Does design have any role in planning?
Absolutely! If planning pioneer Thomas Sharp had been asked the same question he would have replied ‘planning is design’. Now, few practitioners would respond so definitely, because the planning system has expanded its function along socio-economic lines and shifted from its design-orientated origins, responding to charges of physical determinism. Sadly, defining, judging and realising design quality through the system can be contentious, with design trivialised as a tasteful façade or aesthetic control, and sacrificed to achieve more easily measured planning objectives. Only a brave planner would hold out for better quality if a deliverable scheme presents itself.
Reconceiving planning as design may begin tackle the false division between plan-making and plan-implementation. Metropolitan Workshop’s proposal at Roding Lane in Redbridge, springs to mind as an example of how the design process in the hands of skilled architects and planning consultants can interrogate planning policy to reveal an apparently undevelopable site as developable. The team demonstrated visually that the proposed building profile would be no more imposing that previous depot buildings, which changed the planners’ minds.
The potential for authorities with limited design resources, to learn from participating in site-specific design processes when preparing new policies, and considering future proposals is highly valuable. Likewise, closer working between authorities and architects to ensure a design is faithfully realised. After all, although less strident than Sharp, the National Planning Policy Framework now asserts: ‘Good design…is indivisible from good planning’.
Dhruv is an architect and town planner, working on a PhD at Newcastle University. Now he combines teaching at Newcastle University with being Metropolitan Workshop’s in-house researcher and advisor.