Imagine you have just finished an excellent building conservation project.
Now is the time to take some memorable photographs to record the
result. Having already taken the 'before' pictures in the winter,
now in the spring sunshine you want some really good images to show
your work at its very best.
there is a problem: the collection of tacky traffic signs which
helped to make the building seem rather pathetic before restoration,
is still in the foreground; and the pavement in front of the building
looks as though it has been run over by a tank and repaired by a
DIY beginner. In other words the all important setting of the project,
though possibly beyond your control, is about to mar the final achievement.
This scene, including all that we see in the street, is what we mean
by streetscape. We do not only look at buildings, which are usually
the subject of considerable care and attention by the planning and
conservation authorities; we look at the whole scene including the
spaces between buildings. This includes the quality of the pavement
surfaces, the odd pieces of street furniture as well as the official
traffic related street equipment.
often the whole character of an historic main street is hidden behind
a seeming mist of street furniture clutter. It is almost like a
fog. Stand on any high street corner and list the number and types
of pieces of iron on the pavement or road which interrupt the view
of the important buildings. You will record an astounding fact;
throughout the length and breadth of the country, the constituent
parts that make up the fog are almost identical; so too are many
of the surface materials and the way they are laid.
there are exceptions, particularly in residential conservation areas,
there are now very few regional variations to respect the quality
of local building types. In the nation's trafficked high streets,
a dull uniformity appears to act against the notions of providing
appropriate settings for local historic buildings.
aim should be to consider the whole streetscape in the same way
as we consider the conservation of an individual historic building.
Building conservation specialists ensure that historic buildings
are useful and viable in a modern context but unspoilt. The whole
street should be given the same attention.
do these problems occur? Certainly there are no deliberate acts
of vandalism. No one consciously sets out to destroy or even erode
the quality of the streetscape. Many of the things we see in the
street scene are a direct response to practical problems. For traffic
to move safely, national standards are needed so that drivers can
instantly recognise signs giving warning of danger. People with
disabilities need special attention and of course in every town
there are financial constraints.
the street scene is often the result of severe conflicts of interest.
At least four are very evident in every high street:
- the interests of urban conservation
- safe convenient movement of traffic
- access for people with disabilities
- economic maintenance of the public realm.
One way to resolve the most significant conflicts would be to ban traffic
completely. The town, or at least its historic core, could possibly
be reserved for pedestrians and then much of the traffic equipment
would no longer be required. However in most towns this is not practical.
Vehicles though partially restricted, will need access at some time
of the day or night.
Fortunately there are sensible, more practical ways forward. The following two
principles help: first, to reduce unnecessary clutter; and second,
to ensure that new work and on-going maintenance to the street scene
respond to the best of what is already there.
is made up of lots of bits and pieces. The only way to reduce clutter
in the streetscape is to look at each individual item and consider
whether it really is necessary and whether it can be removed, hidden,
replaced in a less noticeable position or at least painted a less
process is made more complicated because there are probably some
dozen separate agencies who have the authority to fix or place their
equipment in the street without any reference to a co-ordinating
or planning authority. Much of the process of reducing clutter has
to be done by painstaking negotiation.
However, once this co-operation has been established, there are a number
of things which can be done quite inexpensively. The most obvious
is to reduce the quantity of posts which stand in the pavement.
For instance the number of lamp columns can be reduced by fixing
street lighting to buildings. Modern techniques allow sufficient
latitude for the lamps to be fixed onto the buildings with the same
care as is given to the position of a window or decorative feature.
lights do not always need their own posts; they can often be fixed
to lamp columns. Many traffic signs can be fixed neatly to buildings
and there are new systems to reduce the size and gross shapes of
the support posts that are needed for those traffic signs which
benches, bollards, tree grills and finger posts come under a different
category. They are usually placed on pavements purely to provide
an immediate amenity for pedestrians. The problem is that over a
period of time they accumulate and deteriorate so that they merely
add to the impression of clutter. In fact, because they can be positioned
almost anywhere, they can be shaped or selected and put on the pavement
to conform to an over all design theme, preferably relating to the
RESPECT AND ENHANCE
considerable sums are spent on hard landscaping enhancement schemes,
much is wasted by poor maintenance or inappropriate design.
and public spaces are notoriously difficult to maintain. Maintenance
budgets are often restricted and physical wear is very high. Materials
and the way they are used need to be able to withstand virtual neglect
and constant abuse. However there are guidelines to consider. Perhaps
the fundamental point is to study the use of local paving materials
to see to what extent they can be replicated.
way in which traditional materials are used locally is important.
Granite setts for carriageways, granite kerbs and sett or stone
gutters are often constructed with subtle variations from one town
to another. Even within a single town there may be differences between
one district and another.
(left and top right): Traditional granite setts and drainage channels. Bridgnorth
(bottom right): Brick kerbs and tiled gutter detail
Edinburgh, for example, granite setts were used for the carriageway,
gutters and cross-overs, while the actual pavements were of sandstone.
These materials have been retained in many parts of the city, and
the tradition for laying these materials is a craft which has continued
uninterrupted to this day. Here there are still craftsmen who understand
their materials and can, with the most limited instruction, carry
out and adjust the layout on site to suit the local conditions.
However this situation is unusual and in the current local authority
environment of client/contractor split, these skills can rarely
be relied upon entirely. Specifications and detailed drawings of
paving material layouts have to be supplied so that contractors
can have the opportunity of tendering fairly against their competitors.
Bridgnorth, stone is not the predominant traditional local construction
material, nor was it used for paving. Pavements are made of a yellow
engineering brick and private access-ways across pavements are traditionally
constructed in a hard blue engineering brick, usually of smaller
dimensions. Gutters rather than being of stone as in Edinburgh are
made from large blue clay tiles.
RESEARCH AND ACCURATE SPECIFICATION
In both the Edinburgh and the Bridgnorth examples the principles are
the same. There is no substitute for local research. In all cases
it is necessary to examine good examples of the traditional local
use of materials.
we can no longer rely upon contractors' estimators to necessarily
understand what specifiers are seeking to achieve, it is essential
for contract documents to include accurate specifications. Detailed
sectional drawings indicating precise construction methods together
with accurate layout drawings explaining where changes of detail
and material are needed to respect the different architectural styles
and function of the adjacent buildings.
there is an increase in expectations and a greater awareness of
the importance of appropriate street furniture and paving materials.
With care, they can be made to form a suitable setting for the wealth
of historic buildings throughout our towns and villages, which is
so vital to the quality of the streetscape.