Consultants and clients lack a shared vision of what constitutes a good place, writes Robert Adam


Robert Adam

If you’re making a new place, you have to have some idea of where you’re heading. Lots of professionals get involved and they’re all supposed to work to some sort of joined-up vision.

The trouble is, each professional often has his or her own notion of where they’re heading. (And I don’t apologise for the caricatures that follow, they don’t apply to everyone.)

Architects like their own kind of buildings. Landscape architects want lots of green stuff. Highway engineers want to make sure anyone out and about is not at risk from anything anywhere. Ecologists like dormice, newts and muddy swales. Planners like everything neatly in place. Environmentalists want everyone to give up on cars. Above all, most developers just want to build fast and get out quick with a fat wallet.

Each profession tries to carve out its own territory and it often comes together badly.

Some of these professionals call themselves ”urban designers”. There’s no legal protection on this title. Then they can call themselves “master planners”. Sexism aside (I’m not sure ”mistress planners” sounds good), this presumes they’re the “master” of the design process. These are usually architects, landscape architects or planners puffing themselves up.

So how do these people come together? Too often they don’t

If architects are the “master”, they probably want to make sure there are fashionable buildings. Landscape architect ”masters” might just let you fit buildings into their green and pleasant places. Planner “masters” want to make sure the boxes are ticked.

Other professions don’t bother with titles as they know they’re in charge anyway. Highways engineers work to rules and only care about saving lives from all the maniac drivers out there. Ecologists have got the law and bats behind them. Environmentalists have got Greta Thunberg on their side and after all they’re saving the planet.

So how do these people come together? Too often they don’t.

The trouble is, they all come from different places. Architects and landscape architects are trained like artists. Planners are taught to be bureaucrats. Highways engineers and environmentalists are number-crunchers. Ecologists are hiking-boot biologists. And developers are business executives.

But all these professionals have only one proper objective: places where communities will grow up to love where they live

Try telling some architects that it doesn’t matter what buildings look like nearly as much as how they come together and whether people like them.

Try telling some landscape architects that useless little green patches are only good for dog shit or litter.

Try telling some planners that diagrams with coloured blobs and arrows often end up as bad places.

Try telling some highway engineers that pointless pavements are really just car parks.

Try telling some ecologists that gash space attracts old supermarket trolleys and juvenile druggies.

Try telling some environmentalists that likeable places last longer and will save energy long after the solar panels pack up.

Try telling unit-number accounting developers that some less profitable buildings can make a better place and so more profit over-all.

Above all, remind them all that in 25 years none of it will be quite the same anyway – and that’s a good thing.

But all these professionals have only one proper objective: places where communities will grow up to love where they live. At some stage, well before a developer calls in a motley crew, each fighting their own corner, they need to come from the same place.

They need to come out of their silos, understand one another, become friends. They need to study together to concentrate on only one thing – creating beautiful places.