The future of high streets and the high streets of the future

This year we worked together on an extremely relevant topic that touches the very heart of urban life: the future of high streets. We tried to understand what problems these complex and vibrant spaces are facing, what is their role in a highly digital, dynamic and mobile society and how can we, as architects and urban designers, address this challenge and shape more inclusive, sustainable and resilient places. Because high streets come in so many flavors – and so do the problems they face and opportunities they bring about, the theme of this year UD Studio entailed the development of design visions for the long-term future of two  very different high streets in Glasgow: Maryhill Road in Maryhill and Kilmarnock Road in Shawlands.

Maryhill Road, Maryhill – Glasgow

Maryhill is large district in the North-West of Glasgow counting about 50000 inhabitants, tied together by Maryhill Road, one of the most important historical routes into the city. Despite this, much of the former glory of this area is now faded. Many of its old tenements are now long gone and the environmental quality of existing buildings and public spaces is generally poor. Although the state of today’s Maryhill seems bleak, this area has an immense unexploited potential if appropriate strategies to help it resurface are implemented, re-establishing Maryhill Road as a thriving hub for shopping, casual encounters and leisure, and as a scenic route in close contact with nature.

Road closure in Maryhill Road

Kilmarnock Road, Shawlands – Glasgow

Kilmarnock Road is the most important street of Shawlands, a dense area in the Southside of Glasgow catering for an estimate catchment for around 21000 people, characterised by a long history and a strong multicultural community, and of strategic economic importance to the city. In the last decade, the this once thriving and vital street reached an historically low level, with shopkeepers struggling to stay open, increasing numbers of vacant retail units, poorly maintained public spaces and an impoverished offer to consumers. For Shawlands to retain and further enhance its capacity to attract residents and users, reclaiming and re-imagining the role of its vibrant high street is of crucial importance.

Shawlands Arcade in Kilmarnock Road

With the help of distinguished architects and urbanists such as David Rudlin, director of URBED and winner of the 2014 Wolfson Economic Prize, Nicholas Boys Smith, founder of Create Streets and chair for the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission and Robert Adams, leader of ADAM Architecture, we will implement the notion of ‘Masterplanning forChange’ to the design of the resilient city. This is a unique opportunity to investigate one of the most enduring and yet innovative aspects of our cities and to build a shared vision for the high street of the future by harnessing the secret behind their adaptive and regenerative capacity.

Taking part to this course are students from the PgDipl/MSc in Urban Design and students from the Advanced Architectural Design programme. Throughout the year, students worked together mixing and sharing their reciprocal expertise – urban design is multidisciplinary. The structure of the year-long project and its main outputs are achieved in the following phases:

Phase 1: Analysis

We contextualize the area in its physical form; historic and socio-historic development; operating political, social and economic trends; wider urban network (MCA), in relation to services and infrastructure; in the collective imaginary of its residents and users and finally in its strategic position as per city plans and development strategies.

Phase 2: Strategy

We define by negotiation Strategic Visions for the area, and set a path for its delivery, inclusive of actions, their links and mutual influence, and a delivery plan. The Strategic Visions are then made operative, place-based and contextual through two linked design phases, the ‘Concept Plans’, which identify and address inconsistencies in the existent geographies of the area in terms of street centrality, building densities, urban “nodes” of services, and finally transport and mobility facilities.

Phase 3a: Local Urban Code + Foundation Masterplan

The study and adaptation of a local urban code, that is a set of principles to guide the design development of detailed portions of each strategy. The Foundation Masterplan deals with the physical continuity of such decisions. The project site is here detailed, through proposed nodes of activities (local, district or global), including specific densities by street front, a finalized street hierarchy, the location of main projects to then explore in more detail at the final masterplanning phase.

Phase 3b: Masterplan + Place Design

Masterplans are presented at scale 1:1000 with detail where needed. Here we develop further all design elements, down to the individual building type and specific permutations. Each student then selects a number of “special places’ within the detailed masterplan and works up their character in detail through a combination of representation techniques – sketches, sections, precedents etc.