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The Role of Placemaking in the 21st Century

For years, architects, planners, researchers and builders have tried to define how we shape our landscape to create better spaces. The concept of placemaking – the shaping and transforming public spaces – is not new.


Since the 1970s, placemaking has been finding itself part of the conversation. It might not have been called placemaking, but the resounding need for public spaces to be more sociable, safe and enjoyed by the community was certainly present.

As changing lifestyles, technology and economic conditions dictate the look, feel, colour, shape, textures and materials used to create spaces, there is now evidence that shows the interest in topics such as placemaking, multi use spaces and water management is growing. A focus on wellbeing and a better understanding of environmental impact is leading to a need for town and city planning to support placemaking.

Placemaking is about making great places to live, visit, work and enjoy. Creating a bridge between the urban and the natural world, harnessing the knowledge we have on our environmental footprint and creating spaces that enable communities to thrive. Research shows that healthy placemaking in the built environment can have a positive impact on people and communities however there are barriers. These barriers, whether real or perceived, can hamper the placemaking process – cost, lack of data, lack of collaboration, lack of knowledge, or a general lack of understanding of what placemaking is and its potential for positive impact.

Done well, placemaking can help shape a community, strengthen social cohesion and contribute to the health and wellbeing of all. Furthermore, well-considered placemaking can boost the local economy as it draws more people to an area. However with an uncertain economic outlook in the UK, it can be safe to say that councils and planners will continue to face the pressure of delivering projects under increasing financial scrutiny. The key is to somehow achieve placemaking objectives amongst financial constraints, environmental concerns and community voices.

Placemaking is an opportunity for landscape architects, designers and engineers to shape the future of the built environment and influence conversations about how materials and the use of space can create high-quality environments that work for all stakeholders. Given the variety of purposes that successful spaces have to fulfil – and the diversity of the people who will benefit from them – placemaking has huge potential for innovative design approaches.

In order to create better spaces for everybody, it is crucial to look at urban planning socially, environmentally and economically. Placemaking brings those elements together in forging a better landscape, but one that functions at the heart of the community.

There is no doubt that placemaking is the way forward for landscaping. It is important to understand how placemaking works for a 21st century environment.

People need to feel protected and safe. A great place has to serve different purposes, but respect its heritage and identity. Accessibility for all means for all – able pedestrians and those with impairments, cyclists, road users – with links to public transport and existing networks. Understanding placemaking is also about understanding the world around us and that means climate change. Water management and urban drainage solutions must appear alongside aesthetic features that bring enjoyment to users.

Placemaking asks that we respect our heritage and the environment, provide for the present needs of our communities, do so with integrity and care, whilst creating a great place for the future.

Exhibition Road, London

  • Exhibition Road is one of London’s most high profile streets. Over time, it had become inefficient, dominated by traffic with narrow, crowded pavements and street clutter. A complete redesign was needed to improve the infrastructure and access to facilities.
  • The street is now clutter free and visually appealing, with Yorkstone paving and Granite setts creating the diagrid crisscross paving pattern and giving the street its unique visual identity. The flow of pedestrians is better enabled and there is easy passage from public transport. Two continuous near drainage channels, including bespoke cast iron tops, provide drainage solutions. A multifunction street lighting concept, including 28 bespoke tapering steel lighting masts, which is coordinated with street furniture range, has led to increased feelings of security.

Aldgate Square, London

  • Designed to remove barriers between communities, Aldgate Square is now the first public space for the area’s multicultural residents and one of the largest public spaces in the Square Mile. It was created in response to the Mayor’s transport strategy which sets out a long term ambition to create more beautiful, accessible and people friendly streets across London that everyone can enjoy spending time and being active.
  • Natural stone paving in muted grey and brown tones enhance a feeling of openness. Slip resistant Yorkstone granite seating units create a centrepiece, allowing a large area for residents and visitors to congregate.
  • Flags, setts, steps and wall cladding were all used to great effect to create a harmonious aesthetic and generate a calming social space.

DeMontford University, Leicester

  • Landscape design has helped to support the idea of multi spaced areas and the skilful use of product and light has added vibrancy to the space.
  • Multi use range of paving products were used to create different textures within the landscape which help to delineate multi use spaces. Sustainable drainage was provided by water management solutions.
  • The space was designed to help encourage collaboration to create blurring boundaries within the public space, making it ideal for the growing population and satisfying the diversity of needs.

Oldham Town Centre, Oldham

  • Architectural features were retained during the redevelopment of Oldham’s Grade II listed Old Town Hall, whilst allowing the building a new use of incorporating cinema screens and leisure facilities.
  • A newly pedestrianised square houses bespoke Prospero Granite planters and seating to enable social interaction within the space. A mixture of setts, tactile units, steps and cladded planters in Scoutmoor Yorkstone facilitated a cohesive external landscape in the space.
  • The hard landscaping on the scheme was selected to coordinate with the existing colour tones and heritage of the original Town Hall building, while the new natural stone planters and seating areas were chosen to contrast and pick out elements of the more modern extension.

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