The site analysis is perhaps the most influential stage of the design process. It is imperative that we focus on understanding what it is that makes each site important and unique. Our expert analysis at this stage has important implications for achieving best-practice urban design. We are empowered to transform places. Creating a successful place is achieved by employing a combination of skills in response to a thorough understanding of a situation.
Edward de Bono is a leading authority in the field of creative thinking. He promotes the idea of thinking as a skill. As a follower of his work, I challenge my urban design team to add a De Bono-style approach to urban design. If this can be achieved at the site analysis level, we add value from the beginning of the design process. This is where and when in the design process that we believe everything needs to make sense. In order to add value, however, firstly an understanding of what value means in terms of urban design is required.
Generating the appropriate tools to find it and evaluate it follow in the process. Understanding value Understanding value is achieved through the conscientious investigation and understanding of each project’s context and relevant localised issues. The better we inform ourselves about a project’s challenges, the better positioned we are to augment the project’s value through responsive design proposals.
During the analytical phases, emerging design issues may appear clear to us as urban design professionals. However, this vision may not come so clearly to the clients and the public to whom we are presenting. We acknowledge that spatial intelligence is present in different people to differing degrees. To achieve the successful delivery of best-practice urban design, we must assemble the best possible communication tools. For us, this means synergising our entire company-wide disciplines, including urban design, landscape, planning, environmental, visualisation and 3D modelling.
Decision-makers are ultimately people who have little training in urban design. But with respect, they usually know what they like, and what they don’t. When given the opportunity to visualise a design before they build it, the option is a very well-received one. Beyond that, even we as experienced designers with good spatial intelligence can benefit significantly from the same option to create and explore ideas in a three-dimensional world.
We at PLACE have created a number of tools by combining our discipline-specific knowledge and state-of-the-art software programs to communicate our understanding and vision for projects. The effort is centred on describing and analysing complex projects, using straightforward and simple models that reduce the project to a word and a single image. This lessens the burden of understanding required by the client or the public when we are communicating the many technical complexities embodied in the delivery of a design aimed at creating a ‘good place’.
Employing these creative tools has not only sharpened our focus and peripheral vision, we have great fun. At the same time, our clients are frequently surprised with interesting, unexpected and valuable information.
The findings that result from this creative analytical approach have been instrumental in supporting our design concepts, which are entirely logical and defensible. This approach generates a situation of empowerment where ideally, the client, the authorities, the community and the practitioners can agree on what is important for the project and how to move forward to deliver it.
The opportunity to be creative and innovative in the initial analytical stages of a project is a very important one. If embraced, maintained and delivered throughout the design process, great design results will follow.