Designing our Environment
Towards a Strategy for Architecture and the Built Environment in the South West
The quality of our built and rural environment is the subject of much debate and there is widespread concern at the lack of considered design within many of our buildings and places. Good quality, attractive buildings and public spaces play a key role in urban and rural regeneration and how to ensure that quality is paramount is a key aim of this Strategy. The intention has been to develop a common manifesto and action plan, which would be jointly owned by the key partners charged with delivering change in the region. The consultants, Jon Rowland Urban Design, were commissioned to undertake this research and, during the course of the year, have undertaken extensive consultation around the South West.
The consultancy was funded by South West Arts, Public Art South West, The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, Government Office South West, Royal Institute of British Architects and the South West of England Regional Development Agency. These organisations plus The Architecture Centre Bristol, English Heritage and the University of the West of England have formed the Steering Group for this work.
The consultative summary document prepared by the Steering Group follows below. The Executive Summary of the report by consultants Jon Rowland Urban Design may be downloaded at the end of the summary.
Towards an Architecture and the Built Environment Strategy in the South West
This summary document was prepared by the Steering Group for the Strategy for Architecture and the Built Environment for the South West for a meeting which took place in November 2001. The Group comprised representatives of Public Art South West, South West Arts, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (as observers), RIBA, RIBA Future Studies, Government Office for the South West, South West Regional Development Agency, English Heritage, University of the West of England and The Architecture Centre Bristol. The purpose of this document was to stimulate discussion as to how the Strategy could continue to be developed and subsequently implemented. Readers of the document were asked to keep the following questions in mind:
- Are the proposed actions enough to improve significantly on the current situation?
- Are there other actions which should be mentioned in this document that are realistic and achievable?
- Is the balance of action between the different parts of the proposed Strategy about right?
- Are there resources that could be made available from your organisation or other sources that could help to implement a Strategy?
- Do you have suggestions about the way the Strategy could be successfully implemented?
The Steering Group requested comments by 10 December 2001, but they are continuing to come in and a document summarising all of the points is in the process of being collated.
1 INTRODUCTION TO THE RESEARCH
1.1 There is wide recognition of the importance of the built environment to the quality of life and to the social and economic development of the Region. Too few good buildings and spaces are being created and this Strategy provides the starting point to build upon and strengthen current national and regional initiatives to radically improve the situation. In particular this includes:
Rural and Urban White Paper
Publications e.g. 'By Design' and the 'Urban Design Compendium'
Forthcoming Planning Green Paper
Regional Planning Guidance
Sustainable Construction Charter
Regional Cultural Strategy
Emerging Strategy for the Historic Environment
Forthcoming Regional Centre of Excellence
Equally there are numerous sub-regional/local initiatives aimed at achieving higher standards of design e.g. design guides and supplementary planning guidance.
1.2 The south west region is particularly well placed to capitalise on these initiatives, having an extraordinarily rich and diverse environment, a pool of talented professionals and a vocal population that is aware of the quality of much that surrounds it and demands high standards. However, there is still a very long way to go; best practice is still not disseminated widely enough, unexceptional design is still far too common and developers, professionals, government, agencies and concerned members of the public are not working together to raise standards and expectations often enough. This Strategy seeks to make a measurable and significant improvement to the built environment by encouraging innovation, collaboration, dissemination and outreach.
1.3 The Architecture and Built Environment Strategy seeks to tackle the particular challenges facing the region in terms of achieving high quality design. It will work alongside and create synergies with existing initiatives. In order to inform this work Jon Rowland Urban Design with Bernie Foulkes, Sebastian Lowe and Andrew Cross were commissioned to undertake this research. The resulting report has provided a valuable direction and ethos for the future work of the Steering Group. This paper is primarily based on their report with additional information on the way the Steering Group intends to implement it.
2. THE OBJECTIVE AND AIMS OF THE STRATEGY
2.1 The objective of the Strategy is to:
- Achieve the highest quality of design in architecture and the built environment in the South West region.
In order to fulfil this objective the Strategy has a number of specific aims under the following headings;
Vision and Culture - changing the mind set
- To promote the benefits of good design and in particular foster good architecture, urban planning and integrated public art
Process - giving rise to new ways of doing things
- To achieve greater public participation in planning and decision making
- To ensure that good design criteria are embedded in regional policies
Skills and Knowledge - the tools to enable the process to succeed
- To increase the design skills available at every level by engaging the universities, schools, and other education agencies, as well as other disciplines such as artists or gender specialists
Communication - getting the message out
- To celebrate and acknowledge good design and disseminate good practice in the region
Mechanisms & Key Players - how and who
- To influence private and public sector developers to raise their design aspirations
- To increase the collaboration between all the participants involved in changing the environment
3. THE MAIN ACTIONS
3.1 This section sets out the broad changes that the Strategy is seeking to influence. It also begins to identify those detailed actions that will be necessary to ensure full implementation of the Strategy. The list below is not yet comprehensive and some of the actions, or the timescales proposed may not be realistic. It is in this area that we are particularly keen to receive further comments and suggestions. The phrase 'short term' used below is taken to be 0-2 years.
3.2 Vision and Culture. To achieve a better regional culture for good design the following issues need to be addressed:
- Regional and Local Identity - to respond to the diverse nature of the region
- Patronage and procurement - to raise awareness of and demand for good design
- Widening the design team - to enrich the creative process by diversity
- Empowering people - to encourage creative participation from all age groups
- Promoting good design in new ways
- Raising public awareness of the benefits of good design
in the short term :
- Prepare a Regional Design Charter.
- Regional organisations (public and private) to develop and publicise their own Statement on Design Principles.
- Demonstration Projects that involve local people in design issues in their community such as Placecheck and Village Design Statements.
- Explore ways of ensuring true sustainability of design projects by developing potential of locally-available building materials.
- Strengthen Public/Private sector links to build mutual understanding of potentials and constraints, share experience and develop better working relations.
In the medium term:
- Encourage the use of a wider range of professionals in large development projects.
- Explore the concept of a Regional Design Forum as well as Regional and Local Design Champions to promote good design principles in practice.
- Seekfunding for wider design/environment education projects.
- Investigate how the procurement process can be adapted to ensure quality of design.
- Investigate ways in which local authorities might make design issues more understandable to the general public.
3.3 Process. To improve the way in which design issues are considered:
- Getting better results from the system - to make better use of existing resources in the planning system to improve design quality
- Increase collaboration - to encourage wider creativity through multi-disciplinary teams which include new skills
- Design Review and Advisory panels - to assist local authorities and applicants in their design decisions
- Offer guidance on selection of consultants to clients to improve quality
- Explore ways of improving the quality of public consultation
- Ensuring the practical incorporation of sustainability and local identity consideration in development proposals.
in the short term by:
- Producing Guidelines for Design Strategies and Development Briefs to assist local authorities and regional agencies preparing local documents.
- Encouraging local authorities to request Design Statements on a larger number of planning applications.
- Demonstration Projects (see above).
In the medium term:
- Create a Library of Good Practice as part of a web site.
- Explore ways of improving the capacity to provide Pre application design advice.
- Produce guidance for local authorities, agencies etc on selection of consultants and public consultation.
3.4 Skills and Knowledge. To improve education, skills training and knowledge:
- Increase dialogue and collaboration between academic departments
- Increase inter-disciplinary dialogue and collaboration
- Enhance skills of practitioners though additional and more widely publicised courses and Continuing Professional Development
- Enhance skills of decision-makers through all stages of the process
- Enhance skills of general public by empowering future generations
in the short term:
- Training Needs Assessment carried out for a brief Design Education Strategy which would link into the regional Centre of Excellence.
- Find linkages with other related education initiatives.
- Encourage applicants to consult and discuss their projects early in the design process.
- Explore ways of providing Continuing Professional Development for cross-professional interests.
in the medium term:
- Encourage schools to develop and expand the work on understanding the environment.
- Identify how to deliver on skills shortages.
- Explore ways of co-operating more closely with Construction Industries Training Board (CITB) and other organisations to ensure the design agenda is fully addressed.
3.5 Communication. Disseminating current and new initiatives to the widest possible audience:
- Develop a media strategy to raise awareness
- Develop a web-site with advice, contacts, good practice etc.
- Support and enhance the role of the architecture centre and outreach activities
- Ensure rewards for good practice are well co-ordinated and widely promoted
in the short term:
- Develop a marketing and media strategy with key players to provide a concerted and co-ordinated promotion of design issues to general public, professionals etc.
- Investigate the co-ordinated promotion of Design Awards.
3.6 Mechanisms and Key Players.
The emerging architecture and built environment module of the Regional Centre of Excellence should focus on:
- Architecture, design and construction
- Planning, development and regeneration
- Promoting understanding of the sustainable use of the environment
- Linkages with the urban and rural regeneration, funding forum and partnership modules
in the short term:
- Ensure that the development of the Regional Centre of Excellence takes proper account of design and built environment issues.
- Review progress of initiatives to ensure Strategy is achieving success.
4. DELIVERY OPTIONS
4.1 The Strategy will require funding and orchestrating. Key players are likely to include:
- Regional Organisations:
- Local Authorities:
County and District Councils/Unitary Authorities
- Transport Authorities
including County Transport Authorities/Highways Agency/Operators
- Developers and private sector interests
- Executive Agencies:
including Public Art South West, South West Arts, CABE and English Heritage
- Educational institutions and trusts:
e.g. The Architecture Centre
- Training organisations:
e.g. Construction Industry Training Board
- Professional institutions:
- Voluntary Sector
e.g. Civic Trust
4.2 Members of the Steering Group have already committed themselves to taking forward some of the main actions identified in the preceding section. For instance the South West Regional Development Agency will contribute to developing a network of demonstration projects through its Civic Pride initiative and ongoing regeneration activities. Equally, The Architecture Centre, Bristol is promoting discussion on design issues in the region through its exhibitions, lectures and outreach work. English Heritage is beginning to assess training needs for the historic environment and identifying ways of developing skills in areas of shortage. There are many other initiatives already happening but the purpose of the Strategy is to improve awareness of best practice initiatives within the sector and thus raise standards and expectations.
4.3 It is of critical importance that the Strategy is also attractive to the private sector. Private developers are by far the largest procurers of new buildings in the region and without their support it will be impossible to deliver the key actions. It is clear therefore that in terms of implementation the full spectrum of possible delivery options, involving all potential partners and stakeholders, will need to be considered.
5. NEXT STEPS
5.1 It is vital for the ongoing development of the Strategy that there is a shared process with which people and organisations are involved and signed up to. There are a number of key actions that need to be taken forward in the short term:
- Widely disseminating the findings of the draft Strategy.
- Considering and responding to the results of the consultation exercise
- Making contact with key partners and stakeholders who are not already aware of the initiative. Ensure that they understand the importance of the initiative and support it.
- Beginning to identify the resources necessary to implement the Strategy
- Examining the potential role of the forthcoming Regional Centre of Excellence in taking the Strategy forward.
Strategy for Architecture and the Built Environment Steering Group
Follow this link to download the ABE diagram as a Rich Text Format document: 32Kb
Follow this link to download the Executive Summary of the Consultant's report as a Rich Text Format document: 136Kb