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City building: the key questions

Margot Adelle Orr | 25 Sep 2015 | Comments

I lead multidisciplinary masterplan projects that focus on the development of large-scale mixed-use sites which often include residential units, offices, retail and leisure facilities, and community infrastructure. My team’s input involves establishing the project vision, urban design, planning, environmental assessments, economics, engineering and programme management; ultimately leading to the delivery of fully functional pieces of the city. Through our experience designing and delivering this type of complex development, we have identified the key questions and techniques that result in long-lasting and commercially viable projects.

The act of City Building is the single most important objective of development. Genuine City Building happens when development (big or small) integrates with the city in which it is built and both experience mutual benefit.

However, development is often simply delivered where there is demand, without rigorous understanding of how the resulting buildings and infrastructure will affect the city. Haphazard development of this sort misses a significant opportunity and puts the city at risk, even though it may seem perfectly reasonable at the time. For example, if the long term needs of the city are not considered when development sites are selected, the city may end up with occupied family homes on a site that is needed in the future for an important public transit route. In this situation, the city has to either displace established families or limit future public transit provision. Neither is a good option. BUT if we are able to think strategically and ask the right questions when developing, growth can be long-lasting, equitable and contribute significantly to the city.

The biggest secret of the development industry is that:

The questions are always the same.
The answers are always unique.

Some areas that designers, planners and engineers must consider with every development are:

  • innovations that are locally appropriate
  • how to keep the city moving (physically and economically)
  • who will use the development
  • where will the power come from.

When we ask these questions every time we plan, design and implement, we do not simply construct isolated development projects but rather we build pieces of the engine that is the city.

This is City Building.

The key questions answered by City Building are:

  • Economics: How to maximise benefit and minimise risk?
  • Land use mix: What kind of programme is most viable?
  • Delivery: When is the time right?
  • Scale: How big is big?
  • Identity: What makes an impact?
  • Memory: Why do people visit, stay and remember?
  • People: Who are we designing for?
  • Reinvention: How do we accommodate growth?
  • Empowerment: How freely can we move about?
  • Regeneration: Should we start from scratch or restore?
  • Adaptability: How do we live in an old city?
  • Efficiency: How do we connect people with people?
  • Infrastructure: How much do we need?
  • Resources: Where do we plug in?
  • Future proofing: How do we plan for changes in lifestyle and climate?

Stay tuned for future angles articles that use our most innovative projects to address the topics noted above.

Image is of Earth, scaled by population and illuminated by cities by Benjamin Henning