THE SO­CIAL IM­PACT OF UR­BAN DE­SIGN

MOD­ER­ATED BFFI DR MO­HAM­MAD ARAR, THE DIS­CUS­SION DIVES INTO FLEX­I­BLE MAS­TER­PLAN­NING, WHICH AL­LOWS FOR MORE SO­CIAL IN­TER­VEN­TIONS

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DUr­ing The First Panel Dis­cus­sion At The 2018 Designmena Sum­mit, Ar­chi­tects Dis­cussed How The Method­ol­ogy And Think­ing Be­hind Mas­ter Plan­ning Has Shifted To Al­low For More Flex­i­bil­ity, Hu­man-scale Build, And So­cial Im­pact.

Steven Vele­gri­nis, Head Of Mas­ter Plan­ning At Ae­com, Ex­plained That Ar­chi­tects Are Be­gin­ning To Take On A Less Tra­di­tional Ap­proach To Mas­ter­plan­ning, Cre­at­ing A More Flex­i­ble Ur­ban De­sign That Al­lows For More Pub­lic In­ter­ven­tions.

“I Think We Are Less Fo­cused On A Fixed Mas­ter Plan Nowa­days. In Ur­ban De­sign Terms, What We Are Fac­ing Is Re­ally De­sign­ing Open Sys­tems That Adapt And Change In Ways That We Didn’t An­tic­i­pate. So We Have Gone From De­vel­op­ing A Masterplan To De­vel­op­ing Al­most A Mas­ter-process, Which Al­lows For As­pects Like So­cial Di­men­sion In Ur­ban De­sign To Come Into It,” He Said. “re­al­is­ti­cally, We, As Pro­fes­sion­als, Also Need To Stop See­ing Our­selves As Peo­ple Who De­ter­mine Ev­ery­thing, But As Peo­ple Who En­able Things We Didn't In­tend To Hap­pen. I Think That’s When The Magic Hap­pens In Pub­lic Spa­ces; When Things You Couldn’t Pos­si­bly Imag­ine Ac­tu­ally Start Hap­pen­ing.

“Peo­ple Al­ways Think Of The City As Some­thing That Is Built And Fin­ished, But Cities Are Not

Like Build­ings. They Are More Like Ecologies Or Pro­cesses That Are Con­tin­u­ally Chang­ing. Fie Are In A Phase Now When We Are Com­ing Back And Ad­dress­ing Is­sues Like The So­cial Di­men­sions Of A City,” He Added.

Samer Touqan, Project Di­rec­tor At Dewan Ar­chi­tects And En­gi­neers, Agreed, Adding That The Chang­ing De­mo­graph­ics Of New Cities Like Dubai De­mands A Flex­i­ble Masterplan That Can Eas­ily Adapt To The Var­i­ous Shifts That Are Con­sis­tently Tak­ing Place.

“The Is­sue With Cities Like Dubai Is That The Fun­da­men­tals Of Plan­ning, Which We Start With, Keep Chang­ing. The De­mo­graphic Of The City Keeps Chang­ing, As Does The Fi­nan­cial Model, The Num­ber Of Peo­ple, The Dif­fer­ent Eth­nic­i­ties, And The So­cial Back­grounds; Your Masterplan Can­not Be Static. Ev­ery Space That You De­sign Needs To Re­main Flex­i­ble To Ac­com­mo­date This Everchanging De­mo­graphic Of The City,” He Ex­plained.

Laila Al-Yousef, De­sign Di­rec­tor Of Say Stu­dio, Added, “It’s Re­mark­able When You Re­ally Ap­pre­ci­ate The Dif­fer­ences That Have Been Made

in the course of this time and how Dubai has grown. The city has been pri­mar­ily de­signed for cars, more of an Amer­i­can method, and not so much for pedes­trian ac­cess. If we re­ally want to look at he di­ver­sity that we have and how we can bring dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties to­gether, we def­i­nitely need to start think­ing about it more on a hu­man level.”

David Les­sard, de­sign di­rec­tor at H+A, also agreed that there has def­i­nitely been a shift from a more “top-down ap­proach” to de­sign­ing mas­ter­plans. The “bot­tom-up ap­proach to de­vel­op­ment” ad­dresses is­sues such as hu­man scale and so­cial im­pact, how­ever, “we are not there yet,” he said.

Touqan ar­gued that one of the ways in which ar­chi­tects can cre­ate more so­cially im­pact­ful com­mu­ni­ties is by set­ting up plat­forms, where pub­lic opin­ion can be recorded and later used to in­form the de­sign process. “Dur­ing the process of de­sign, the pub­lic is not there; they only come later,” he said.

“But af­ter the de­vel­op­ment is built, are we learn­ing lessons? I be­lieve we are, be­cause the pub­lic, whether we like it or not, is ac­tu­ally do­nat­ing their opin­ion (through var­i­ous so­cial chan­nels). That pub­lic opin­ion is some­how be­ing trans­mit­ted to the plan­ners, ar­chi­tects, de­sign­ers, and the de­vel­op­ers. Some­times this hap­pens af­ter it’s too late. That is why I think a method needs to be put in place where the opin­ion of the pub­lic — and also con­crete data – is avail­able to the plan­ners,” he said.

Vele­gri­nis agreed that pub­lic opin­ion should be used to in­form de­sign de­ci­sions, but in a less tra­di­tional man­ner that takes into con­sid­er­a­tion present-day be­hav­iours.

He ar­gued that the UAE gov­ern­ment is al­ready im­ple­ment­ing ways in which to gain pub­lic knowl­edge or de­sires, how­ever it is less about pre­sent­ing a con­crete idea and more about un­der­stand­ing what the pub­lic wants their fu­ture to look like.

“I don’t think we are ever go­ing to be in a place where it will be ‘here is a mas­ter plan, what do you think of it’. I don’t think it is this place and it is not this time any­more,” Vele­gri­nis said.

Stephan Frantzen, de­sign di­rec­tor at P&T Ar­chi­tects & En­gi­neers, added that some project types are eas­ier to im­ple­ment based on pub­lic opin­ion, than oth­ers. “Re­vi­tal­is­ing is eas­ier when it comes to ask­ing for pub­lic opin­ion. What should an ex­ist­ing place be re­vi­talised to? If it is a new masterplan, we ac­tu­ally have a lot of knowl­edge. We know that if you have good ur­ban de­sign, it ac­tu­ally gives you a longer life. We just need to im­ple­ment it. We need to use all the data we have from cities like Dubai and com­bine all the knowl­edge and do it,” he said.

Les­sard, on the other hand, ar­gued that pub­lic opin­ion does not al­ways guar­an­tee suc­cess.

“I think democ­racy in de­sign is not al­ways the great­est thing. I think town plan­ning and opin­ions about what things should be are great, but I think ul­ti­mately, to leave that to the pro­fes­sion­als is very im­por­tant.”

The panel (left to right): Dr Mo­ham­mad Arar, Steven Vele­gri­nis, Samer Touqan, Stephan Frantzen, Laila Al-Yousef, and David Les­sard.

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