The Design Companion for Planning and Placemaking
Since the demise of CABE in its original incarnation, the urban design world has been missing its publications and in particular, waiting for an update of the invaluable By Design. Esther Kurland and her team at Urban Design London have now picked up the challenge and produced the Design Companion, which fulfils a similar role to CABE’s original guide but geared towards the London context, and acknowledging the new policy environment of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and current preoccupations. It is intended to help planners to deal with design matters. Having run very many workshops for its potential readers, the authors know what their needs and concerns are, and respond accordingly.
The first part of the book starts with definitions of design, the elements of development (layout, scale, density, etc.) and what makes a good place. It then covers legislation and the processes of planning and design, including who is involved and how to read plans and other drawings. It therefore combines some theory with very practical issues that will resonate with local authority planners. The language is jargon-free and concepts are explained simply: ‘Density is the amount of development on a given piece of land’ (p37). This is followed by different ways of measuring density and what they mean.
The second part of the book deals with specific topics, from small-scale to town extensions, from tall buildings to environmental issues, from housing to small scale development, from streets to public spaces and more. It does this in a practical and applied manner; for instance there is a section on Negotiating Tall Buildings Proposals, followed by another on Assessing a Scheme.
In every chapter of the book there are ‘items to consider’; the text does not say that one scheme is better than another, but how to look at the issues involved. ‘Consider’ is a very clever and gentle way to guide those who will use the book. Equally useful are the references to the NPPF whenever they are relevant.
The book is generously illustrated which makes it easy to read and clarifies points made in the text. It is a pity though that the location of many of the photographs is not identified. The only other gripe, addressed to the publisher, is that proof reading budget seems to have been slashed; this is surprising as my own experience with RIBA publishing is that they were exceptionally careful in ensuring the quality of their product.