The modern approach to urban design frameworks and masterplanning is driven by the appetite for health-driven, sustainable living/working environments, and the challenges attached to maintaining wellness in densely populated areas. Here, Michael Lewis, Group Design Director at BSBG offers his thoughts on the sector.
We are no longer responding to our environment, but through demand, growth, the need for space and natural resources, we are shaping the very environment we live in. The urgency of change and the shift in our environment is creating a design revolution with a positive focus on wellness in people, buildings and urban environments – the schemes we see now are a clear reflection of this.
This shift has brought about a focus on access to nature and protecting our biodiversity, while technology has contributed to the rethinking of how we move around our cities. Big data and open data sources are used for developing smart technology to create solutions that reduce traffic, integrate mobile technology into transport systems, and reduce energy use.
DESIGN FOR PEOPLE
At BSBG, we design for people. This could be looked upon as rather a simplistic statement, but unfortunately, all too often people have been forgotten, or at least not realised within the agenda for developing the principles of good urban design.
The obsessive nature with which we have, over the course of the last 25 years, designed cities primarily for cars has carved great scars through many urban areas that have subdivided communities and eroded opportunities for nature and biodiversity. It has resulted in inefficient, disconnected areas, where every building, every development, functions almost as a world of its own without any interaction with the city around it. The patchwork approach to recent city growth has rendered many areas inaccessible without a car.
But by placing people at the top of the agenda, we can start to focus on how people move around cities, maximising sustainable transportation options and improving the standards of living and wellness of people.
ACCESS TO NATURE
Cities must embrace nature as the primary urban design principle. This is at the very core of creating an environment that supports wellbeing and encourages social integration. Access to parks and green open space is a basic human necessity and should be provided within a short walking distance from all new/redeveloped projects as the central principle. Green spaces are central to wellness, but also add an underlying value to the fabric of a city, improving air quality, reducing the heat island effect and increasing overall desirability.
The traditional assessment of value needs to change to become more focused on the wellbeing of people. This will provide a better environment and improved quality of life. We are close to a period of change in our history that will force humanity to refocus our perception of value toward the core principles that matter.
The use and movement of people through space is at the core of the urban design movement that makes a healthy city. This movement works by layering urban placemaking from city centres that are dynamic and diverse in their offering, allowing people to move around between them, as well as providing spaces of quality that become natural stopping points and places of focus along that journey.
The principles of layering, rhythm and nature are proven to work in an urban framework or masterplan context, or even when designing a series of rooms and spaces within buildings. The way in which people perceive space and how we move through these indoor/outdoor rooms and the relevant scale of these spaces provides the basic framework of our approach to design.
If our focus is on people wellness, having access to healthy transportation options that connect urban centres provides a shift in the perception of value from a basic monetary form to the balance of value for our wellness, the environment and the urban frameworks we design. We may very well need a measurement standard that can be mapped onto a city framework to assess opportunities, and where the key focus of change should be targeted.
WELL BUILDINGS AND WELL PEOPLE
Our understanding of the core values of design, from the scale of spaces to the use of nature and energy-efficient solutions, drive a catalyst of value for our clients, which is also balanced with the basic needs of the people that use those environments.
The balance of wellness for people, buildings and city-wide masterplans should be at the core of all those involved in designing our environment. Our industry sets the framework of how people live, and we are at the forefront of controlling design decisions that have a fundamental effect on a city for generations. With a focus on people, access to nature, and adoption of energy conservation, we can ensure the net effect of our decision making is a positive one for the future, helping to build healthy communities and cities.