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Do aesthetic and function make good bedfellows?

Posted 09/05/2018

by Steven Gosling

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Walk through any British city or major town and you will find many instances of magnificent buildings that exude exceptional design principles, are an impressive use of space, and are described in such terms as innovative, creative or inspiring.

Unfortunately, far too often the urban open space, the public realm, surrounding these architectural jewels is less impressive and far less inspiring.  As if these two aspects of building space and open space are completely divorced from each other in the majority of developments.

Yet the most memorable and captivating developments are those that ensure the building fabric and the streetscape are complimentary. I believe that the wider vision for the public realm actually enhances the aesthetic of buildings rather than detracts from them. I also vehemently believe, as a transport planner, that the success in achieving this more holistic approach is to integrate the aesthetically pleasing features of design with the function, which is not an either/or choice also.

What could be worse than for a beautifully designed building to get obscured or be deemed to be a blot on the landscape because of its negative impact on the wider public realm?  And why allow it happen, when it could be easily addressed?

Obviously, delivering high quality public realm design needs to balance the demands of the local planning authority and the requirements and expectations of the investors but it can be done.

It is understanding that the movement of people and how different experiences, behaviours and modes of travel interact within a space that is the driver for a positive contribution to the building landscape within any community. Whilst the building fabric may be static, how it relates and interacts within its surrounding environment and how people view and interact with the building and the space it occupies are far from static.

Movement and urban design go hand in hand as a vital package of works.  Blending the needs of all travel modes throughout every design aspect of the scheme.  Through experience we understand that a design analysis and the transport assessment are fundamental to delivering a successful scheme.

The irony of this integrated approach to design and movement is that it is not always to be found in the most expensive, complex schemes. The joy of a successful scheme is to be found more often in the simple design-led solutions that engage the user and the wider public. Should we not aspire to ensure all new buildings shine through enhancing their function?