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This month the call for entries for the Scottish Design Awards is published. Edinburgh City Council is sponsoring awards to reward good place-making.

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17 Dec 2004

What is the purpose of awards? Why sponsor one? Because we need to take every opportunity to affirm what is good, and acknowledge the fact that excellent work is done in Scotland. Awards are one of the ways of recognising designers and publicising the cause for good design. Implicit in this is the notion that it is better not to give an award than to reward mediocrity.

Why should the City of Edinburgh Council sponsor one of the categories in the Scottish Design Awards? Good question! We, not being a commercial entity after all, do not need the publicity, which is the usual reason why people get involved in sponsorship. Edinburgh, under the stewardship of Councillor Trevor Davies, is pioneering a new approach to design and urbanism. It has put its money where its mouth is and appointed a City Design Champion, the first city in Scotland to do so.

Whether you are a fan of Sir Terry Farrell or not should be inconsequential. He has not been appointed to put forward his brand of architecture, his role is to raise the stakes, to create an environment that enables designers, be they native or from further afield, to deliver excellence. The category that has been created is a critical one in terms of the way we develop our cities of the future. This new award category tries to bring recognition to a process that, if understood, can deliver true “place-making”.

The complex and lengthy process of place-making, which all too often does not bear fruit, is, unfortunately, abused and misused to justify narrow development issues. To define what we mean by master planning; for the purposes of the award, which is not a purely intellectual exercise, we will consider well-accomplished development plans that take account of their context, be it urban, suburban or rural.

One of the main problems is that true master planning should not concern itself with land ownership issues but with the common good and, consequently, should be sponsored by local authorities. The majority of master-planning exercises we currently see are constrained by land ownership and are, as a result, limited to being sophisticated development plans. What is intended is to recognise the endeavour to “place make”, which is more than creating wonderful buildings.
We envisaged a three-pronged approach that recognises the complexity and time scales associated with the process of master planning:

1. Student Place Making Prize: The award recognises that place making is a very particular skill, not all architects are urbanists. Students will be rewarded for a piece of work which examines urban or rural masterplanning issues.

2. Proposed Masterplan Award: This award will be given to a design team for the production of an approved masterplan which may not, as yet, have been implemented.

3. Realized masterplan award. Projects in which infrastructure construction is underway are eligible for this award. This is an award that is not about a quick fix. Nor is it about a beauty parade. Instead, it is about how we shape our futures.

All too often, master plans are belittled by the naïve approach that the designers bring to them. Architects over the centuries have tried to design utopia and failed because they missed the point. A perfect city to live in is not a perfect city. Beautiful buildings and ordered streets in themselves do not produce great places. Architecture is about ideas and cities should be about people, not architects’ desires.

We have to recognise the harsh reality that not all architects have the aptitude or the skills to be an urbanist. You can be a fantastic object maker but fail miserably to understand what makes a place or where/how to place your object.

Patrick Geddes understood this process, but the art of place making seems to be very elusive nowadays. This award is an attempt to bring focus upon this craft of which designers are usually perceived to be masters.

Edinburgh is experiencing unprecedented development pressure. This is a good position to be in as it is one of the barometers of success for a city, crane counts and all that. In a Scottish context, Edinburgh is the only city experiencing proper growing pains. The expansion of the city seems unstoppable. The city’s northern edge is subject to incredible speculative development.

The system on which we rely to try to ensure that this city expansion does not descend into chaos is the planning system. Unfortunately, it is designed to deal with “the red line”, which is all too often a function of land ownership.

Edinburgh has recognised this and endeavoured to raise the stakes in acknowledgment of the pressure and importance of this area, which has led to the development of a profusion of master plans. I could be cynical and say that the area is being master planned to death.
One of the first discussions Sir Terry and I had was regarding this wonderful opportunity for Edinburgh, its waterfront. We were impressed with some of the work that was being done but at the same time concerned that it would not amount to a “place” but a series of developments.

We thought of Craig’s master plan for the New Town, or should I say development plan, and knew that it was the right approach and was not constrained by land ownership. This enabled the city to expand to the north in a seamless way, albeit as a phased development.
What we are working on are the mechanisms that will deliver a strategic approach to the Waterfront, in the context of the city, which will enable it to become a real place. This implies the city developing an attitude to its physical future so that it can move from being in a reactive situation to a proactive one where its future is a function of true master planning.

The objective is that in 25 years Waterfront City will be an intrinsic element of the Edinburgh urban experience, as the Old Town and New Town are today.

The city’s efforts have produced some very interesting results. To the south we have EDI developing an ambitious master plan for the future of Craigmillar and in the Waterfront area there are two approaches that I have been struck by: Western Harbour, by Robert Adam for Forth Ports, and Granton by MAKE for Waterfront Edinburgh.
What I find interesting is that the two practices would appear to be diametrically opposed in the architecture spectrum, but in terms of urbanism they share the same route. The places they are crafting are for people. The architecture, although important, is not critical. In fact, I believe that you will be able to overlay any style on the evolving master plans and they will work.

These exercises are constrained by land ownership but the skills employed in the delivery of these differing views of the future are those that I believe will allow a strong sense of place to evolve, and one that will be complementary with Edinburgh’s identity.
Both teams analysed the context of the area and, in differing ways, have interpreted what the pattern of development should be. What they have in common is an understanding of what makes a real place and that cities are for people.

We would like to believe that the creation of the PLACE-MAKING category will give encouragement to students to refine their skills, develop an understanding of what place-making is so that when they are asked to produce a master plan they can offer the service that Scotland deserves. Unfortunately, nowadays, great places have to be planned!

by Riccardo Marini

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