Matt Kitson, Regional Director, Qatar, joined a panel of experts at this year’s World Architectural Summit in Dubai to discuss ‘spaces between places’ and how the modern city must evolve. Below is an extract from the panels’ discussion and Matt’s response to the questions asked.
How can architects improve our public spaces, urban activity, walkability and humanist interaction within a futuristic cityscape?
An architect is a cog in a wider design team and for that design team to achieve a lasting legacy with their Masterplan that amply responds to the future challenges of the city they need clear concise planning frameworks that are laid down by government and planning municipalities. An example of this is the planning framework currently in place in London which requires significant schemes to submit a public realm design as part of their planning submission. In some cases where the design plot is rather land locked, some schemes have incorporated the public realm within the building such as 20 Fenchurch Street tower by Rafael Vinol, where a sky garden has been added.
20 Fenchurch Street Sky Garden
How has the current public realm in the Middle East achieved end users’ quality of life?
Modern cities in the Middle East are still in their infancy when it comes to providing a high quality of life style for all, however there are signs that local municipalities are starting to address this issue through retrofitting public space throughout the existing city layout. Doha for example is building the Sheraton park project next to the iconic Sheraton hotel which has graced the skyline of the Cornish over the past 35 year. This 73,000 m² public park will include shaded basins, fountains, children’s playgrounds, cafes and restaurants.
There are a number of existing examples of where public space retrofitting has been successful and one of the best is Millennium Park in Chicago. The downtown area of the city was in poor repair for a number of years until under the direction ofthe city mayor, this park was restored to a place which add vibrancy to the city and a sense of community and well being. The park now has a wide range of public art, retail, food and beverage outlets and an open air theatre where people from around the world come an perform to the people of Chicago free of charge.
Chicago Millennium Park
What are the design parameters in the urban context from master planning to realization and where are the gaps?
Design parameters should focus on environmental, social, cultural and economic factors forming the very DNA of a sustainable urban environment. Suggested areas that should be examined in the Masterplan and Urban regeneration are; site selection, ecology, mobility, urban connectivity, water conservation, energy conservation, responsible materials selection, recycling, waste minimisation, usability, place making, liveable communities, and diverse economic industry. Gaps in the design process are stakeholder engagement and designing for all age groups and social levels. We should not forget about the young when designing our cities.
Is Dubai designed for cars, not people? How does the city’s architectural forum justify this issue?
I think it is fair to say that the early plans for the Dubai Masterplan did just focus on the car and with a design that relied on one major arterial spine through the city, which any good transport consultant will tell you is not a very good efficient model to design too. In recent years we have seen some attempts to fix this, with the introduction of the Dubai metro, improvements to the bus network and walkability of the city. Over time, Dubai will find it own natural transport balance and we must remember it is still a relatively young city.
Are contemporary city-design means and methods applicable to the region, including infrastructure, transportation systems and city blocks?
Some of the older methods of Masterplanning such as zonal planning are not really set up for the challenges that our cities face today. More focus is needed on cyclic design where we think about where the materials the city consumes come from, conserve and recycle where we can how they are consumed and reuse the waste to provide power back to the city. Transport orientated planning is also essential in any modern city of today.
Can modern design means and methods be maintained cost-effectively, particularly in the Middle East region, and what are the measures of sustainable growth?
For any city looking forward at what it may be and may become there needs to be a balance of a number of economic factors to bring success. These are education, retail, commercial, industry, financial market, social identity and cultural heritage. Any design team must review all of these important factors during the design development process through working with a wide range of stakeholders, ranging from government officials, municipality authorities and representatives of local communities. These representatives in turn must also relay the needs of the whole community including all social standings and age groups. Measuring sustainable growth is something that needs to be done over time however one easy guide of this is at the beginning of the design process is to examine some of the more successful cities around the world and note there key sustainable ingredients. One can also observe some of the 'ghost cities' around the world and ask the question what went wrong and what must we avoid.
What are the key fundamental attributes of any city that make it liveable and maintainable?
Successful future cities will need to respond to globalisation and high speeds of communication and working. We must watch for sprawl that can lead to high levels of obesity and diabetes. Liveability can be delivered through public spaces that have public art that create vibrancy to the city and layers of experience for the people. One of the early pioneers of public space Masterplanning Sir Patrick Geddes said ‘by changing special form it is possible to change social structure’. The maintainable aspects of city design must come through a well thought through infrastructure strategies including energy supplies, water supplies and waste management. One design aspect for example that most cities have a underlying issue with is in the area of water leakage and this can be overcome through good design standards and installation inspections, coupled with a leakage metering strategy that provides live updates to the authorities of maintenance requirements.
This expert panel discussion and the session was moderated by Varkki Pallathucheril, Professor, College of Architecture, Art and Design, The American University of Sharjah, UAE.