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Poole Streetscape Manual

Location: Poole, UK

Artists: Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier


The Borough of Poole is currently managing the regeneration of a large tract of land adjacent to a planned second bridge spanning Poole Harbour , scheduled for construction in 2008. 1,200 square metres of new public quayside, streets, and open spaces will be incorporated within the development. However, a significant factor conditioning this proposed renewal project is that the Borough of Poole does not own any of this land, and the development of the public spaces within the development will have to be paid for by private developers as 'planning gain'.

To control and ensure the quality of design and visual identity of the new public spaces and private developments within the regenerated area, the Borough of Poole commissioned an independent Design Team to work with them to produce a Streetscape Design Strategy Guidance Manual, building on an existing Masterplan for Poole. A partnership between BBUK Landscape Architects and the smallGLOBAL group of independent architecture and design practices was selected to work with a group of fifteen officers from Poole Council (including officers from Planning Services, Transportation, Tourism, Leisure and Arts Development) and the public art consultancy Working pArts to produce the Manual between April 2003 and April 2004, followed by periods of consultation and revision before being taken to Council in April 2005.

A role for public art within the regeneration scheme was endorsed at the outset as one of the 'core strategies' to be identified within the Manual. The collaborative artists Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier were proposed at the outset by BBUK/smallGLOBAL to work as members of the Design Team.


Both a popular holiday destination and an important freight terminal and ferry port, the South Coast town of Poole has experienced major growth and almost full employment in recent years, and is expected to continue to grow. The building of a much needed second bridge across Poole Harbour will enable the environmental enhancement of the Old Town area on one side of the crossing, and the regeneration of brownfield land on the opposite Hamworthy peninsula, jointly creating a new waterfront area intended to be "one of the most exciting in Europe".

When the Government announced their substantial financial support for the new bridge in 2001, the Borough of Poole appointed Geoff Wood (director of the independent Yorkshire-based public art consultancy Working pArts) as Public Art Adviser for the project. Wood felt that Poole was about to "miss an extraordinary opportunity", and needed to "open out" the project by employing high quality artists and designers in the project's formulation and overall strategy, rather than just commissioning discrete art works to stand alongside the new bridge. As the outcome of a process devised by Wood, the Twin Sails Bridge design of Wilkinson Eyre Architects was chosen from a limited shortlist of proposals.

Wood also introduced the concept of the 'streetscape' into the project. In October 2002 Wood disseminated a call for design teams to undertake the production of "a landscape strategy for the regeneration area, and a design manual to guide developers, architects as well as strategies for art work, signage and lighting". The main purpose of the proposed manual was to "ensure that all developments contribute to the overall character and atmosphere" of the regeneration project. The proposed Streetscape Strategy would ensure that, according to John Biggs, Team Leader for Urban Design in Poole (and a key player in the regeneration project), "the spaces are of consistently high quality and link together both visually and physically to create a new and exciting part of town".

John Biggs approached the South West Regional Development Agency - a partner in the development project - and found them keen to support this aspect of the project financially, providing a grant of £75,000 from its 'Civic Pride' initiative towards the cost of producing the Manual.

In February 2003 a specialist panel (including councillors, officers, and external professionals, including Geoff Wood ) selected from a shortlist of four teams (including Terence O'Rourke plc), the London based practice B + B UK Landscape Designers (established in 2002 by Jonathan Bell and Harriet Bourne) to lead the design of Poole's new streetscape. Their proposal was to work in collaboration with the smallGLOBAL group, an agglomeration of small design and architecture enterprises working together to collectivise their skills. The practices which comprise smallGLOBAL are relatively young, and distinguished by their innovative, playful ideas. Their projects aim "above all to be inviting and fun". For each project one of the members of smallGLOBAL undertakes to act as a leader and contact point - in this instance John Nordon of IDE-Architecture.

The original call from Poole for a Streetscape design team had included artists along with landscape designers, architects, engineers, lighting designers and quantity surveyors as those professionals required to form an appropriate team. Geoff Wood wanted to 'flatten the hierarchy' of such teams, and to avoid a situation where artists were brought in after everyone else, and Poole was supportive of this approach. Although Poole could have offered an ëindependent brokering service' for design teams lacking experience in working with artists, this proved not to be necessary, as B + B/smallGLOBAL themselves included the collaborative artists Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier as part of their proposed team. Poole has not subsequently liaised with the artists on a separate basis, only as part of the team.

BBUK/smallGLOBAL began working immediately with the Borough's Streetscape Working Group (commencing with a "getting to know each other" workshop), and also entered into a period of close consultation with local community groups and stakeholders, with a view to developing strategies that would be ready for implementation later in the same year. The lively consultation events included forays for all participants to photograph "the good and bad aspects of Poole", which were then discussed and disputed. During June 2003 ideas were solicited from the public about "what the design and appearance of the streets and public spaces around the new bridge should look like". An exhibition of information about the regeneration of Poole and its Streetscape was displayed on Poole quay, during which a special day was held at which the public could confer with council staff and offer their ideas.

The resultant Streetscape Manual has been made freely available in several formats. The full manual is available as a publication, as a CD ROM, and as a periodically updated web site. Information about the manual was exhibited in a Poole shopping centre, at public libraries and Lighthouse, Poole's centre for the arts, and discussed at public forums in the area. An additional information leaflet solicited the further views of local people during a follow-up public consultation in May-June 2004. The results of these consultations - which elicited a vigorous response from both the public and a number of major developers - raised issues which have resulted in the Manual being reviewed and significantly re-written by the Council (the Art Strategy section has been largely re-written by Poole's Arts Development Officer) and BBUK/smallGLOBAL. This revised version of the Manual is currently in progress, and it is expected to be taken to the Borough of Poole Council by April 2005, and as a result to be adopted as Supplementary Planning Guidance.

Streetscape Manual

The Design Strategy Guidance Manual (referred to commonly as 'the Streetscape Manual') defines 'streetscape' as "the visual treatment of the spaces between buildings, incorporating pavements, roads, public spaces (both hard and soft) and all the furniture and planting which inhabit those areas. These are the places where public life is played out, the public realm. Streetscape is concerned with surfaces (i.e. roads/pavements) and the items placed upon them."

The Manual's purpose is to ensure that all new private and public developments contribute to the character and atmosphere of the town. However, the Manual can only give detailed guidance and actual design proposals for those parts of the development zone that fall within the 'public realm'. Nevertheless, private developers are required to familiarise themselves with the manual, to be aware of its requirements, and to refer to its implementation in any planning application. These requirements are identified throughout the manual according to three levels of planning requirement - MUST, SHOULD, and COULD. The design guidance it provides is not intended to be totally prescriptive and thus to stifle innovation and creativity on the part of private developers.

The Manual is not fixed to a pre-determined delivery date, but is intended to retain potential future relevance. The Manual will be reviewed and updated periodically "to ensure that Poole's streetscapes reflect changing conditions".

The Manual is not a 'stand alone' document. It 'follows up' the Masterplan produced by Terence O'Rourke plc in 2002 (see above), and 'sits alongside' the Borough's Public Art Strategy and Percent for Art Policy. It also comprises Supplementary Planning Guidance to the Poole Local Plan. (Supplementary Planning Guidance provides the mechanism for giving a local authority power to enforce what otherwise would remain the desirable tenets of a notional strategy.)

Art in the Streetscape Manual

In line with the existing Masterplan and Local Plan for Poole, the Streetscape Manual supports "the expectation of a comprehensive art programme threaded through the Streetscape (and the built architecture) of the new Poole". In line with the Council's existing Public Art Strategy and Percent for Art Policy, the Manual provides an inclusive definition of what constitutes Public Art, and provides a ten point strategy for its realisation. It also provides a list of MUSTs, SHOULDs, and COULDs for the incorporation of art within the framework of guidance provided by the Manual.

The integration of public art into the 'street scene' is one of the fundamental design principles incorporated in the Streetscape Manual's guidance. Quayside promenades, and designated 'focal spaces' where activities and events can take place, serve as 'ëcatalysts and focuses' for public art. The intention is that opportunities would be offered to artists practising locally as well as those operating nationally and internationally.

Art is one of four 'Core Strategies' identified by the Streetscape Manual as possessing the potential to "create public spaces" when applied in combination. These four strategies must be incorporated into any piece of design work:

  • Landscape
  • Lighting
  • Street Furniture & Signage
  • Art

Pools of Light

The 'Lighting' section of the manual (rather than the 'Art Strategy' section) features a description of the only 'art work' specified in the Manual - the Pools of Light concept created by Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier. The nature of this proposal (referred to in the Manual as 'both an art work and a connecting feature') accords with the design team's overall conception of public art within the regeneration area. The proposal is not for a discrete art work limited to one particular site, but a concept flexible in size and density.

Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier already had a substantial track record of working collaboratively with architects, and did not have to get to know all of their fellow Design Team members from scratch. They had already worked with Harriet Bourne of BBUK Landscape Architects and John Nordon of IDE-Architecture on commission projects, and this felt like continuing an "ongoing dialogue" with them. The artists attended most of the Design Team meetings - those with the smallGLOBAL group in particular they describe as "very dynamic". The entire Design Team plus John Biggs and Nickola Moore (Arts Development Officer) from Poole also made a study visit to the artists' London studio.

The artists understood that they had been brought in on a consultative basis, to provide a kind of concentrated focus at a strategic level on the overall aesthetic parameters of the project, but they were also called upon by the original brief to make subsidiary proposals (albeit hypothetically) for specific public art works or interventions within the project zone. Nevertheless, the artists felt at first that their role was "slightly nebulous", and it took several months for an idea to "evolve and define itself". The resultant Pools of Light concept was received very positively by BBUK Landscape Architects, who saw it as characterising the ethos of the whole project. Claire Oboussier wrote a report to accompany Vong Phaophanit's drawings for the Pools of Light concept, but the artists did not object to Geoff Wood adapting the ideas in the report to make them accord with the different linguistic style of the Manual.

During the period of consultation following the publication of the Manual several important private developers voiced their opposition to the obligation within the terms of the Manual to incorporate the Pools of Light concept in any new development, and to employ the artists in its realisation. Apart from the budgetary implications, the developers also perceived incorrectly that they were being restricted to using only these artists within any new build project. While the artists are concerned that the dependence of the scheme upon the support of private developers may compromise the quality of design within the scheme, they are also aware that there is a history of important developers having commissioned high quality designs.

The Pools of Light concept has now become "a lighting process rather than an arts process". If applied subsequently only in broad outline by Poole it is likely to raise problems related to the artists' copyright. These matters may be resolved and clarified in the revised and partly re-written version of the Manual that is currently in progress - but it is equally likely that the Pools of Light may never happen.

© Copyright David Briers, 2005.