Eighty Twenty is Partisan’s fortnightly roundtable event, where we invite business leaders connected with the built environment to join us for breakfast and a discussion around the issues that they find interesting and important.
This week, we focused on the human element in designing for the built environment, and a sense of continuity between the past, present and future of urban living.
Why Reality Offers the Best Insights
Digitalisation has made design much more rapid and convenient, but has it made it better?
Designers and planners can get caught up in the creative and theoretical sides of what they do, while missing out on the reality of a physical site or space.
There is no substitute for experiencing something first hand, in person. After all, this is how people who use, occupy and visit finished buildings will experience them.
If, at a conceptual stage, designers should be asking what sort of world they want us all to live in, then it makes sense for them to also experience the world as it is, and to develop a sense of what the impact of their decisions might be.
Creativity does not exist in isolation if it is going to be meaningful.
Data is Not Enough
Planning and research might appear to be asking the right questions, but in the end what will matter is whether the interpretation of the data is correct.
And even then, the data alone will not provide the depth of knowledge that the physical experience of a place will.
Therefore, to effectively interpret data, designers and planners must supplement their software with traditional, sensory investigations, on the ground.
Shaping Separate Identities for Places
Another aspect of the reality of the built environment is how regional centres in Greater Manchester can feel excluded by the focus on the city centre.
Bolton, Stockport, Rochdale and other town centres have their own stories to tell, which are more important to them than the overarching narrative of Manchester itself.
To do this means to shape distinct identities that are not copycat versions of each other. This requires a sense of confidence: in the scope and nature of the design, but also coming from the towns themselves.
This kind of confidence is what helps regenerate and revitalise town centres, attracts investment and creates opportunities. It is not simply about commerce, but, critically, to do with embedding a strong, confident local culture.
Bricks and mortar regeneration is meaningless without human capital. This is the stock of knowledge and of social and personal attributes that, when embodied in work, create economic value.
But there is another missing element: joy. For people to feel truly connected to a place they must find some kind of joy in their environment and its structures and spaces.
Acknowledging Different Approaches
For urban and town centre design to work at all, it must work for the people who will experience it in reality.
How can designers, architects and planners get to this happy point?
They must be open to suggestion, and to the different approaches of other cultures, so that they can learn from them.
For example, innovation need not be flashy. It can be simply functional to succeed in supporting how people can live better lives.
Buildings and spaces that work well might actually be about how ordinary they are, rather than extraordinary – if these structures fulfil the needs of the people who occupy and use them.
This goes back to human capital, and enabling people to use spaces more effectively. For example, subsidised or even free transport supports the footfall that is essential to so much urban and town centre regeneration.
It is about ensuring people feel connected, whether through transport, technology or a sense of community.
Our Guests This Time
Our guests at this Partisan Eighty Twenty breakfast event included:
Matthew Davies, Pell Frischmann
Simon Gallanders, Real Estate Investment Partnerships
Harry Hoodless, Broadway Malyan
Chris Marrow, Midollo
Stephen Morgan-Hyland, Maddox
Martin Stockley, Stockley Partnership
Mike Tyler, North West Construction Hub
Adam Wisher, LCR Property
“Thank you for inviting me to join what was a superb roundtable discussion. A really excellent session with plenty of insightful and intelligent commentary. An absolute pleasure to share my views on wide ranging property and development issues and listening to the views of others.”
“A surprisingly pleasant and interesting way to start the day. Looking forward to further conversations.”