Urban Designers – what is it that they do?

For me, being an Urban Designer means developing a flexible outlook and a broad skill set to solve problems, but masterplanning is often the service we provide to our clients.  This might involve the ability to set out and guide a positive vision for a development through the planning process, working together with stakeholders, local authorities and communities. This can also include gathering information, generating a development concept, presenting, quantifying development proposals and mediating with others to achieve some consensus – so pretty varied! The urban part can be misconstrued and can encompasses suburban and urban areas, anything from a canal-side or street environment to a new neighbourhood or settlement; it’s all about making places for people.

Why did you join Barton Willmore?

It’s not very often you get the chance to help build a new design team in Manchester, the opportunity arose and I jumped at it.

There is a growing market in the North West, particularly residential and it is a great place to be right now. In fact, last time I checked, it was the only UK city ranked in the top 50 most liveable cities in the world. Manchester has an evolving identity and people want to live and work here, where better to be involved in place making?

In addition to this Barton Willmore also has 11 offices nationwide which enables us to research and share experience on big topics like Garden Cities and devolution. There is a desire to help set the agenda, to take a stance and then positively influence on a local level.

What has been an interesting project to work on?

I have picked two. The first is work that has learned from the company’s recent Wolfson Economics Prize submission, which is being applied locally to investigate sites and opportunities in the North West. My previous boss used to say that urban design is not just what happens within the redline boundary, urban designers (together with others) can help uncover the best location, scale and type of development. It’s been a great opportunity to work with others across Barton Willmore, including planning, research, landscape and GIS teams

At the other end of the spectrum, brownfield regeneration opportunities such as Rishton Canalside SPD has been a good experience, working with local residents, businesses and community groups to generate a vision and guiding principles for change along the canalside. This is a place that has a proud heritage but aspires to move forward. It is still very much about recognising that the people make the place and that some well targeted regeneration can hopefully unlock a great development opportunity.

Describe a typical working day?

Following my cycle in to work and the usual email check, I try to start with a core piece of design work. I use a variety of 2D and 3D design software but the drawing board is still important. Then it’s usually getting down to working towards the next client presentation, design document or public consultation. Getting out on site and attending client meetings also breaks up office time and we have a weekly video conference with designers in other offices to ensure we are all well resourced.

What are your ambitions for the next 12 months?

To grow our Manchester Design Team and continue to meet new contacts and develop opportunities to add to and improve our everyday places across the region; be it new housing, employment areas or regeneration sites.

What is the best thing about being an urban designer?

For me it is discovering places; visiting them, getting to know their history, environment and how they work for the people who use them. It is a positive profession that creates visions for change and creates opportunity for our developer clients, benefiting the places we live and work in.

What will be the biggest change/challenge in urban design over the next 5/10 years?

Political and economic forces mean that urban design must continue to be responsive and flexible to help make projects happen. The reason designers are employed is to make the most of the resources available so a high value scheme reaches its full potential and a lower value scheme is more than the sum of its parts, whilst perhaps not having all the trimmings. Urban design is first and foremost about fundamentals; however, sometimes the rules are there to be broken – which can be fun too!


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