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New design principles demand infrastructure ‘celebrates nation’s ambition’

King's Cross station
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New infrastructure projects should consider four key principles covering not just value for money but also fostering a sense of local identity and cutting carbon emissions

Sadie Morgan, chair of the National Infrastructure Design Group, challenged those behind big infrastructure schemes such as HS2 to put the principles ‘front and centre’ at the start of a major decade of investment. 

The publication of the group’s design principles comes just a month before the expected unveiling of the government’s National Infrastructure Strategy.

Apart from Morgan, who is also a founding partner of RIBA Stirling Prize-winning dRMM Architects, the group includes leading engineer Hanif Kara of AKT II, Clare Donnelly, director at Fereday Pollard Architects and Madeleine Kessler, co-curator of this year’s British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and co-founder of new practice Unscene Architecture.

‘We are moving into a seminal decade for our infrastructure,’ said Morgan. ‘The design of every major project should celebrate our nation’s ambition for flourishing communities and an enriched environment.’

She added: ‘By embedding excellent design into planning and delivery from day one and encouraging everyone in the sector to embrace it as part of their role, we can ensure we leave a proud inheritance that inspires people and helps the UK to achieve our climate targets.’

The first ever design principles for national infrastructure set out four key considerations: 

  • Climate Infrastructure must help set the trajectory for the UK to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner and be capable of adapting to climate change.
  • People Projects should be human scale, instinctive to use and seek opportunities to improve the quality of life for people who live and work nearby.
  • Places Schemes should provide a sense of identity for communities, supporting the natural and built environment and enriching ecosystems.
  • Value Value should be added beyond the main purpose of the infrastructure, solving problems well and achieving multiple benefits.

The principles are intended for all economic infrastructure – digital communications, energy, transport, flood management, water and waste. They can be used by anyone planning, constructing or maintaining infrastructure through a decision-making toolkit (see below).

They were developed by the NIC’s expert design group that was set up in April 2019 and is made up of senior figures in the worlds of architecture, engineering, landscape and transport.

The design group is calling for the principles to be adopted in the government’s infrastructure strategy, alongside the National Infrastructure Assessment’s recommendations for all nationally significant projects to have design champions and review panels.

Last year Morgan said the design group would help shape how the nation’s infrastructure is planned and delivered and fight for designers to get ‘a seat at the table at every step in a project’s lifecycle’. 

The National Infrastructure Commission was set up in October 2015 by then chancellor George Osborne. The commission is sponsored by the treasury and intended to provide the government with impartial, expert advice on major long-term infrastructure challenges.

Decision toolkit: NIC Design Principles

Decision toolkit: NIC Design Principles

Decision toolkit: NIC Design Principles

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