3rd March 2016

The Civic Blog – Urban Infrastructure

The best neighbourhoods are those districts that provide a highly permeable, well balanced network of streets and spaces, enclosed and framed by mixed use buildings with crafted frontages to activate ground floors reinforced by high quality architecture, scale and massing, all of which combines to offer a seamless composition of functionality and character. Urban infrastructure is the landscape on which buildings, streets and spaces are placed and ordered.

We have been working on a number of urban infrastructure projects across the UK. Amongst our current challenging portfolio of projects there are two of particular scale and complexity that hold high potential for realizing a fresh approach to how the look and feel of our city spaces should develop. One is for Transport for London, where in collaboration with Landscape Architect J&L Gibbons we are writing theirSuDs guidance and the second at Whitechapel for London Borough Tower Hamlets, working with MUF Architects & Artists, alongside J&L Gibbons.

Whitechapel, in the borough of Tower Hamlets, is a vital, vibrant and dynamic London district centre. Of the 33 London Boroughs, Tower Hamlets is forecast to experience the highest degree of population growth over the next 15 years and there is already many significant changes occurring within the core, the imminent arrival ofCrossrail, the relocation of the Local Authorities offices onto the high street, St Bart’s hospital Trust, a thriving street market, a cycle superhighway and a pipeline of committed residential development. However the high street is currently unbalanced with too much precious space allocated to the strategic routing of vehicles along the road as part of the A11, although it is defined as a city hub in the London Roads Task Force classification. This is a conflicting and challenging combination of priorities to address. Our role has been to reexamine the order and structure of these priorities and develop a streetscape strategy to reapportion this precious space to create a landscape that best serves the future needs of the existing and emerging community.

Our SuDs Guidance commission for TfL led by Jo Gibbons builds on the groundswell of water sensitive urban design strategies that have been recently published, not least of which is Ciria’s 2015 autumn SuDs manual. Our work is to prepare design guidance particular to London’s landscape. This needs to respond to the network transport role and scale of the affected landscape in the specific London context; their form,materials and textures; their relationship with the landscape as buildings meet the ground; the topography; the movement, access and servicing over, around and through the ground plane; all modes of movement, pedestrians, bikes and allvehicles; the aesthetic and technical qualities of the surface materials; the position, nature and technical qualities of all surface features, CCTV camera posts, lighting columns, bins, benches, bike stands and barriers; the myriad of buried utilities and statutory services, their depth and constituent materials, what they convey and their role in the providers network; the adjacent or underground structures, basements and foundations to buildings or Tube railstructures and strategic tunnels or culverts; and most critically the horticultural, filtration, geotechnical and geochemical characteristics of the underlying soils. Each one of these elements has a stakeholder, or more, and those that are affected will need to have a say in what changes are to occur that may impact on their interests. All of which amounts to a complex street scene that struggles to accommodate something that is entirely natural and evolving since the dawn of time. No wonder cities can be so stressful!

Heart of Hackbridge, Sutton