CAP studios

Urban Design

Hastings, Pelham Crescent
Battersea Square - award winner
Prospect Quay, Thames riverside
Whitehall Design Guide


Planning meets preservation; urban design meets conservation. If we reconcile identity and technology, there is no reason why character and innovation should not go together, says Jack Warshaw

Historic town centres are not immune from pressures for change.Growth, decay, competition, traffic, the economy,
housing, employment, demographic trends and other factors must inform the balance of preservation versus planned development. But promoting development-led ‘regeneration’ on the one hand, or resisting all change on the other, are both likely to end in tears.  Instead, why not try applying Darwin’s approach to the urban scene:‘

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.’ This juncture is where conservation and urban design meet to find a common language.

Urban Design Approach

The language of urban design is aimed at place making.  Government guides such as By Design, 2000, see objectives in terms of character, continuity and enclosure, quality of the public realm, ease of movement, legibility, adaptability and diversity.Character, for example, is about local distinctiveness, and involves the creative reconciliation of local practices, on the one hand,with the latest technologies, building types and needs, on the other. Where there are no significant local traditions, the challenge of creating a distinctive place will be all the greater.There is no reason why character and innovation should not go together.New and old buildings can coexist happily without disguising one as the other, if the design of the new is a response to urban design objectives.

The core areas of historic towns are invariably designated as Conservation Areas. Large towns may contain several, along with a considerable number of listed and other important buildings.The language of conservation is less about new technologies and more about understanding what makes a place special, going on to develop measures for preserving and enhancing its character.Guidance, in England, comes in the form of successive English Heritage pamphlets, the latest of which is Conservation Area Appraisals, and its companion, Management of Conservation Areas, both 2006. The process requires, in addition to local consultation, looking at historical development, setting, plan form, views and vistas, archaeology, character zones, uses, building age,materials, form, details and quality, greenery, negative and neutral elements.