Urban designers have tended to ignore the 'non-places' of towns and cities; those spaces we find along busy roads on town fringes characterised by 'big sheds' and urban wasteland. These 'big sheds' are usually large, cheaply built structures with little architectural merit and scant regard to their context. Yet these are the places many people shop (in retail warehouses and supermarkets), or work (in business / industrial parks). These places are also gateways to many towns and cities, forming a key part of our first impression of the town or city. We have to accept that such places are here to stay, but I believe we can improve them through an urban design-led approach tailored specifically to their requirements, and better integrate them into the fabric of our towns.
- Some principles that might underlie this fresh approach could include:
- Consider context, existing character and heritage
- Ensure good building lay out in relation to surrounds
- Design buildings to maximise flexibility
- Encourage a mix of complementary uses at a range of scales
- Consider legibility and design for 'viewing at speed' (ie from a passing vehicle) as well as 'on the ground'
- Carefully consider best arrangement of parking, loading and access
- Pay attention to architectural detailing and landscaping.
I believe urban designers have a role to play in 'big shed' areas and it is time to consider afresh principles for these developments.