Is the Electric Car the Urban Designer’s Friend?

2 06 2011

By Scott Gibson

Charging Points in Central London

Sustainable transport is synonymous with urban design and in an ongoing move towards low carbon and zero carbon development, electric vehicles are becoming fasionable as an answer to concerns about transport realted carbon emissions,  growing fuel prices and fear that peak oil may be imminent, if not happening already.  So Electric cars it seems appears to be a perfect solution.  Hence, it’s not surprising to see masterplans with images of electric cars plugged into stand-alone charging points.  If electric vehicles do become popular, this will no doubt result in a growing demand for charging point in car parks and on-street parking bays.  Fine if there are a few, but imagine a street scene becoming filled with them at a time when there is growing pressure to improve the streetscene by reducing street clutter?

Personally I have my reservations with electric cars.  Their limited range make them only good for short journeys in towns and cities and these are likely to be the sort of journeys that could well be met by walking, cycling and the current public transport offer.  And with incentives, in terms of free parking, exemption from London’s Congestion Charge, not to mention a huge £5,000 subsidy from government toward the cost of buying one, electric cars are likely to compete more with public transport than conventional cars.  Here it seems that we’ve lost sight of what a car should be used for.  In my view that is for long journeys, ideally with two or more passengers to get to places that are simply impracticable to get to by bus or train.  Unfortunately electric cars cannot meet this role until they deal with issues about range anxiety.  However there are advancements in other fuel technologies that must not be ignored and may be better suited to making personal mobility more sustainable.  These are low carbon synthetic liquid fuels which could be used in existing vehicles, and thus make more of the exisiting vehicle fleet and avoid wasting resources on repacing them prematurely with less practicable vehicles.  They could potentially be derived from non-food sources of biomass (advanced bio-fuels in short), capturing and converting CO2 into hydrocarbons (see for an example), and even finding ways to store hydrogen in a more practicable way (see Cella Energy: ), provided of course we find ways of generating the stuff efficiently.  The point here is that electric cars are not necessarily the answer if they are likely to keep people off public transport, fail to cater for the journeys where the car really does come into its own, and worse still dominate the streetscape with a forest of charging points.


Cohesive communities & walkable neighbourhoods

31 05 2011

By Harvé Dhillon

Recently, seeming a lot of our projects have included residential design, I was reading about cohesive communities and how both architecture and urban design can contribute to the social integration of residents in a positive way. Malaysia is an ethnically diverse nation with three main races and many other ethnic minorities hence the importance of its social cohesiveness and unity of people is important in order to create a stable social and economic environment. Thus, neighbourhood design has had an important impact contributing to the racial harmony of Malaysian suburbs. The simple solution is to encourage walking, by providing local amenities within walking distance such as shops, schools, community centres, health centre the of course there is better health and furthermore reduces the need to use the car. Socially, walking will encourage the meeting and greeting with neighbours and a sense of community. Planners in Malaysia have managed to create these neighbourhoods by simple and inexpensive interventions and as a result forge communities with naturally strong ties and racial interaction and integration.

  • Make pedestrian-friendly pavements mandatory.
  • Make the planting of shady trees mandatory, too.
  • Place wakaf (small huts) and simple furniture along streets to provide resting places.
  • Place schools, libraries, mosques, temples, community centres and some shops within true walking distance of clusters of houses so people are encouraged to walk rather than drive.
  • Promote bicycling by providing proper pathways as well as bicycle parking spaces.

The Grand Canal Diary 4

26 05 2011

By Jing Wang

The Intangible Culture in the Tangible Designs

The traditional patterns are used in various ways in this old city. It is easy to find these traditional elements in windows, pavement, gates, walls, clothes, embroidery, hand fan and so on. These elements are reminding you every minute that you are in Suzhou. All of these patterns come from the traditional culture, and they represent different good wishes. The meaning of these patterns could be seen as a kind of language, which could be understood by the local people.


The Suzhou Museum designed by Ieoh Ming Pei is next to the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuo Zheng Yuan), which is the most famous garden in Suzhou. This museum is an innovative mark bridging Chinese architectural culture from the tradition to the future. The traditional elements and color are used in a modern way, but the local temperament also could be felt from these buildings.


The revitalisation of high streets

24 05 2011

By Harvé Dhillon

I am not quite sure whether it’s my own frustration towards British high streets or the news article I read about the revitalisation of high streets that inspired me to write this. It’s no doubt that we have all realised or felt that the British high street seems to be homogenised, with the same shops, similar characteristics and uninteresting streetscape. It’s not that every high street needs to provide a completely niche shopping experience, neither does the urban designer need to be pressurised in order to create a completely different public realm in every city centre. The lack of identity and experience to the city dweller is experienced when nearly every high street in the country feels its necessary to have similar materials, street furniture and retail outlets.

The benefits of good urban design of high streets are not just an aesthetic issue but can actually positively contribute to the economic benefits of high street retail. It may seem like something that is taken for granted but more than often the design of the high street does not need major regeneration schemes but rather small interventions.

The urban transformation of Kensington High Street in Central London has proven an effortless yet effective approach to the revitalisation of the high street. The reduction of street clutter by mounting traffic signals and signage on lamp columns and removal of guardrails and bollards had meant that the area provides a more attractive environment for pedestrians. In addition the removal of staggered crossings and the removal of traffic islands created the space improve the quality of the streetscape.

Read more about high street urban design and the revitalisation of high streets on and also the Urban Design Compendium provides guidance about the success of Kensington High Street on

The Royal Wedding and the transformation of urban space

4 05 2011
By Sarah Muscat

Cheering along with thousands of people from all over the world, the atmosphere in Hyde Park was a celebration of a joyous unity, as the newly wed Will and Kate shared a kiss or two in the Buckingham Palace‘s balcony.

It might have been Prince William’s charm, or the bride’s dress, but for many, the transformation of urban spaces in London to celebrate the Royal Wedding was one good reason to visit the city.

The Union Jack featured wherever one looked, the shop windows decorated for the occasion increasing footfall and lingering even in streets outside the main tourist areas, green spaces were enhanced and events organized everywhere, making every part of the global community involved. The sense of inclusivity, of belonging and sharing; gave rise to various positively activated spaces, binding the local communities.

With all the girls competing to marry Harry, the next wedding might take some time! Maybe we could instead continue to celebrate our own communities more often within urban spaces, cherishing every accomplishment towards a better living for everyone.

Kensington Palace Gardens


Shop window decorated for the Royal Wedding


Hyde Park during Royal Wedding

Charm of Being Hidden

3 05 2011

By Jun Lee

I happened to go to a charming cafe, the Music Room, in Lancaster during Easter. The amusing quality of the coffee and the space of the square were magnificent.

The characteristics of the square are more or less of Camillo Sitte’s findings of pre-Modern squares: well-secluded by buildings; not interrupted by roads etc. However, surely, the experience of discovering unexpected place was the most amusing part of the place for me.

When we were going through the small parking space (1 on map), we could only see narrow back alley (2 on map) and we were not sure where we were going to, then we saw a glimpse of open space on our right-hand side, where some people were having outside. That was Sun square with a cafe and a restaurant at the corner. It is still linked to the ‘pedestrianized’ high street, through a type of mews gate (3 on map); however that route is not spatially inviting to outsiders so that you may ‘discover’ it. (or, sorry for spoiling your fun, readers)

The Semantics of Odonyms

25 04 2011

By Carlie Douglas

There are many different street suffixes, and often we don’t know the differences between them.  In fact, in most cases there are conflicting definitions for any given type of road.  I have been looking into these obscure differences for the project so that I can use the best suffix to describe my particular street and I’ve come across some interesting little facts.  Did you know…?

There is actually a difference between a street and a road; a road’s main function is transportation while streets facilitate public interaction.

The highest house prices in the UK are found on streets with the following suffixes: Hill, Lane, Mews, Park, and Green.  The lowest on the suffixes Street, Terrace, Crescent, Court, and View.

By far the most common residential location name in the UK is Road, followed by Close and Street.  The least common is Square

Northumberland Avenue can be found on standard UK monopoly board, and can be purchased for just £160.

‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’ is the nickname for the Bank of England.

The top 11 most common street names in the UK are; High Street, Station Road, Main Street, Church Street, Victoria Road, Park Road, Church Road, London Road, Manor Road, New Road, and Park Avenue.

Some translations English-French-Spanish-German:

Highway- Autoroute- Carretera- Autobahn

Road- Chemin- Carretera- Strecke

Avenue- Avenue- Carrera- Allee

Boulevard- Boulevard- Avenida- Prachtstraße

Street- Rue- Calle- Straße

Lane- Voie- Calle- Weg

Country Lane- Manière- Camino- Feldweg

I hope you think about these fun facts the next time you turn down High Street, or are looking to buy a house on a ‘Terrace’.