Book Review

Transforming Towns

Designing for Smaller Communities
Matthew Jones

This timely book explores how contemporary architecture can transform small communities with a focus on context-sensitive design in historic market towns, rural towns and villages.

Transforming Towns uses case studies of towns (fewer than 50,000 people) and smaller communities, where urban and rural challenges collide, and their scale can leave them in an awkward in-between position. The introductory chapters provide useful context on the contemporary challenges facing smaller communities, particularly peripheral growth, and the importance for the life of these places of creating opportunities for social exchange. The book is structured in four parts: Homes, Towns, Public Spaces and Long-term Strategies. There are 19 case studies mostly in England and Ireland, plus Scotland, Wales, Belgium and Germany.

One of its best features is the well-illustrated case studies and the identification of the key lessons drawn from each. In the Towns chapter, the Auckland Tower project in County Durham stands out as a catalyst for change within the historic core of Bishop Auckland. In Homes, Cinque Ports Street provides a striking addition to Rye’s townscape with a contemporary mixed use infill development drawing on the coastal architecture of Sussex. At Tibby’s Triangle, the density, human scale and palette of materials reflects the maritime heritage of Southwold. At Steepleton Retirement Community in Tetbury, courtyard clusters draw on agricultural forms and alms houses to create different domestic-scaled spaces to encourage sociability and a sense of community. In Public Places, the heritage-led regeneration of County Cork (Clonakilty 400) celebrating 400 years of the town’s charter, includes the creation of mini-squares, shared spaces and pocket parks to improve legibility and create new areas for social interaction. Bridge Street in Callan, Ireland is a community-led scheme to revitalise the town, with the high street being a collective civic space, using the street and historic buildings as a stage.

The book underlines the importance of characterisation in design, the role of multifunctional and connected public spaces, and community-focussed town centres. Community-led change is a recurring theme from the town hall complex at Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, to the innovative collaboration in Callan between theatre-makers, artists, architects, residents and local organisations, to reclaim the street and reimagine civic spaces. Transforming Towns is a welcome addition to guidance on designing in historic and rural settings, providing a wealth of information on the revitalisation of towns and villages, and key lessons for the post-pandemic resurgence of town centres.

URBAN DESIGN 162 Spring 2022 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 162 Spring 2022

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Transforming Towns Publication Urban Design Group
RIBA Publishing
978 1859469064
Reviewed By
Colin Dunigan