Characterising Neighbourhoods: exploring local assets of community significance
|Characterising Neighbourhoods: exploring local assets of community significance, Richard Guise and James Webb, Routledge, 2018, 304 pages, fully illustrated, paperback.|
This book deserves to be widely read. Its authors no doubt hoped to come up with a title that would attract the planners, councillors, neighbourhood planning activists, building conservationists, urbanists and students who would benefit from it. Unfortunately, Characterising Neighbourhoods: exploring local assets of community significance is not that title. ‘Characterising’ is a rather clunky term, and it is not clear how ‘exploring local assets of community significance’ relates to it.
What the book does very well is to explain how to assess the character of a place, and how to use that understanding in the planning process. Its strongest feature is the beautiful, annotated drawings by Richard Guise. These communicate brilliantly, and make one regret the thousands of words that other authors write about urban design and conservation without illuminating anything much.
Understanding local character is at the heart of planning, urban design and conservation. If local authorities tell planning applicants one thing about how to develop, it is usually to be responsive to the character of the area. Too often the developer chooses one matter that is in some way locally distinctive – some flint or banded brickwork, perhaps – and uses that to tick the ‘character’ box.
The result is often something that looks ridiculous, all other aspects of the local character having been ignored. In such cases a tokenistic nod to character has been used as an excuse not to think about the complexity of the local context, and to put as little thought as possible into the development’s design.
Because ‘character’ is a simple word, too many people in the built environment professions assume that it must also represent a simple thing. On the contrary, character is shorthand for every aspect of a place considered in its context.
Guise and Webb get to grips with that complexity magnificently. They explain the concept of character and how to use it in neighbourhood planning, urban design and planning decision-making. And they end the book by considering how character can be used in the process of designing development.
A consistent theme is the authors’ belief that many people lack the language to discuss matters of design and spatial planning. They hope that the book’s text, annotated diagrams and captioned illustrations will help to remedy this, and their faith in the book’s effectiveness is surely justified.
They also claim that the map-based notation method that they present ‘provides a common language of characterisation that is available to all’. For those of us who have never used such a notation method, and who wonder if those developed by pioneers such as Gordon Cullen were not just too complicated, we will have to take their word for it. But, whether or not such a notation method is widely usable, the way they discuss their approach to it is, like the rest of this valuable book, highly enlightening.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
The IHBC seeks to raise awareness and understanding of how building conservation philosophy and practice contributes towards meeting the challenge of climate change.
From Amenity Societies and Wentworth Woodhouse to Kurt Schwitters, Scotland’s Towns, Chester and more...
The former Royal High School building in Edinburgh is to be transformed into a £55 million national centre for music after the City of Edinburgh Council agreed to the lease of the historic property.
The joint-institute document aims to help maintain cultural heritage by providing a consistent framework across different sectors & geographies
IHBC’s Gus Astley Student Awards 2021: Win £500 and a place on IHBC’s 2022 Aberdeen School with your built environment/heritage coursework, closes 31/07!
The last remaining buildings on the site of the Harris meat factory family’s historic mansion are being restored to their former glory and converted into new homes.
The Construction Industry Coronavirus Forum (CICV Forum) has unveiled a new guide to the crucial and increasingly complex issue of professional indemnity insurance (PII).
ICOMOS has advised that the new football stadium proposal, if implemented, would have a completely unacceptable major adverse impact its authenticity and integrity.
Responding to the changing working patterns of a post-Covid Scotland, the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) has revealed new plans to help retrofit public spaces into out-of-town alternatives to city centre offices.
The free-to-access online issue mixes the topical and practical to explore how the sector can best adapt to digital innovation.