Influence, Safety, Permanence: it’s our duty in regeneration design
By Simone de Gale
I am particularly interested to understand why the question of influence, safety and permanence continues to be a topic of advocation within the architectural, design communities, and property development processes. It is a duty, not a wish list, in design.
Our studio’s designs have always involved the local community and considered aspects for transparency and long-term investment. How could any one designer ever have more wealth of knowledge than that of a set of persons who are based in the vicinity, and have lived and/or worked there for many years? The insight is incredible. It feeds into, and opens up, discourse for design considerations beyond that which one could ever imagine in isolation.
I grew up in the town of Croydon, Surrey, and studied all my architectural qualifications in London. Since 2012, I have lived in the country’s most affluent area, Kensington, London; two completely different boroughs, but the answer is always the same — the community knows best.
We designers are so fortunate to have access to persons within the areas we design. They are passionate, enthused and extremely knowledgeable about their district. This wealth of knowledge provides so much comprehension and perspective on what does and does not work for their particular zone, where there are issues with crime and politics, where architecture is of low quality and ideas for improvement in urban planning. It is only an asset to involve such a wealth of resource and employ this information into our designs.
I once interviewed the late Will Alsop OBE RA, who masterminded the 2007 £3.5bln Masterplan of Croydon Central, and his persistent advice to me was to “involve the community in every aspect of the project”. This gave me a strong foundation on which to develop my company’s architectural propositions.
Our first major masterplan project we worked on was much more of a grass-roots project. Local residents of Hammersmith pushed an agenda on continuous issues of the A4 major road, which passes through Hammersmith and into the city. To mobilise action, in 2014, a group of local architects, including my company, made an informal collective ‘West London Link Design’. We developed a concept named ‘Hammersmith Flyunder’, which would in effect dismantle the elevated part of the A4 and construct a tunnel for thoroughfare road traffic, alleviating the surface ground for new buildings and public spaces as well as naturally connecting the north side of Hammersmith back to the river side.
We conducted a series of community engagement events and activities, initially as part of London Festival of Architecture. The project then gained traction with Hammersmith and Fulham (H&F) Council who then commissioned a feasibility study into the tunnel options with CH2M Hill Engineers. The Hammersmith Flyunder now forms part of H&F’s masterplan vision and is being used to develop the Supplementary Planning Framework (SPD) for Hammersmith Town Centre. The community involvement proved that not only can community have a say in regeneration projects, but it can also lead on regeneration.
Our next major masterplan project involvement was the Brixton Central Masterplan. In 2015, we worked with Fluid Architects to conduct public consultation on the masterplan design with students of Evelyn Grace Academy by Zaha Hadid. Given the heritage and history of Brixton, it was important that its future would be shaped, in part, by those who were of a younger generation. The involvement of the schools meant that we could gain a critical perspective of specific buildings and places which gave a sense of character and identity, and ideas on how the masterplan could retain these spaces or indeed, enhance its new environment.
There are very good features of government legislation and regulations which require or provide opportunity for communities to engage with regeneration. Yet I strongly believe that as designers -those who are trusted advisors for the built environment — we can lead on this within our design considerations, so that established communities can contribute towards shaping the design proposition. After all, these are the people and families who will live, work, dwell and grow within our beautifully-designed spaces once we have completed the project. It is not difficult, from my experience, to have our clients (developers) on side either. Community involvement, spaces designed to enforce safety symptoms, and good robust materials palettes, save time, money, and ultimately, provide a better return on investment for our clients and end users alike.
In 2017, we were commissioned as Lead Architect and Principal Designer to design the masterplan of north-west Tbilisi Georgia, and part of our programme sets meanwhile activities and events on the 16-hectare empty site for community engagement, in order to familiarise local residents with the project and to shape its development. The masterplan is for 3,000 homes, retail, commercial and leisure facilities, as well as an array of public spaces.
I believe nurturing communities is that of an organic fashion. People will come together as and when they desire, and for particular purposes. Yet for us architects and designers, it is important to be attentive to acknowledged communities within our considered design mandate. Then ‘plug into’ that existing wealth of knowledge and feed this into our designs, to enhance the integrity of our presentations to our clientele, and to government authorities to smoothly transition from concept and design, through to the planning and construction phases of our projects.
I am so enthused by what we can do when we give Control to the vicinity we are designated to, and then use our skillset and innovation to provide robust solutions for recognised problems and systems, and then rollout enhanced infrastructure and regeneration programmes.