Alan J. Simpson

Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Street Space Society

Street Space Society

Alan Jackson Simpson - Professor of Architecture and Urbanism


Strategic Architecture and Urban Design

Great Urbanism unites architectural styles and building typologies through a common subservience to the city as a whole, acknowledging prevailing traditions, topography, context, scale, proportion and materiality. The Street is the primary component of the City, where … ‘the larger circumstance is the main thing and all limited objectives have to be subordinated to the whole ’… architecture and urban structure find harmony in the city’s ensemble … it’s Urbanism.

Cityscape : Streets for People Strategy for Newcastle upon Tyne

The architectural modernist, and Harvard educational leader Walter Gropius said, ‘responsible architects think very much in terms of the whole community. I tell my students I am not interested when you build a beautiful design in a gap of a street if you treat it only as a unit in itself, not considering the neighborhood already there…you must blend in with the larger circumstances. This larger circumstance is the main thing and all limited objectives must be subordinated to the whole’. At the UIA Conference (1996) in Barcelona, Architect and leading community planner Ralph Erskine challenged the architectural and planning professions with regard to their role, suggesting they were today a lost generation only concerned with the procurement of expensive stand alone projects for wealthy clients.

It may be said with justification that many architects and planners in the mid to late twentieth century held little concern for the role of the public in their projects, for broad contextual issues, the needs of the community - the relationship between the built environment and social policy - and lost a once valued reputation for their skill in the design and construction of buildings which endear public support; in housing which promotes a sense of community and well being; buildings for education, public amenity, welfare, and health-care which positively uphold the purposes for which they are provided; commercial buildings which support public interaction at street level; and most of all to respond positively to local environmental and social contexts in the design and setting of new buildings.

The practice of architecture takes place within ‘contexts’, urban, suburban and rural - there is no such thing as a site nowhere – and are part of social, physical, economic, and historical contexts. A city composed of individual buildings designed as ‘art’ or ‘technology’ alone without considered connection one to another, would be intolerable. The more one observes the city the more we understand that it is connections that enable urban environments to work well and respond to the needs of citizens. Urban environments belong to people and they belong to places, to history, tradition and to the future; to society, economics, public policy, as much and more than to private intention. It is the responsibility of the architect and urbanist to ensure as much.

The re-emergence of urban design as a skill which develops common interest in the public role of architecture and civic space design has been welcome, but as an area of both training and practice the process still promises greater potential than has so far been delivered - our cities and towns, and the communities they contain, require something more in the form of trained inter-disciplinary professionals educated to understand the language and inputs of others involved in the making and design of cities through combined programs in architecture and urban design, in public policy, ecology, and engineering, for whom a creative three-dimensional program is written in the language of inter-disciplinary practice.

Making urban design strategies in Pittsburgh

Making urban design strategies in Pittsburgh

Not since the 1950’s CIAM Urbanists has there been such concern for urbanism and community as prevails today. The new century is seeking improved amenity, access, quality and beauty in our urban environments; whilst towns and cities, evolving structures, complex and unique, rich in tradition and innovation, have become the advocacy of politicians and princes, business interests and communities.

A view of Urbanism reflecting history, tradition, modernism, and civic and public space design, as the central concerns in the planning and design of towns and cities; a view of Community reflecting social policy and its role in the design and management of urban environments and communities; urban design as three dimensional social policy. The spatial scale of the city; the spatial scale at which human experience understands place, space and form; the spatial scale in which built form and movement systems become visibly integrated; and the spatial scale through which strategic overviews of function, form and future are best developed, is the new datum.

New techniques in drawing and evaluation, makes it possible to simultaneously describe environmental, economic and social characteristics which can advise policy-making. This response to emerging social and political concerns about cities and city life have led to the development of new found processes in architectural and urban design methodology, which are beginning to change the ways in which we understand the city, negotiate community interests, devise policies, and make plans.

 Urban Renaissance : Urban Design … three dimensional social policy

Urban Renaissance : Policy and Urban Design … three dimensional social policy

We can now draw through the making of economic projections, the packaging and designing of new developments, negotiate finance and partnerships, provide guide-lines for conservation and renewal programs, which bring together community interests with those of the public and private sectors and generate architectural and urban design programs based upon established consensus; urban design as three dimensional social policy.

The implications for practice and educational are profound, providing a new focus in urbanism and a view of the city which promotes common interest and inter-disciplinary working, expanding traditional roles through a growing awareness of and concern for localism and community oriented issues; recognizing buildings, towns and cities as living organisms whose lifeblood is a sense of identity enhanced through community involvement, public art, culture, tradition, and aspirations for the future; plan-making not based merely upon simplified and zoned structures or discreet and isolated sites let for architectural experimentation, but through a view of buildings, towns and cities as evolving places, essentially complex, unique and rich in tradition, local character and quality.

The emergence of multi and interdisciplinary skills which develop common interest in the public role of architecture and urban design, particularly through urban renaissance and regeneration, civic space design, and community planning, has been welcome. These new skills however promise greater potential than has so far been delivered. The development of integrated urban design and social policy programs, related economic proxy, and the preparation of regional and urban patterns as models and codes for growth and change, are areas for research and innovation yet to be delivered.