Why boundaries and edges are an integral part of the urban design process
Graduate Landscape Architect & Urban Designer, Thomas Bacon, discusses why boundaries and edges are such a vital aspect of urban design, and why a collaborative approach is key, in his latest blog.
Boundaries and edges are an integral part of the urban design process, defining the limits and transitions between different spaces, providing a sense of place through visual, social, and physical cues.
These considerations can be small- scale within a project, such as whether a certain fence, wall or hedgerow will compliment a character area, or large-scale, such as how best to position developments alongside existing towns and villages. This more expansive, theoretical perspective of boundaries is typically focused on the setting between urban and rural spaces, with this landscape having both contentions and opportunity in equal measure.
Throughout history, and academia, the boundaries and edges between urban and rural spaces have been presented as “pressurised landscapes” (Gallent, et al., 2006), with order and structure being used to control the growth and implement hierarchies between spaces. By enforcing a rigidity to what is acceptable on either side of, or between, the boundaries acceptance of change and growth is limited.
This is shown to have a knock-on impact on development involving boundaries, associated with urban sprawl and encroachment across edges of town and country, encouraging haphazard developments and the degradation of green spaces (Burchell et al. 1998). The use of ‘one-size-fits-all’ design approaches that feature around some of the country’s urban boundaries further emphasises points of tension amongst residents, landowners, and official organisations.
Whilst these opinions regarding boundary and edge developments may be more than warranted when looking at some poorly designed and managed examples, I don’t think it is a mindset which should be applied to the concept in its entirety. Population growth and the need for affordable, sustainable homes is not slowing down, and this requires creative solutions paired with a collaborative approach.
Boundaries and edges of urban areas should be considered as their own unique landscapes, drawing upon aspects of both town and country and shifting from the concept of historic barriers. Edges are transforming, becoming spaces of opportunity to promote positive urban design ideals. But this is only possible through informed contextual understanding of each boundary or edge, understanding the existing qualities, features and future needs of the residents and landscape.
By reacting to the qualities of the landscape you will be able to successfully link urban and rural, creating developments where active and public transport are the natural first choices. This ensures that boundaries are lively and integrated, designed to allow for fluid movements of people and nature. This push towards developments that are liveable and at a human-scale also draws parallels with the 15-minute city ideals, providing new links to communities, strengthening sense of place and provide a contribution to accessible recreation, wellbeing, and biodiversity.
Within the Bidwells' Masterplanning, Landscpe and Assessment (MLA) team we can draw upon, and benefit from, the variety of perspectives within masterplanning, landscape and assessment to create informed, appropriate designs that tackle the uniqueness of boundaries and edges head on. These spaces require active and dynamic solutions, creating spaces which celebrate a site’s features to provide enjoyable and functional transitions between boundaries.
Visually, the understanding shared between our assessment and master planning work enables us to create designs that achieve natural and harmonious appearances, blending with the surrounding landscape where necessary or creating attractive gateways if appropriate. Developments which span boundaries and edges will always require collaboration, with the work of experienced landscape architects and masterplanning specialists, forming part of a wider approach with planners, developers, housebuilders, stakeholders and residents - all striving to achieve positive and sustainable growth.
Gallent, N., Andersson, J. and Bianconi, M. (2006) “Planning on the Edge: The Context for Planning at the Rural-Urban Fringe.”
Burchell, R.W., Shad, N.A., Listokin, D., Phillips, H., Downs, A., Seskin, S., Davis, J.S., Moore, T., Helton, D., & Gall, M. (1998). “The Costs of Sprawl—Revisited”
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Masterplanning, Landscape and Assessment
As Urban Designers and Landscape Architects we shape the spaces between buildings. We look to realise a vision of a sustainable, beneficial development which positively contributes to place and creates sustainable places where people of all ages want to work, live and play.