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Placemaking

Updated: May 10


Placemaking in Newcastle: Fenwick & Brunswick Street

MAKING THE CASE FOR MAKING A PLACE

From simply increasing the number of available rubbish bins, to creating a new, innovative city district where people can gather and thrive, placemaking is all about building stronger connections. Between people, and their relationships with spaces, and reactions to context, materials and atmosphere.


However, there’s more to effective placemaking than converted shipping containers and e-scooter parking. 


Good placemaking is a multifaceted affair, a collective coordination from concept to execution that relies upon solid design, empathetic innovation and sensitive implementation. 


Playing well with others makes all the difference, often involving private and public sector partnerships, alongside local enterprise and most importantly the locals who are supposed to utilise it.


This deeper level of understanding and a real commitment to uncovering the local community’s wishes is needed to find the catalyst for the ideas we generate.




CONTEXT IS KEY

When approaching a placemaking scheme there are many layers to unpeel before we even put pen to paper. We approach every project with a keen instinct to intrinsically understand the context. 


Because placemaking is more than a design principle; it’s a responsibility, a commitment to the future of our communities. One where we can have a significant influence and lasting impact. Legacy may be too strong a word, but the fact remains, placemaking positive urban design really is important, and we need to get it right.



FENWICK NEWCASTLE

How can we define and retain the historical DNA of a place, and how can we find a contemporary way to express it?


These sentiments were fundamental drivers for our recent Fenwick project in Newcastle, where the owners tasked us with revitalising and reintegrating the flagship department store’s frontage into the contemporary retail environment, while celebrating the intrinsic, historic legacy of the store and all it represents.


The multifaceted nature of the brief meant we were able to influence both the store itself and its relationship with its surroundings. Following a deep dive research into the store’s past, we were able to reinstate long-lost historic centralised entry points and relocate the main entrances, thereby creating a better, more logical engagement with the main shopping street.


Heightening the historic brand materiality, the team also pulled upon Newcastle’s industrial past and the store’s origins as purveyors of finely crafted linen and dressmaking, when designing the green steel ‘girder’ that runs the length of the reinvigorated shop front canopy.


This element of design is generated through a physical analysis of the current urban streetscape and how it is used, but also through historical research to bring out the core DNA. This helped us arrive at an expression that was not just Fenwick, but distinctly Fenwick Newcastle.


Learning about the history of the store and making explicit considerations regarding its status as part of the city’s shopping culture gives Fenwick a real sense of place, a beacon of proud local patriotism, which also encourages a feeling of ownership from the community.





DOLPHIN SQUARE

A major component of our work on the refurbishment of this Art Deco style estate in Pimlico involved analysing current desire lines and entrance lobby access routes, while keeping in mind the building’s rich history.


Our research led us to focus on the evolution of the estate from its initial concept as an early example of multi-apartment living, with supporting services nestled around a communal garden space. 


Circulation routes in the Grade II Listed gardens were defined by the integration with the courtyard landscape but also highlighting major entrances to the external perimeter facing the London pre-war streetscene. Over time, the surrounding streets have developed to such an extent that these entrances now face the rear of terraces and vehicular accessways. 


At the core of our design approach is the focus on renewing the relationship with the gardens, bringing people through these listed green spaces while allowing a greater enjoyment and acknowledgement of the surroundings with a new series of ‘front doors’ facing the courtyard.


This becomes a compelling combination of the historic established landscape while encouraging tenants’ routes ‘home’.


Both these examples bring physical benefits of enhanced placemaking through better integration of the substantial structures with their surroundings. But the design approach has been shaped by deep analytical research into site histories, creating new architectural stories that are both deeply rooted and relevant.





DIALOGUE DRIVES CHANGE

The ramifications of interconnected projects can evolve beyond the initial idea. Which means bringing those who it affects, and could also potentially affect further down the line, into the conversation early has intrinsic long-term value.


We’re always seeking the opportunity to expand the conversation to bring in adjacent landowners to pitch ideas for transforming landscapes, streets and the public realm.


By approaching and connecting with stakeholders where we feel our brief presents the opportunity exists to offer improvements to the broader area, we hope to instigate meaningful dialogue and more informed, interesting results.





STREETS AHEAD

Early on in our analysis and design investigation stage on Fenwick in Newcastle, we identified a ‘missed opportunity’, located on a side street between the Fenwick store and neighbouring Monument Mall shopping centre that had been neglected over time. 


Once a bustling street scene, contemporary property developments had moved in and subsequently turned its back on this side street. Despite this neglect, the street was a very popular cut-through for ‘locals in the know’ from key nodes in the city centre core.


Initially we pitched the idea to Fenwick of opening up their façade to this street with new windows to the retail floor to allow for greater legibility from within a deep internal layout, creating a new display frontage and letting light and views into the plan. 


Through further dialogue with the owners of Monument Mall and their Architects (Ryder) and Newcastle City Council this conversation developed into a pedestrianisation of the street with active frontages on both sides. 


The Fenwick side now provides new street level access and external seating to a substantial food and beverage offering. Monument Mall has created new cores to their leisure and hospitality spaces in the basement and on the upper levels accessed from this street.


This re-casting of the street landscape through collaborative dialogue and activating previously dormant elevations on both sides has also provided an enhanced setting to the Grade II Listed Methodist Chapel – a key historic building and social resource to the local community. 


This ‘missed opportunity’ has gathered momentum and become a compelling example of how to repurpose and create a new social destination in the centre of the city.





BEST USE OF BEST PRACTICE

Aspirational ideals are one thing, but commercial realities are another. Understanding ROI is important and assessing uses as part of mixed use placemaking schemes is vital to long term success of a project. 


Having created numerous hospitality spaces for start-ups and roll out clients, we’ve seen what leads to commercial success in the arena and also how much change and understanding shifts in consumer behaviour requires adaptation and creative thinking. 


Technical realities such as power requirements, ventilation services, delivery requirements and efficient consideration of waste are all important details which can lead to the success or failure of a restaurant space. Also how that hospitality space engages with the surroundings, extension of seating and functions into external spaces and how the commercial offering announces itself to the streetscene through signage.


A HOME FOR HYBRID THINKING

Creative problem solving involving use and function are vital to understand society’s rapidly changing needs. Discovering where overlaps can occur demonstrates how hybrid environments can offer a number of functions that can bring an efficiency and long-term occupation to a space. 


Understanding what people continue to want, and how that can be provided through spaces that are adaptable and support these needs is the hard part and requires considerable research into demographics, consumer behaviours and social profiling.  



Leatherhead Multi-Residential Property Design by Mailen Design

LEARNING THE LANDSCAPE

If people feel a resonance with a place, it can become the start of something both evolutionary and organic, a forum for communities to naturally build and thrive, where friendships can grow, and inhabitants ultimately want to stay longer, and keep that good thing going.


Which becomes a genuine benefit for clients wishing to create a sustainable, successful business environment. The communities care for each other and their living spaces, thereby cementing the project’s short and long term success, and encouraging better sales, rents and business revenue.


CRAFTING THOUGHTFULLY & BUILDING WELL

Including joined up thinking and genuinely informed sustainable practices gives communities a real chance to grow and make the place their own, regardless of our intentions.


Spaces and uses evolve, mature and sometimes change, refining and adapting with local needs and trends. 


Ultimately placemaking is about understanding and embracing the unique character of a community and translating it into physical spaces that resonate with and enrich the lives of those who inhabit them.


As a result of our deep connection with the places we make, this attitude has become an instinct for us, built into the DNA of our work, instead of a conscious box ticking approach to placemaking. And we hope the results speak for themselves.


If you have a placemaking project you would like to discuss we would love to hear from you.

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