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Archive for March, 2013

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Planning and planning permissions are important. Free for all’s have created problems in the past. But surely in the case of this story of a creative young couple Charlie Hague and Megan Williams being resourceful and in creating a cost effective sustainable and certainly not ugly home. Common sense must prevail and they be granted retrospective planning permission. Lets make our voices heard. We need more homes, we need more self builds, we need more young people being creative about homesteading, we need sustainable solutions.

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Fit Cities – March 2013

Last week I chaired a panel session at a conference organised by The Mayor’s Office. This from the Urbanista.org website kind of sums it up.

The event builds on the highly successful annual Fit City conferences held in New York staged by the Centre for Active Design, and look at the integration of urban design and health boosting activities in helping to prevent diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Speakers include James Corner, the landscape architect, founder of director of james corner field operations, on their design for the South Plaza of the Olympic Park, Bob Allies, Partner, Allies and Morrison, on the legacy masterplan, David Burney, Commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction, City of New York, Karen Lee, Centre for Active Design, New York, Kathryn Firth, Chief of Design, London Legacy Development Corporation, City of New York, and Russell Jones, Glasgow City Council, on the city’s forthcoming Commonwealth Games.

The event will feature talks about the plans being developed for the 2016 Rio Olympics from a health perspective and the Sochi Winter Olympics, and Canada’s design and health practices, culminating in a panel chaired by designer Wayne Hemingway with representatives from the NHS, Public Health England and the GLA.”

I’m someone who loves walking, running and cycling in cities. I am all up for initiatives that encourage our towns and cities to be more focused on walking and cycling. I also applaud the fact that the importance of green space in our cities is recognised.

There were many interesting things discussed; stairs were one discussion point and one thing that always gets my goat is buildings that make using the stairs so difficult. I much prefer using stairs and have lost count of the times that I have been in a hotel and wanted to use the stairs and either have not been able to find them or have found them and ended up only being able to reach the fire assembly point rather than the reception.

I am a regular visitor to The John Lewis HQ in Victoria and the queues for the lift can be frustrating, whilst the stairs are like a maze and only go to certain floors.

Why can’t stairs be a design feature, they can be beautiful!

Another was a talk about designing streets and encouraging land use that takes you on a voyage of discovery and encourages walking and cycling as a form of exploration. I’m all for that and all ties in with that High St / Town Centre debate that is raging right now.

To achieve fit and active cities we do have to see a major shift in public attitude. As long as the car lobby remains so strong and pedestrians and cyclists are seen as second class citizens then things won’t improve quick enough. Why can’t politicians say it like it is, those that use cars for unnecessary journeys in cities are the second class citizens being lazy, more likely to be overweight and unhealthy, and more likely to cost society more in terms of health costs (from damage to themselves and others) are environmentally unsustainable and selfish!

The ‘public attitude’ situation was best summed up by my experience getting to the conference at The Hackney Marshes Centre. Contrary to the advice in the ‘joining instructions’ from the Conference organisers (which was to take a taxi to the Fit Cities conference?), I traveled on the Central Line to Leyton and planned to walk from there. Looking at the maps on my phone, I guessed it was about a mile. I set off past Asda and wondered if I could walk through the Asda car park to cut a corner out. There was a policeman outside Asda, so just like my mum advised me to; I decided to ‘ask a policeman’. He asked me where I was heading for:

“Hackney Marshes Centre” I said.

“You can’t walk there” he replied.

“Why? “ I asked

“It’s a long long way” he said.

“It can’t be much more than a mile can it?” I asked.

“It depends how fast you walk” was his deadpan answer.

I walked at a medium pace, took in the sights of the Olympic Park. It was 1.3 miles and took me 19 minutes and 36 seconds.

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At HemingwayDesign we have a philosophy that ‘design is about improving things that matter in life’. This is pretty obviously the case when it comes to designing a housing development but we try and take this philosophy through to less obviously profound projects such as designing wallpaper. The fact that our wallpaper is manufactured in Blackburn (a town that needs all the employment opportunities it can get), with a manufacturer, Graham & Brown, who supports great causes in the town and understand the value of investment in sustainable practices is all part of the design process. Then we add the layers of working on colour and pattern that lift the spirit and have longevity in appeal. We take a forensic approach to many of our projects and don’t consider design any differently to science in terms of be painstaking in turning over every stone to achieve a result. More time is spent on design thinking than the actual drawing or artwork.

In 2005 Dr Hilary Cottom of the Design Council won the Designer of The Year Award and boy did it because a stir culminating in ‘shock horror’ here was a ‘public sector design reformer’ who didn’t sit all day drawing but rather sat thinking?

Dezeen reported “There is no Designer of the Year in its previous format”, said a Design Museum spokesperson. “The format is being rethought and developed at the moment, and we will relaunch later in 2007, but there will be no accompanying exhibition.”

Controversy dogged the award in 2005, when it was won by ‘public sector design reformer’ Hilary Cottam who developed innovative procurement methods for schools and prisons but who, by her own admission, was not a designer. The ensuing row is thought to have contributed to Rawsthorn’s departure from the museum in early 2006.

Just prior to this James Dyson had resigned from the board at The Design Museum telling the press that the museum was ‘no longer true to its original vision’.

What Dr Cottam and the Design Council were pioneering was ‘transformational design’. They were looking to address complicated problems in the health service and schools to determine how design thinking and design techniques could help government and public bodies. The belief was that you can design shorter waiting lists. I would argue that this is every bit as important as innovation in vacuum cleaner technology.
In interviews and when I do talks I often get asked what do I consider to be Gerardine and I’s greatest design. I always go back to a meeting in 2000 when we demonstrated how our philosophy to put the landscape thinking before the design of the housing on our first housing development. The Staiths, South Bank in Gateshead paid such dividends to the liveability of the project.

We drew on our own experience of an active outdoors childhood and the joy that we were having with our children through being fortunate enough to be able to afford a large garden to make the bold statement of designing the play and recreation spaces before designing the houses. This nearly got us kicked off the project; Wimpey hadn’t heard anything like it. One of the first things at The Staiths we wanted to do was to build play areas that were challenging, creative and far more exciting than a few chickens on springs and a ‘health and safety’ approved climbing frame. We showed the council play officer an example of an exciting play area that we had come across in a wonderful development in Freiberg, Germany made simply from old trees that were left in their natural state for kids to balance on and a generous helping of sand. We wanted play areas to encourage ‘free range kids’. I remember the council saying that they loved our concept of ‘free range kids’ but couldn’t countenance a play area with sand all over the ground. This wasn’t about the danger of dogs and cats soiling the sand but another very strange reason was given. The council play officer proceeded to say that, “babies will crawl around the sand and eat it”. To which I replied, “but that isn’t a problem as we can replace it, sand is only £1.99 a bag at the local DIY store”. I then proceeded to search on the web for ‘Child eats sand and dies’. Try it, it’s not something that throws up any obvious returns, but common sense had already told me that and it was this use of common sense that allowed us to proceed with our vision of a housing estate led by ‘place’ and not architecture.

So it was heartening to read this weekend a couple of pieces discussing design maturely and delving into the science of design. The ‘Saving of Good Design’ piece in the International Edition of The New York Times (*1) included the following observations.

“A thoughtfully designed building, a well-engineered car or a beautifully decorated home can all stimulate the pleasure centres in our brains. We’re also drawn to certain colours and shapes, though for a long time we weren’t sure why. 

German researchers found last year that the colour green can motivate us and make us more creative. We associate verdant colours with food-bearing vegetation – hues that promise nourishment Windows that look out on landscapes facilitate patient recovery in hospitals, student learning in classrooms and worker productivity in offices. Another revelation scientists discovered is based on simple geometry, in the shape of a “golden rectangle.” Subtract a square from a golden rectangle, and what remains is another golden rectangle, and so on and so on. Some of the most beloved designs in history follow the golden rectangle’s 5-by-8 proportions: the facades of the Parthenon and Notre Dame, the face of the Mona Lisa, the Stradivarius violin and the original iPod.

Now we are closer to understanding why: a scientist at Duke University in North Carolina found that our eyes can scan an image fastest when its proportions mimic the golden rectangle.

There is also growing evidence that smart design can reduce aberrant behaviour. Psychiatric hospitals try to identify patients who may be aggressive and train staff to reduce violent incidents. But these approaches are not enough, as the number of aggressive events in care facilities appears to be increasing, Roger Ulrich, a professor of architecture in Sweden, reported in The Times. Research suggests that hospitals can be designed to reduce violence and these adaptations do not cost significantly more money.

A psychiatric hospital in Gothenburg that opened in 2006 incorporated spaces that minimize noise and crowding, shared rooms with movable seating to give patients control over their space, and offered more natural light. It reported significantly fewer aggressive incidents, Professor Ulrich reported. 

Evidence from myriad studies and design research strongly supports the notion that architectural design can reduce violence.”

He wrote an article in The Independent on the 24th March, ‘Shopping? It’s all in the gender’ (*2) which contained some real scientific and analytical design thinking.

“A ray of hope has broken through the pall hanging over the country’s high streets; with a leading retail academic believing she has the formula for success: the problem is men and the solution is women.

Gloria Moss, reader in management and marketing at Buckinghamshire New University, says that the answer is simple: women are responsible for 83 per cent of all shopping purchases, and high streets simply have to acknowledge this. Dr Moss, who has been researching gender habits for more than 18 years, says her work shows that many shops are designed by men who don’t give enough thought to women and ignore the fact that they hold the lion’s share of buying power. According to her research, women buy 93 per cent of all groceries, 92 per cent of the holidays and 96 per cent of beauty products. Perhaps surprisingly, she has found that women buy 60 per cent of all new cars and 55 per cent of home computers.

Mary Portas was brought in a little over a year ago to recommend solutions and she produced a longlist of 28,” Dr Moss said. “Not one of these refers to one of the most obvious facts about town shopping: the bulk of it is done by women.” Dr Moss adds that women’s shopping preferences are often poles apart from those of men, who tend to dictate retail and local and national government policy. Based on her data, she conducted experiments on how high-street shops could use this information to their advantage. “In experiment after experiment, my studies have shown that women prefer graphic online and retail interiors designed by women, with distinguishing features being the use of circular lines, colour, decorative surfaces and informality, while men prefer the spare, dark, straight-sided and modernist look.

Dr Moss believes many shops are designed by men and the interiors reflect male aesthetics. “In terms of the shops themselves, many retailers could benefit from an understanding of male and female design aesthetics. A new science uncovering major differences in male and female perception, hardwired since hunter-gatherer days, shows ‘he’ likes straight lines, few colours and little detail; and ‘she’ likes rounded shapes, lots of details and colours. If high-street shops can crack this one, they would have an enormous edge over anonymous out-of-town shops.”

Quite clearly this is not going to solve the problems that are dogging many British high streets; the problems go much deeper than that. In many ways Dr Moss’s arguments are about aesthetics and could possibly go further and investigate whether the differences between female and male sociability are being fully addressed in our high streets. But it does point to a forensic and analytical approach that designers can use to starting to address big issues and again, almost a decade on from Dr Hilary Cottom and The Design Councils approach to Healthcare and Schools design, in the case of Dr Moss, it’s not coming from a designer.

(*1) http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/sunday/2013-03/24/content_16340304.htm
(*2) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/shopping-its-all-in-the-gender-8547059.html

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David Bowie Is

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Gerardine and I went to the V&A opening of the ‘David Bowie Is‘ exhibition yesterday evening. Unlike so many of these events, whilst there were big names a plenty, everyone was looking at one thing…possibly the most stimulating and stunning exhibitions many of us have been to.

The curation by Geoffrey Marsh and the audio visuals by Fifty Nine Productions (the people behind the Olympic Opening Ceremony visuals) whom have raised the bar for exhibition design – although I suppose it helps when you have content of this calibre!

To hoarders and collectors like us the content is mind blowing. From images of Bowie as teenage Ted meets Mod in The Kon-Rads. That poster of him at the bottom of the bill to T Rex, Roy Harper and John Peel at the Royal Festival Hall, those hand written lyrics with the words changed, to that footage and THOSE stage outfits all put in brilliant context.

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Just go and plan to stay for hours. To Gerardine and I it proved beyond doubt that Bowie is THE coolest most evocative rock star ever. There is no other act, performer or band whose life and career could produce an exhibition as rich as this.

Bowie changed my life at the Aladdin Sane tour in 1973. Whilst making me sad that I can’t live it all again, the quality, attention to detail and the desire to break boundaries from this man and the exhibition has filled me with inspiration and energy at my desk this morning.

Don’t miss this. Even though it’s just about sold out we have heard that they are keeping back tickets.

We salute you David Bowie and the V&A team.

Read the great review by Simon Price here: The Quietus

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I was asked to take part in a debate about the future of business at the annual British Chambers of Commerce Conference at Central Hall Westminster last week and to give my view of what business needs to be looking at to get through the downturn and thrive. 

There was so much I could say, but I decided to concentrate on the concept of business concentrating on the simple things and thinking about what makes people happy and what makes places liveable. We are in times where many are thinking of getting through tough economic situations and it surely makes sense to concentrate on the basics.

Here are my notes, I thought I would share them with you and I hope to return to them at some stage.

What are the major contributors to quality of life? Stimulating and rewarding employment, decent desirable affordable homes, access to leisure, decent education and ability to enjoy a stimulating social life and being able to feel that you are in touch with keep up an evolving world. Little has changed since time immemorial. 

Humans have ideas and they like making these ideas come to life, they like selling them to other humans.

The UK is a country full of creative ideas, but the people who are full of these creative ideas need affordable opportunities to sell. Much of the affordable entry points that were around when I started out in the 80s have been bought by pension funds and many of these wont deal with start ups. A radical solution would be to force Pension Fund landlords to have a percentage compliment of start ups (without financial backing and guarantees) in their portfolios.

Where are the start up opportunities today? Where are the Kensington Markets of today? The internet doesn’t fully replace that – so much is learnt from seeing the whites of customer’s eyes. You can’t get that from the internet.

So much of the manufacturing that we could access back in the early 80s is no longer on our doorstep and manufacturing in China is too big a barrier for many start ups. We need to bring it home. Back when we started out, we could make all our footwear in the UK. Try doing that today. It would have been a step too far for us to manufacture in China.

Today with security of supply from China proving difficult as they cater for their growing middle classes isn’t it time that UK retailers really got behind UK manufacturers rather than hitting them with cut throat terms based on knowledge that manufacturing order books are down. Isn’t it about time that we stopped kicking ourselves in the shin in this respect?

Having said that, we come across UK manufacturers who cannot see opportunity and are afraid of innovation, here is where there is some education to do. 

For most a happy life involves decent desirable affordable homes in accessible locations with access to leisure and social opportunities. We all know how far we have and are, falling behind on this, building around 100,000 homes a year when we need 300,000 at least, and often building unsuitable ones in crap locations. 

Most importantly have we got leaders who keep up with a fast moving world and who drive for quality in ensuring the above is met and bench marked against rest of UK and the rest of the world? I am not just talking about the political leaders from Whitehall but the local councilors who represent local communities. My experience is of well meaning, decent folk who are either at or approaching retirement age. How can they hope to fully understand the way a 16 year old wants to enjoy their life? We desperately need to come up with a way whereby those in their 20s, 30s and 40s feel they want to and can participate in local politics at times when they are building their careers, paying their mortgage and bringing up a family.

Is regeneration money being spent sensibly? Should more be spent on encouraging creative sorts to move into an area? The history of regeneration money being foisted on areas that are suffering is not that rosy. Conversely the once downtrodden areas that are colonised by the creative community often become thriving, productive areas relatively. Don’t throw gentrification back at me. Look at the reality.

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