Shaping And Influencing Public Space Design Construction Essay

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Abstract: This study explores the factors involved in shaping external urban public space, providing definitions for both space and urban design. The processes which take place between user and space, and the academic theories behind the human responses are analysed, along with an exploration of the different arguments for considering crime and other types of risk in spatial design. Design responses to existing factors such as climate, access and surroundings are explored, as are those factors created by the space; movement, activities, features, edges and enclosure, amongst many others. A review of national policy shows how little official guidance exists for this type of space and its design, which leads the paper to conclude with twelve key universal principles for achieving the successful design of urban space.

Key Words: External Urban Public Space, Theory in Urban Design, Coping with Climate, Spatial Design in Planning Policy, Risk vs. Innovation.


This theoretical comprehensive study project explores the factors which shape the design of public space, using appropriate examples within Central Birmingham to provide context, and to expand and illustrate the arguments.

The significance of public space has been justified by Tibbalds (1992, in Madanipour, 1996, p.146) as "the most important part of our towns and cities…where the greatest amount of human contact and interaction takes place". Carmona, et al (2003, p.111) differentiates between three different types of public space:

Internal Public Space - including libraries, museums, town halls, train and bus stations, and airports.

Quasi-Public Space - privately owned internal or external space such as university campuses, shopping centres, cinemas, food and drink establishments.

External Public Space - In rural areas this refers to coastline, forests, and waterways, and in urban areas it refers to land such as public squares, streets, and parks.

This study will concentrate on an aspect of the latter - External Urban Public Space, but rather than focus on streets or suburban parks, the focus will be on those squares, parks, plazas and spaces in the principle commercial cores of urban areas. This will be hereafter simply referred to as space.

There are many reasons why these spaces may come to be - an omission within other buildings, purposely designed as part of the landscape, or the divergence of a road around a landmark (Woolley, 2003, p.87). Whatever the reason, the importance of public space's role in an increasingly privatised and segregated sphere, and its enabling of social interaction and experience between groups regardless of differences of culture, faith, gender, age, class or wealth, should not be understated (Madanipour, 1996, p.144-145).

Public bodies have had to incorporate elements of privatisation in order to fund space, but this should not be at the expense of inclusiveness, nor should it result in more uniform design to suit those private stakeholders. However, uniform design principles, with enough room for manoeuvre, could and should ensure that specific design elements are addressed.

But why should space, and its design, matter? Many commentators, including Madanipour (1996, p.164-165) put forward the argument that design could be considered unimportant when compared with other issues such as economic performance or community well-being, and is more the preserve of wealthier groups within society, secure enough to contemplate such cultural luxuries.

However, this study will argue that good urban design, especially in public space, should not be optional extra. Exciting, considered and interesting design, not just pure function, should be accessible to all, not just those who can afford it, as those groups are not the only ones who will appreciate it, nor are they the only group who should have the opportunity to.

Many commentators, however, have found it difficult to agree on even a definition of urban design, let alone what constitutes successful urban design. Madanipour (1997 in Carmona and Tiesdell, 2007, p.12-13) describes urban design as an ambiguous term, with different meanings depending upon the group and circumstances. Chapman and Larkham (1994, p.2) define it as common ground between town planning and architecture.

Graves (in Krier, 2006, p.6) talks of urban design embracing "the entire fabric of a city - the buildings themselves and the open spaces between them…, every intervention in a city creates a dynamic between object and space", with Moughtin (2003, p.87) adding "the relationship between space, the surrounding buildings and the dome of the sky…demand an emotional and cerebral response and…compare with any other art form".

Fig.1 - This view of Oozells Square from inside the Ikon Art Gallery could be considered art alongside anything hanging on its walls.

In a further exploration of this art of space, illustrated by Figure 1, Cullen (1971, p.9-10) asks the reader to "suppose that…buildings have been put together in a group so that one can get inside the group, then the space created between the buildings is seen to have a life of its own", adding "there is an art of relationship just as there is an art of architecture". These relationships will form an important part of the Results and Discussion.

The emphasis of this study lies in attempting to determine what makes space work from a user's perspective, and how successes can be replicated or incorporated into policies and schemes. The scope of this report is limited to that which directly influences the subject. As an example; policy and climate are included, but politics and climate change could form a study project all by themselves, and do not impinge on a users response to space and design in the same way that, for example, weather or access does, so for this reason they are not included.

Climate may at first appear to be an inconsequential aspect of design, but is included in this paper as it has an enormous impact on external space, especially in more northern climes. If not considered, it will result in a space that, for much of the time, people move through hurriedly without stopping, opting instead to use indoor spaces for their activities.

Although the Policy section is specifically UK-centric, plus the Climate section to a lesser extent, and the examples are all Birmingham locales, the theories and concluding principles are universal. In fact, Whyte (1980, in Carmona & Tiesdell, 2007, p.228) observed that similar sized urban areas around the world, regardless of location, produced greater similarities of human behaviour in public space, than different sized urban areas within the same society. However, as society changes so will the perception and use of space, therefore it is important for the policies, designs, and public spaces themselves to be adaptable, sustainable and relevant.

Aims and objectives

The main aim of this study is to analyse the factors contributing to the making and shaping of successful public space.

This will be achieved through the following objectives:

Consider the influence of climate on the design and use of space

Review current relevant national planning policies

Explore the perceptions of risk associated with the use of space

Analyse processes of interaction between people, place and space, drawing upon established theory and principles

Produce twelve key principles for designing space

Climate and risk provide tangible, clear issues for users of space. However, the concepts and theories discussed, although more abstract, are not merely the preserve of the designer, as they still add to a persons sense of place, whether that person understands the rationale behind their own choices or otherwise. Policy is reviewed in order to discover what official guidance exists on this topic, and to justify the need for the concluding principles.


The research which was undertaken, in order to meet the aim and objectives of this study, were derived from secondary sources; primary research has not made up any of the results, but has illustrated the results and discussion through the use of photography. Additionally, due to the nature of the material, qualitative research was employed throughout, rather than quantitative research. Before discussing the material that enabled the research, it is necessary to explore what is meant by these terms, in order to justify the methods employed.

Quantitative data takes numerical form (Punch, 2005, in Blaxter, 2006, p.64) and therefore not suitable for this study. Taking two of the objectives as examples, the number of policies which mention spatial design, or how many risks can be linked to space, is irrelevant to this study, what matters is what those policies and risks mean to both designer and user, plus how and why each point influences spatial design. To put it in the language of methodology, the data needs to be qualified. McBride and Schostak (1995, ch.2) describe qualitative research as "answering those why? (sic) questions and…not (being) prepared to simply accept the quantitative answers". Therefore, this study has not simply listed the factors, but has attempted to answer what those factors mean and achieve in practical terms.

To explain what is meant by primary and secondary data; primary data refers to that which has never before been collected, secondary data refers to data which has been "put together by somebody else, but reused…in a different way" (Blaxter, et al, 2006, p.153), as "it makes sense to use it if the data you want already exists" (Blaxter et al, 2006, p.170).

Of course, reusing data in a different way could create problems if it has been reused incorrectly, misinterpreted (Leedy, 1997, p.100-101), or used for different purposes to that of the original researcher, which it invariably will (Andranovich & Riposa, 1993, p.63). Therefore, the purpose of the secondary data, the reason for its collection and who it was collected for, as well as its credibility, needs to be considered.

The material used for this study has been carefully chosen for how well it is respected in its field. This was achieved through discussions with academics of the built environment, and through sourcing of reading lists for relevant under-graduate and post-graduate modules. Much of this material led the research to other complementary and contrasting sources cited within the text, allowing certain topics to be explored in more detail, and counter-arguments to be examined. It is important to offer triangulation of theory, to see the arguments of what makes successful space from different perspectives, as well as to better reach concluding principles (Neuman, 2000, p.125).

This, however, was mainly for the Climate, Risk, and Theory sections, as well as for providing definitions of urban design and public space. For the policy section, current national policy was reviewed, along with any relevant accompanying material. As these are available online, it was conducted by searching for certain key words in all current national documents (e.g. space, design) and checking the section's relevance. The same method was used for publications by CABE, whose relevance will be explained in the Policy section.

As explained in the Introduction; with the exceptions of the national planning policies and local context used in this study, other sources consider universal theories and themes, reflected in the concluding principles. An exception to this is certain aspects of the Climate section, though this will become apparent upon reading.

Much of the discussion requires visualisation, not just to show how the theories could be applied in practice, much also to aid understanding, both for the reader and the researcher. This is in the form of photography, with Central Birmingham providing both visualisation, and context. As this study emphasises the human nature of space throughout, it was important to ensure that human interaction with space was captured. This raises ethical issues, such as consent and exploitation, especially when photographing children. However, discretion and good judgement were used at all times on what, who and when to photograph.

Results and Discussion

1. The Influence of Climate

Whilst the UK contains no 'Winter Cities' by Gappert's definitions (1987) of proximity to the Arctic Circle, number of snow covered days, or reliable ski resorts, as well as the UK benefiting from the Gulf Stream, it could be argued that the UK has many "cold-rain cities that experience little snow, but have substantial winter wetness" (Gappert, 1987, p.35).

In The Future of Winter Cities, Pressman (1987, p.60) berates the designing of outdoor space with only the warmer months in mind, resulting in underused space during the colder months. Pressman and others encourage methods to prolong the season through techniques such as orientation to maximise solar gain, wind-screening to reduce wind-speed and wind-chill, and use of bold colours to "minimise the drabness of winter" (Pressman, in Gappert, 1987, p.65). All of these measures will encourage seasonal social aspects of use of space, without having a detrimental effect on the space during warmer months.

Planning & Climate Change: Supplement to Planning Policy Statement 1 (CLG, 2007, Para.42), emphasises the need to maximise cooling and avoid solar gain in development, measures which would be logical internally, but not for open space, which it fails to address, only being concerned with minimising energy consumption. The only reference to any open space is to advise that it should be provided, along with appropriate shade or shelter, though this is primarily concerned with greenspace. Arguably, space would minimise energy consumption through implementation of the techniques advocated earlier, as there would be less need for outdoor heaters at any adjoining bars, cafes or restaurants with outdoor seating or smoking areas, and more people would be comfortable using the space resulting in less people staying indoors and using energy.

Continuing the climate theme, PPS25: Development and Flood Risk (CLG, 2006, Annex.C6) advocates design which reduces flood risk, as "flooding can be exacerbated if development increases the percentage of impervious land", with CABE (2000) advising protection from down-draughts and lateral winds, which can be funnelled and amplified by the shape, scale and orientation of buildings.

"Good protection against bad weather, good access to good weather" (Gehl, 1996, p.182) will mean that the season of comfortable outdoor use will be prolonged, helping to keep the space vibrant and in use year-round.

2. The Influence of Policy

Continuing on from PPS1 and PPS25 mentioned in the Climate section, this section is concerned with purely design-related aspects of policy which affect public space, focusing on current national Planning Policies, which guide Regional Spatial Strategies and Local Development Frameworks.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) act as the Government's 'critical friend' by advising, guiding and encouraging on matters of urban design, public space and policy (CABE, undated). Whilst CABE's material is not statutorily binding, they are an influential stakeholder, and can be perceived as a 'middle-ground' between user, policy and theory, so their material is referred to throughout, where relevant.

Alluded to earlier, PPS1: Delivering Sustainable Development (ODPM, 2005, Para.6 & 14) suggests that "policies should promote high quality inclusive design in the layout of new developments…in terms of function and impact", adding "good design ensures attractive, usable, durable and adaptive places…(and) create(s) well-mixed and integrated developments, which avoid segregation and have well planned public spaces that bring people together". Cullingworth and Nadin (2006) see this statement as a reflection of a shift toward a greater emphasis on design considerations, and not just in aesthetic terms.

Closer to this report's core, PPS6: Planning for Town Centres (ODPM, 2005, Para.1.5 & 2.19) follows a similar vein to other policies in its generalisations, merely instructing Local Authorities to "promote inclusive design (and) improve the quality of the public realm and open spaces" in order to be "fit for purpose, comfortable, safe, attractive, accessible and durable". The supplementary 'Planning for Town Centres: Guidance on Design and Implementation Tools' (ODPM, 2005, Para.2.12 & 3.3) instructs Local Authorities to create the high quality spaces through the good design and coordination of street furniture in order to avoid clutter (discussed in greater depth in the Theory section), and encourages the development of an urban design strategy and vision.

PPG15: Planning and the Historic Environment (DoE & DoNH, 1994) incorporates listed structures into its policy, and development such as space must consider this; indeed certain development could change the character of its surroundings simply by its presence, as other buildings, and "the quality of spaces between them" (DoE & DoNH, para.2.17) alter the harmony of the surroundings. Indeed, existing protected spaces are "often inseparable from the buildings themselves…(, and) the pattern of…open spaces and the views they create within historic townscapes may be as valuable as the buildings" (DoE & DoNH, para.6.2) (fig.2), which will affect the design of the edges and other factors such as materials and styles.

Fig.2 - Anticipation and revelation of Victoria Square, from Chamberlain Square, is as important as the surroundings.

Therefore, whilst designers of urban space need to consider the surroundings when choosing the design of layout, floorscape and street furniture (DoE & DoNH, para.5.14), this is especially important when within the curtilage of listed buildings or conservation areas, where imaginative designs and ideas are encouraged (DoE & DoNH, para.3.19iii). This is a welcome principle when the easy option of resorting to pastiche could be applied, and refers back to Cullen's (1971, p.9-10) idea of the 'art of relationship'. Juxtaposition can be more sensitive than a poor imitation, as demonstrated by Figure 3.

Fig.3 - Old and new juxtaposed in Oozells Square.

PPG15 (DoE & DoNH, para.5.11) also briefly touches on the idea of 'shared spaces' where different uses mix, e.g. pedestrians and motorists. The Good Practice Guide on Planning for Tourism (DCLG, 2006), encourages high quality, functional and attractive design, to enhance the experience for visitors and locals alike (DCLG, para.2.6 & 5.1). Variety will be explored in more detail in the Theory section.

PPG17: Sport and Recreation (ODPM, 2002), whilst being the policy to offer most guidance on space, is mostly concerned with greenspace rather than civic space, though it also encourages good design, not just to improve quality of space (ODPM, Para.20.iv) but also as a means to reduce crime (ODPM, Para.18.iii), which applies to all space. CABE (2006) believe that this quality sends a strong message that space and the wider area are valued. The latter aspect is explored in the Risk section.

As discovered, policy is vague on design; discussing what 'good' or 'quality' design can do, rather than what it is, and certainly not how to achieve it. In fact, CABE (2002) claim that less than half of Local Authorities employ an urban designer and less than a quarter have refused an application purely on a design issue, good design being considered an optional extra. Perhaps tellingly, the most comprehensive current document on design is not policy, but merely a good practice guide - By Design: Urban Design in the Planning System: Towards Better Practice (DETR & CABE, 2000).

3. The Influence of Risk

Fig.4 - Who would be to blame in an accident? Centenary Square.

Risk can be inadvertently created by poorly designed space, providing cover for crime, exacerbating adverse weather, or leading to accidents. Users will only feel comfortable using a space if they feel protected, whether it be from weather, traffic, injury, or even other users. This leads the study to the idea of 'designing out' crime in order to protect the user, though Shaftoe (1998, p.186) argues that design can only displace it, at best. The list below summarises Crowe's (2000) ideas for well designed space, from a defensive perspective:

Where seating is fixed, outdoor sitting areas should feature sitting rails rather than walls to increase surveillance

Terraced or elevated areas should also be oriented to increase surveillance, helping prevent 'abnormal' use (fig.5)

Walking areas should not exclusively use cobblestones, to make walking easier

Some features should be portable to increase flexibility, or to remove if colonised by 'vagrants' (fig.6)

Certain vehicles should have access to enable security patrols; this would also be in line with the 'shared space' principle in the Policy section.

Fig.5 - Surveillance and enclosure in Chamberlain Square.

Some of these suggestions, whilst certainly helping to reduce what the author describes as abnormal use, could also help to reduce the spaces attraction if poorly implemented, which would of course reduce the surveillance if the space is not in use. In addition, surveillance does not necessarily prevent crime, as many onlookers would be unwilling to intervene should criminal activity take place, but it would perhaps reduce the risk of crime, and importantly, fear of crime. Although, as Shaftoe (in Greed & Roberts, 1998, p.186) warns "urban design measures alone cannot…reduce crime and insecurity". Arguably, space cannot reduce crime; its design can only try to make as little existing crime take place there, without impeding normal use.

CABE (2008) discuss how it is not just crime that is 'designed out', but homeless people (explicitly considered

Fig.6 - Abnormal use or inclusiveness? Centenary Square.

abnormal by Crowe, 2000), skateboarders, and 'assertive teenagers', among others. Additionally, over surveillance can have a negative impact for the user. The angles and partial revelation created by the edges and enclosure create an element of anticipation and surprise, which would be lost should it be designed out. Perhaps when Cullen (1971, p.17) talked about serial vision ("scenery revealed through jerks and revelations"), crime was less of a design consideration than it is today, so must be balanced with social issues relevant to the location of the space.

Gehl (1996, p.64) notes that terraced or elevated areas, whilst promoting surveillance, can inhibit contact rather than promote it, leading to "short detours or greater risks…in preference to walking up or down", with ramps being preferred to steps when given the option (Gehl, 1996, p.144, p.147).

This leads the study into other risks, or perception of risk. What constitutes risk (including risk of crime) will differ, depending on each stakeholder's perspective. What one group of stakeholders, such as those in Figure 4, and arguably Figure 11, feel constitutes a hazard may not be considered so by others. Risk has different meaning to designers than it does to Health & Safety officers, for example, and would of course have opposing interpretations in any litigation. CABE (2007) discovered that most legal claims regarding highways have related to maintenance rather than design. This could be true for space, and therefore the fear of legal action perhaps outweighs the reality.

Space cannot be totally risk free, and should incorporate some risk (water feature, shared space, multi-levels) to create an interesting environment. These should be designed to consider predicted risk, without compromising on quality. A balance must be sought between health and safety and over-sensitivity, or lose out on innovatively designed public spaces in favour of bland, over-cautious design (CABE, 2007).

Fig.7 - A sense of immediacy to some, a risk to others. Brindleyplace.

An example of innovation instead of over-caution would be not installing a barrier between a water feature or ledge and the floor, giving a sense of immediacy, and adds drama and clarity (Cullen, 1971, p.188-192). Unfortunately, however, "a healthy attitude to being able to deal with open water in urban areas has been replaced by an over-cautious approach" (Wootton, 2003, p.90). Space should be designed in a way which minimises risk in normal, sensible use, rather than trying to plan for exceptional or rare incidents. There must come a point where responsibility is passed to the individual or supervisor, especially in instances where the hazard is an obvious one.

4. The Influence of Design Theory

Bentley, et al (1985, p.11) recommends a procedure for successful design, which this study will build upon and modify by incorporating other elements (in bold-italic), applying the relevant principles to space. Certain elements have been grouped together for conciseness and to show how most aspects of design overlap and influence each other.

Permeability and Legibility

Paths and the nodes where paths meet need careful consideration. The layout of space needs to offer a variety of choices of access and routes to, from, and through the space, for a variety of users, and these need to be clear and easy to 'read'. Sight lines and desire lines are important considerations, as pedestrians are inclined to follow the shortest or easiest visible route between where they are and where they want to go (Gehl, 1996, p.139).

Fig.8 - Permeability and legibility by means of numerous paths and nodes. Brindleyplace.

Some degree of undulation can be interesting, rather than a simple straight line, and when coupled with change of level, help guide "the eye where the landscapist wills" (fig.8) (Cullen, 1971, p.175), if not necessarily guide the feet. Change of level, however, should not be too great, as Gehl (1996, p.65) reminds the designer that human field-of-vision is naturally more horizontal than vertical, especially when the user is focused on walking, thus its relevance.

Whyte (1980, in Carmona & Tiesdell, 2007, p.227) discusses the human habit of stopping and talking in the main pedestrian flow. As nodes are likely to become meeting places, being at marked or natural junctions, they should be able to accommodate this function to avoid creating an obstacle. These places could feature a landmark or visual cue, such as furniture or art, discussed in detail later in this section, to clearly signpost them. Permeability and legibility can also be achieved by making use of appropriate existing or historical routes and nodes (Bentley et al, 1985, p.16), these will also give new spaces a connection with previous use, reducing the scale of change, and helping achieve instant familiarity with the new.

Scale, Size and Enclosure

Whilst perhaps not always within the control of a designer of space, the shape, amount, and arrangement of the surroundings, plus the ratio of building height to space width, will define and influence the design of space (CABE, 2000), as well as having an impact on the degree of spatial enclosure. The smaller the space, the more opportunity for social interaction and connection (Alexander et al, 1977, quoted by Carr et al, 1992, in Carmona & Tiesdell, 2007, p.235), with larger spaces being more conducive to planned events, such as markets or concerts, bringing different design considerations.

Scale relates to the ratio of surroundings to space, comparatively tall edges in relation to the width of the floor will result in a higher degree of enclosure. Scale also relates edges to users - whilst the edges may tower, access should be designed on a more human scale, so as not to intimidate (Moughtin, 2003, p.36-37).

Permeability, as discussed earlier, will also be dictated to some extent by the degree of enclosure. A high degree of enclosure created by the scale of surroundings, combined with the amount of access, create the sense of an outdoor room, the edges becoming the walls and the access points becoming the 'windows', the view of which adds an extra dimension to the space (Cullen, 1971), helping to contain the atmosphere and keep the 'life' in. Of course, this can only be of benefit if the space evokes a positive atmosphere, created by the other aspects covered in this study. Different types of space, by degree of enclosure, have been classified by Zucker (in Moughtin, 2003, p.99):

Closed - Contained Space (e.g. Oozells Square)

Dominated - Space directed to main building (e.g. Centenary Square)

Nuclear - Space formed around a centre (e.g. St. Philips Square) (fig.10)

Grouped - Combined Spaces (e.g. Victoria/Chamberlain Squares)

Amorphous - Unlimited Space

Corners are key to the degree of enclosure (Moughtin, 2003, p.99), depending on how open they are, how sharp the angles are, as demonstrated by Figure 9, and (if any) how many routes converge. Other techniques for creating enclosure include arches above access, such as in Chamberlain Square (fig.5), plus the rhythm created by similar roof-lines or styles of architecture.

Fig.9 - A high degree of enclosure achieved through scale and angle of corners. Oozells Square.

Fig.10 - St. Philips Cathedral and Square is an example of nuclear space.

However, the enclosure can also work for those on the outside looking in, and in order for this to work best, the access should be located or shaped with an element of anticipation and revelation in mind, but with enough legibility to encourage people to enter the space to begin with (fig.2, 7), therefore designers should be careful to avoid "inward-looking plazas and…a defensive style of design" (Wootton, 2003, p.89).

Variety, Robustness, Personalisation

As Bentley et al (1985, p.10) observe, a choice of routes is irrelevant unless the space offers a choice of uses and experiences, to a variety of users. Though it is not always possible for a designer of space to control land use at the edges, unless part of a larger masterplan from the outset, the space can still offer a variety of sensory experiences and perceptions to different people, and the space can be designed to be mutually beneficial with the proposed or existing surroundings.

Variety of both user and use of space and its edge can change throughout the day, week, year, or over many years. Therefore a space needs to be robust: being suitable for and adaptable to a variety of different and changing activities. Circumstances may dictate that choices and activities will change over the lifetime of the space, so to extend this lifetime; robustness needs to be a design consideration from the outset. Also, allowing room in the design for personalisation (e.g. the signage, displays and seating shown in Figures 11 and 12) helps to facilitate legibility and potential of current uses, especially those more active in contributing to the space (Bentley et al, 1985, p.58). For example, a café or bar will likely have a more active frontage than more passive uses (bank, office), as it is more likely to extend inward from the edges.

Edge of Space

Already referred to throughout this study, edges are the main place of activity, and arguably the most important element. In order to aid use and surveillance of space, 'live edges', also referred to as active frontages (windows, doors, outdoor seating), are considered good practice (Carmona et al, 2003, p.173). Bentley, et al, (1985, p.59-60) believe the edge should be considered first, as "for most people…the edge of the space IS the space", and if it fails, "the space becomes a place to walk through, not a place to stop" (Alexander, 1977, in Carmona et al, 2003, p.173).

Fig.12 - Personalisation of use and active edges. Oozells Square.

Gel (1996, p.152-164) notes that most passive activities (sitting, waiting, people watching), as well as more active engagement (socialising, buying and selling), begin on the edge and work their way inwards, noting that places to sit are preferable at a defined edge, as users can look out whilst feeling protected, unobstructed and semi-sheltered, this goes for primary seating (benches, chairs) (fig.12) or secondary seating (walls, ledges, or steps) (fig.5, 13, 15). These activities help to 'soften' the edges, although harder edges, where appropriate, aid legibility.

Fig.13 - This empty fountain has been adapted for secondary seating by users. Centenary Square.


The user's experiences and feelings when using space are affected by the senses, and of course should be positive. Already discussed are anticipation and revelation, feelings created by motion, hearing, even smell. Richness also refers to the finer grain within layout and image: the choice of materials, textures and natural features affecting touch, and the colours, styles, lighting, and furniture affecting the predominant sense - sight.

Fig.11 - Space can provide many sensory experiences, regardless of age.

An often overlooked element is the floor, "one of the most powerful agents for unifying and joining…,an equal partner with the buildings…by the nature of its levels, scale, texture and homogeneity", helping to "link place to place by steps, bridge…(or) distinctive floor pattern…so long as continuity and access are maintained" (Cullen, 1971, p.53-54). This is shown throughout, most demonstrably in Figures 2, 3, 5, 7 and 12. Patterns of colour or material add richness to space, and aid legibility.

Art & Furniture

The edges and floor have been discussed, but the larger the floor space, the greater the need for central features, in order to give focus, and to avoid the centre being empty, lifeless and avoided. Again, this is illustrated throughout the paper. As discussed in Permeability and Legibility, adding features close to the natural paths and nodes near the centre (but, as in Figure 14, not perfectly central to aid diagonal legibility); gives people a reason to use the centre. (Alexander, et al, in Carmona et al, 2003, p.173).

Fig.14 - This central feature provides focus without compromising legibility. Chamberlain Square.

There are many ways to 'furnish' the outdoor room. Public art, whether it is a large monument or on a smaller scale, both of which are shown in Figures 14 and 15, can give an identity and character to a space, as well as a source of local pride if the piece has any relevance to locality. Roberts (1998, p.129) advises against taking the easy option of just filling some space, but to actually think about what the art will convey, and what it will mean to those who see it, whether it is a fountain, statue, or an abstract piece of sculpture.

Even common practical objects (seating, signage, railings, bins, etc) can be designed as art (Cullen, 1971), adding to the character and identity of a

Fig.15 - Four pieces of art in one view. Chamberlain Square.

space, as well as definition and legibility to routes and access, (Gibbons and Oberholzer, 1991, p.3) particularly signage and lighting, the latter also being a particularly useful method of highlighting the best aspects of the space and design, and making the space useable in low-light conditions.

The design, amount, size, material, location and orientation of furniture require careful consideration from the start of the design, and should add to, not detract from the space. Unfortunately, however, much 'street furniture' is uncoordinated, obtrusive, and poorly designed clutter, much of which is 'off-the-shelf' pastiche, when it could be bespoke, or at least add an extra dimension to the space.

It has already been discussed and shown how not using railings can add immediacy to the landscape, and informal secondary seating can be used in the manner shown in Figures 13 and 15. Plus, if a space has been designed legibly, the need for much signage will be reduced anyway (English Partnerships, 2000, p.102), so minimal furniture is preferable.

Fig.16 - No need for additional signage furniture here.

Natural Features

Any features which offer a hint of nature in otherwise urban areas have strong drawing powers, "the opportunity to be close to plants, trees, flowers, and water is strongly desired…(,with) evidence that these elements may have relaxing and restorative qualities" (Carr et al, 1992, in Carmona & Tiesdell, 2007, p.234).

Fig.17 - Natural features add colour, seasonality, legibility, and life. Centenary Square.

Thompson (in Greed & Roberts, 1998, p.106) discusses how, as Figure 17 (amongst many others) shows "trees and shrubs can act as a foil to architecture…, the soft and nebulous qualities of foliage providing a welcome contrast to the rigidity and hardness of built structures", bringing with it seasonal aspects to the unchanging form of the built environment. Water features in particular, as illustrated in Figure 18 and throughout this study, can give focus and life to a space, offering an opportunity for social interaction amongst different groups of users (Wootton, 2003, p.89).

Fig.18 - Art, nature and opportunities for interaction in one feature. Centenary Square.

Nature is more than just a desirable and attractive feature, having practical applications too. Trees and shrubbery are suitable for shelter from wind and rain, provide privacy, mark boundaries and aid legibility. Also, grass provides additional seating and social space in warmer months and can soak up excess rain.


As discovered, a spaces success or failure is largely due to its design, and the balance and interaction between all of the elements discussed in the previous section. Every piece of space will require a different response from the designer, who will be faced with a different set of criteria. Current policy only goes as far as offering certain principles in certain circumstances, as outlined in the Results and Discussion section. Therefore, this study concludes with a set of twelve universal principles which could be implemented in order to create better external urban public space, whether in the context of Birmingham, the UK, or indeed anywhere else.

The Twelve Commandments of Successful Space:

Space will work better if its designer considers its surroundings, existing or planned, from the outset.

Micro-climate should always be considered. This is space that people choose to use or otherwise, so it needs to be as comfortable as possible whatever the season.

Designers should not avoid elements of risk, obvious to any responsible user or guardian, at the expense of interesting design.

Space should be designed with the aim of making anti-social behaviour difficult, but not at the expense of making the space welcoming for other users.

Routes should follow the paths of least resistance, be it shortest or flattest, as this is the one which users will likely come to use anyway, whether there is a path there or not.

Variety, legibility and adaptability, of routes, uses, and experiences, are paramount to making space active and understood at any time, despite change.

Design should be on a human scale. This is, after all, a space for humans.

Space should only be enclosed if the edges are active, but not so enclosed that those outside cannot be enticed inside.

The larger the space, the greater the need for features nearer to the centre.

Natural features should always be included, whether water, trees, shrubs, grass, or as is appropriate.

Furniture should add to the space, rather than be a necessary evil, being coordinated, minimal, and unobtrusive.

Art can make a huge contribution to space, but should not be installed for art's sake, as it can and should be incorporated into furniture and the floor anyway.


Because of the aims and objectives of the study, it was felt that the results and discussion should be combined for ease of reading. Because of the wealth of material on design and theory, the word-count could easily have been achieved on this objective alone. However, it was important to provide practical issues, such as weather and safety, to provide a balance between ideals and reality. There are of course other influences; economics, politics, communities and consultation, or whatever the current zeitgeist may be, and any combination of these could be incorporated into a longer study, although perhaps more suited to a practical, rather than theoretical, study project.

The aim and objectives of this study could be applied to the other types of space outlined in the Introduction, or indeed any other elements of the public or semi-public sphere. Each would no doubt uncover differences and similarities.

Finally, this study, rather than exploring all of the different stakeholder arguments for what makes successful public space, opted to incorporate those only relevant to the design issues. The best method of seeing which space has incorporated the widest views is to go and see which space has the widest variety of users. Variety, of routes, uses, and activities, has been explored in this study of a specific and important type of public space. But it is also important that there continues to be a variety of public spaces, to meet the needs of society that only public spaces can provide.