Archive for August, 2014

Return To Boscombe Overstrand
Queuing to get into Urban Reef

It takes guts to stick your neck out and be brave in a regeneration scheme especially, as is often the case, when there is barrage of dissent coming from the naysayers. Gerardine and I recently returned to Boscombe to see how the Boscombe Overstand project was maturing. It was cool, showery end of summer day and yet the place was buzzing. The Overstrand was looking great, there were families on the balconies, queues to get into the Urban Reef cafe, the beach was hosting a volley ball tournament, and the sea alive with water sports. What is more it looks as if the artificial surf reef has been repaired and come the autumn will be something that surfers can enjoy and the naysayers can again gain valuable publicity for the town by repeating their idiotic “what a waste of taxpayers’ money” mantra.

Bournemouth Council should be applauded for allowing us to bring the wonderful mid-century Overstrand back to life (after being derelict for 17 years) and not backing down in the face of a barrage of cries to demolish it.

They should be applauded for believing in Boscombe and not cowering down to those that said this part of Bournemouth was a basket case and should come way down the priorities.

The Friends of Boscombe Pier who fought long and hard to get people to understand that there is value in a pier that didn’t fit the Victorian pier stereotype are being richly rewarded by seeing a sympathetically renovated mid-century pier that the public love.

The owner of The Urban Reef café is clearly being rewarded for investing in design.

Return To Boscombe Overstrand

Bournemouth Council’s brave and incredibly generous backing of the Europe’s only artificial surf reefmust have given some many of those who supported the scheme many sleepless nights as some of the media, councillors and the public laid into them. As the reef didn’t perform as promised and then got damaged by a boat and the New Zealand engineers and installers went into liquidation it must have been a very tough time for all those involved. But the sector of the public who respond to bravery and respect those that stick their neck out flocked to Boscombe and were and are much more tolerant than the naysayers and lead thousands of folk back to those golden beaches. 

Return To Boscombe Overstrand
Boscombe seafront has come back to life

Even if the reef just washed away, even if the Boscombe Overstand beach huts took 25 years to pay back the publicity generated by great design and positive risk taking and public sector generosity has yet again paid off.


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I wrote about generous design back in June on the Design Council website http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/news-opinion/5-world-s-most-generous-public-spaces-wayne-hemingway and one thing that definitely goes hand in hand with “generosity” in the public realm is “trust”. There is a great deal of well-placed trust in Copenhagen Baths, where people are trusted not to drink the canal water and are trusted to behave responsibly.

Time To Trust    Aug 2014

I am a great believer that if you trust humans to do the right thing that the vast majority of times we do the right thing. Yet time and time again we are denied “trust”. I remember the early days of CABE (Commission for the Built Environment) when we were out taking pictures like this:

Time To Trust    Aug 2014

Suggesting that we replace signs like the above with these:

Time To Trust    Aug 2014

Wherever I go I see a lack of trust, from mind numbingly stupid signs like this in Minehead: 

Time To Trust    Aug 2014

Say No to Strangers what’s that all about? It basically says “every person you haven’t met before has a decent chance of doing something wrong to you”. Do we want a generation that are inward looking, only interacting with people they have met before? 

It is this lack of trust that delivers absolutely boring (but very amusing in a “how ridiculous” way) springy chicken play areas.

Time To Trust    Aug 2014

And it’s a lack of trust that often prevents amazing “adventure” landscapes being built like the one that surrounded Queens Park Flats where I lived in Blackburn in the late 60s & early 70s. Here the generosity of an American landscape designer and the trust from Blackburn Council delivered a dream of an environment where we would clamber over the concrete running along the stream and “bomb” down that curly slide.

Time To Trust    Aug 2014

I was on my way into Euston Station a few weeks ago, it was another one of those lovely early summer days that characterised London this June and people were spilling out of the station and finding every space they could to sit and enjoy the warmth. There is a recently refurbished office tower with an inviting low wall around it, perfect to perch with a smoothie, if it were not fitted with so called “anti-homeless spikes”. 

Time To Trust    Aug 2014

Shouldn’t these be called “anti-humanity” spikes?

For more reading on this phenomenon of hostile architecture see:http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jun/13/anti-homeless-spikes-hostile-architecture

And for details of “people power” in getting some of these spikes removed from central London see:


And look at the rubbish this company manufactures and the wording they use: 

http://www.niklsonecall.com/anti-skateboarding-guards/ and this: http://www.kentstainless.co.uk/our-products/stainless-steel-street-furniture/studs/kent-spike-stud

When we were designing our first housing project The Staiths South Bank in Gateshead, we proposed having an outdoor table tennis table in one of the first streets that was being built. We were told that it would be trashed within weeks. We argued that if you are generous and put trust in folk then you may just get repaid. Eleven years later the same table tennis table is well used but strong and healthy.

Time To Trust    Aug 2014

At the Staiths we also had the idea to “gift” communal barbeques in all the pocket parks across the development. 

Time To Trust    Aug 2014

We were told by a local councillor that this was a foolish idea as the local hoodlums would barbque resident’s cats! We sent them this photoshopped image below and continued with our trusting of the od folk of Dunston, Gateshead. We have heard no reports of barbequed cats.

Time To Trust    Aug 2014

But the Arts Council, when researching why the Staiths was so successful and popular did name the report after a general them that ran through the response from residents who respected the trust we were putting in them.

Time To Trust    Aug 2014

It’s time to trust and design “in” not design out”.

Further reading: 



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Remarkable examples of beautiful and truly generous design are popping up all around the world. By generous, I mean places designed for people to use, enjoy and improve – at no cost and for no profit.  Here are five examples of which I am a big fan.

1. Copenhagen Harbour Baths, Denmark

I first visited the harbour baths when they opened in 2002. To this day I would still say that they are the single greatest example of generous and intelligent design anywhere in the world.  

The baths form part of Copenhagen harbour and are in water that only 15 years ago was so heavily polluted with sewage, algae, oil spills and industrial waste that it posed a tremendous health risk. Today, after extensive work on behalf of Copenhagen municipality, the water is clean for swimming and the harbour hosts five pools, two of which are for children, and three diving areas, catering for more than 600 people at any one time. On the bank, umbrellas and chairs have turned the area into a city centre beach. This is a remarkable area filled with leisure activities for all age groups.

 This is clearly not a PR stunt. This is magnificent generous design at work.  It has allowed people to colonise this once harbour area and make it one of the most popular spots in the city. I think it has been so successful and affective for four reasons:

1. It is different, edgy and it breaks the rules. Swimming in a harbour? With big ships? Open to hundreds of people at one time and unguarded diving boards! It is exciting and inviting and you know if you lived there you would have to have a go. 

2. The design is both beautiful and unique. Clearly, the function of a public bath would always be popular, but take a look it at. People cannot stop photographing it; social media pages and photo sites are filled with pictures taken from every angle. The look of it means people want to share their experience of being there and to talk about it.  Given nowadays many live by Twitter and Instagram, the baths do as good as any job in getting a place in front of people. Fantastic promotion.

3. It is not overly policed. The signs are ‘swim at your own risk’. You get to make your own decision. How liberating is that? Can you imagine this in a canal or somewhere in the UK? Health and safety alone would heavily alter it. Tight rules and restrictions are not part of the game here. Just enjoy yourselves.

4. It is free.  It’s genuinely for everyone. 

And, I should add, it cost just over £0.5m. It is staggering what can be achieved for what is, comparatively, an affordable amount for most cities. These baths have been so popular that another one just like them was opened at nearby Amager Strand Beach in January this year. This is place people want to copy. It is replicable because it works.  Just remarkable. 

2. Magdeburg Library, Germany 

Magdeburg, Germany, hosts an open air 24-hour free library. To do something so interesting in a city that is not a capital is really special. The rest of the story is even more interesting.

The industrial city was once part of East Germany and since reunification its city centre has had trouble recovering, with commercial vacancy rates approaching 80%. An extraordinary effort was made to create this open-air library after interest was expressed by residents, and it is remarkable that they pulled it off.

The library, designed by Karo architects, was initially assembled as a 1:1 scale made out of donated beer crates to demonstrate to potential supporters that the library could work. The community then raised enough money to build it. This is not just about an open-space library – it is also completely accessible to everyone. No registration is required. The 70,000 books available are borrowed on an honour system and it is staffed during the day by volunteers.

To do things like this, you have to give people the benefit of the doubt. And if you do, people will respond positively. In this case the benefit of being created by the community really works. The design and the place is so impressive and shows how simple it can be to offer something extraordinary to everyone.

3. Merida Youth Factory, Spain

The scale of this project in Spain is mind blowing. Described as ‘less a junky jungle gym and more a creative community centre’, the array of activities on offer is staggering, ranging from rock climbing to dancing. A skate park winds through the plazas connecting the buildings (almost all the ground is actually skateable), and there is a concert stage, lessons in street art lessons, circus training and, if you head indoors, music and dance.  And the whole place has Wi-Fi.  Have you ever seen anything like it?

This is such a draw for kids of all ages. The design is just brilliant – modern, vibrant and fresh. 
I am particularly enamoured with the approach towards skating. It really feels like it has been designed by people who know what skaters want. There are no assumptions and most importantly of all it is also not tucked away in a car park or somewhere the public cannot see. The message is that skating should be promoted, exposed and watched.  
Equally, it’s not just about skating. The activities are for all ages, interests and skills. The place itself is so colourful and open (designed inside out) it stops it turning into something shady or dangerous.  This is as good as it gets –  a purpose built modern version of a youth club.  

4. Stormwater pipes, India

This installation in India feels so right for the area it inhabits. Stormwater pipes are a common sight through cities in India. In Surat architect and designer urfun lab had an ingenious idea of covering one end of the pipes with coloured cellophane. When the evening sun filters through, beautiful and colourful patters are cast.  
It is an innovative and cheap way to create interesting design. The pipes are so visually exciting that people want to explore and create. It is as simple as it gets. 
Indians are often very good at upcycling and this is another example of that approach to improving something and giving it a whole new meaning.  It needs only the smallest budget – and some creative thinking. 

5. Blackpool Comedy Carpet, UK

Created by artist Gordon Young, and designed in collaboration with Why Not Associates, the Blackpool Comedy Carpet is a celebration of comedy on an extraordinary scale. Referring to the work of more than 1,000 comedians and comedy writers, the carpet gives visual form to jokes, songs and catchphrases dating from the early days of variety to the present. Sited in front of Blackpool Tower, the 2,200m2 work of art contains more than 160,000 granite letters embedded into concrete, pushing the boundaries of public art and typography to their limits.

A remarkable homage to those who have made the nation laugh, it is also a stage that celebrates entertainment itself.

More than anything else, I love how many mentions I have seen in the press. If there is one thing Blackpool needs, it is positive press. 
This is urban design and art in the landscape working together in a seamless and perfect fashion. It celebrates kitsch, history and modernity, and has something for all tastes.

Visitors love the Comedy Carpet and they cannot stop photographing it and talking about it. Just look it up on Twitter or flickr or Google images, it is staggering how many images you’ll see. Bingo – success. 

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