Developers are starting to pay more attention to landscape and public realm infrastructure, so architects should consider ways of getting involved in the design and delivery of infrastructure, says Vincent Lacovara
To be truly influential in creating a successful future for regeneration in the UK, one that respects the environment, supports prosperity and delivers for communities, architects will need to look beyond the immediate job-winning opportunities for the trends flowing their way and the forces shaping them.
Public-sector cuts are likely to continue and new ways of delivering public services and infrastructure will have an increasingly important role in regeneration. We may see organisations such as Business Improvement Districts, housing associations, volunteers and communities playing more significant roles in regeneration and, while the public sector shrinks, we may also see enlightened local authorities find new ways to invest in design to enable high-quality regeneration.
Although the answer to the housing crisis is not primarily a question of design, architects can influence this most fundamental of societal challenges. They are well placed to champion and demonstrate the value of taking a strategic long view, to making compelling proposals for where and how new housing could be provided, and bringing the values of quality, sustainability and robustness to a building type in danger of being dominated by delivering quickly, cheaply and in high volumes.
More devolution to communities and cities seems inevitable. Architects can bring their skills in helping communities articulate spatial concepts, co-ordinate between communities, and design and deliver projects that meet local objectives. Post-crash, we have become increasingly familiar with emergent forms of community and economy that are offering alternatives to the established economic paradigm and more bottom-up ways of practising urban regeneration. Whether it be social enterprises, open-source architecture, self build, crowd-funding or pop-up and meanwhile strategies, the availability of accessible new technologies is set to lead to exciting new roles for architects to engage as spatial thinkers and doers in new, participative forms of urban regeneration.
New ways of delivering infrastructure will have an important role in regeneration
Opportunities to continue to champion and deliver ‘urban renaissance’ in well-connected, under-developed urban locations will remain critical to sustainable forms of regeneration in cities. But the fields of regenerative opportunity are also to be found in the spaces being left vacant by shrinking retail, new ways of working and the move away from the private motor vehicle, as well as in our evolving suburbs and super-connected rural communities. Many architecture students and recent graduates – future leaders of the profession – are exploring this territory.
Frank Lloyd Wright said: ‘Watch the little gas station.’ The places served by Crossrail and HS2 will clearly become the foci for lots of regeneration activity and eyes will continue to follow the debate around where the UK’s new airport capacity will be delivered, but the need to deliver robust environmental infrastructure will increasingly come to the fore. Developers are starting to ‘get’ the importance of landscape and public realm infrastructure – including the opportunity landscape provides to enhance wellbeing – but architects also need to. Infrastructure can be beautiful, and architects should consider ways of being involved in the design and delivery of infrastructure, hard and soft – not just the places served by it.
Vincent Lacovara is an architect, planner and placemaking team leader at the London Borough of Croydon
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