our’ development. That’s what we’ve got to try and do here. People have to be proud of it and they have to want to see the next phase and feel that that’s part of their place and be involved in it.”