Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Going with the flow

  • Comment
Vehicles and urban design have to be dovetailed if we are all to have a smooth experience of 'integrated' transport

Every day we make decisions about how we wish to travel. Facilitating movement through static environments is a fundamental design challenge. But it is a challenge which neither architects, planners nor transport designers have come close to addressing successfully. It is such a complex issue that no single design discipline should attempt to generate an answer. The task requires an integrated design agenda established by experts from a range of fields. Implementing effective solutions requires vast amounts of money and the political and public will to succeed.

The outcomes of attempts to address that challenge are all around us.We live with the manifestations of design for transport. From the images of sports cars, to the travel agents' illusions of glamorous air travel, to the predictions of holidays on the moon. Unfortunately, there is no space odyssey available yet; for most of us the reality of movement remains firmly controlled by the physical, technological and economic limitations of the present.

A fundamental area for debate - and one which is rarely considered by the two design disciplines involved - is the relationship of the mode of transport to the environment through which it moves. It is usual for vehicle designers to design the modes of transport, while civil engineers, architects and planners create the physical environments through which those vehicles travel.

The separation of these two elements is problematic. Creating environments which encourage movement requires enlightened spatial awareness and a design approach that recognises the dynamic nature of human experience.

The structure of transport design stems from the protective nature and professionalization of design disciplines, and the way designers are educated. But historical precedents show that it has often been crossdisciplinary teams of talented individuals which have made interesting things happen.

The establishment of the industrial design profession evolved from the patronage of the powerful corporations: oil companies and motor car manufacturers. From the 1930s onwards pioneering designers repackaged the environments in which the mass public travel, from the Studebaker car to the Greyhound bus.

This new breed of designer did not just limit their styling brushes to vehicles. They created visions for cities of the future, designs for chains of gas stations and even predicted colour-coded highways, along which cars would drive themselves. The industrial designers' repackaging of travel determined the formula or processes which have today led to the standardization of environments through which we move, particularly environments created specifically for passing through rather than standing still: airports, train terminals and roadside architecture.

Petrol stations are 60-mile-an-hour architecture (or 15-miles-an-hour in London). The rationale of architecture which signals to you at the speed at which you are travelling is an issue that we are in danger of neglecting.

For example, when Chambers designed Somerset House in London as the first purpose-built government office building, the Navy Board was housed on the river-side of the building. The architecture reflects its occupant's role, from the statues of river gods on the front of the building to the various nautical details around the perimeter. Most importantly, the great arch through which members of the Navy and Admiralty would have arrived by barge is the architectural centrepiece. These elements were designed to be understood from the perspective of the river, and from the vantage point of river transport. Today, even though the public has finally been allowed into the building, we now struggle to read the architectural composition, whizzing past it along the Embankment.

The transport challenge clearly requires a combination of both standard and bespoke solutions. The need to protect historic environments and the aspirations of transport designers for the future may conflict and require great skill to resolve. There are some hopeful signs for success in the future. Roland Paoletti's achievements with the architects of the Jubilee Line Extension demonstrate the potential for an enlightened design approach to the spaces for public transport.

In the meantime, while these large scale infrastructure projects are being planned, we should be using design to better communicate the existing options for moving around cities.

There is an urgent need to make explicit the connection between the quantitative notion of 24-hour 'flow' and the qualitative nature of architecture and the built environment.

Only by so doing can we best communicate the cultural, social and demographic data to the next generation of transport designers.

Helen Jones is a Helen Hamlyn research associate at the Royal College of Art

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

AJ Jobs