My Favourite Plan, Wrocław c1650
Wrocław c1650, Source: Unknown
WHY I LIKE IT…
A wonderful find from a street market beside the Brandenburg Gate in 2017 is my plan of choice. As I leafed through a box of antique plans, I came across this delightful plan of Wrocław. Located in Poland’s Silesia region, I first visited the town in the late 1990s.
Dated c1650, the plan is an axonometric representation of what is now known as the Old Town. With its rich detailing, the plan not only shows the sequence of streets and spaces but the composition of the individual blocks, allowing fascinating glimpses into their core, as well as the scale and detail of individual buildings. Wrocław’s 13th century medieval market square and its Gothic town house can be clearly seen, with the tower visible across neighbouring rooftops. It is almost an early version of what Google Maps 3D offers us today, although much more impressive when you think what would have been involved in the 17th century to create such an exquisite plan.
WHAT TO LEARN FROM IT…
In recent years, the government has been strengthening the value it places on urban design within the planning system and produced new publications to support that. The use of regulatory tools such as design codes that involve local communities and other stakeholders in the design of places is being encouraged. Those who attend public consultation events will know how difficult it can be for a non-designer/ planner to read, interpret and visualise a layout plan. How can we create codes that are clear, concise and easily understood, particularly when we know many local authorities have little or no in-house design expertise? It is easy to imagine using an axonometric with notations to codify, for instance, an infill to an existing urban block – and how easy this would be for non-designers/ planners to understand. Looking back at the Wrocław plan, one begins to realise the wealth of information it contains. If it were a representation of an unbuilt place, it could be regarded as a form of urban coding. It clearly shows the movement network, the sequence of streets and spaces, building to building and building to street relationships. It shows heights, roof form, public and private spaces. If a coding process wanted to omit any reference to architectural style, building elevations could be simplified and only show doors to the street, remaining silent on window proportions and other details that might suggest a particular architectural style.
Owner of Urban Design Doctor Ltd providing support and advice to local authorities, Homes England, Design Midlands and Design West. Previously Principal Urban Designer, North West Leicestershire District Council; CABE Enabler; Design Council Built Environment Expert.
BA (Hons) Urban Planning & Management, Diploma in Town Planning, University of Nottingham PhD, Nottingham Trent University Graduate School
To see a new generation of urban designers working for local authorities across the country, perhaps being mentored by experienced local government designers. Without a new generation, the local government urban designer will become an extinct species and no one will be left to implement government design quality aspirations on the ground.