Astrid on Academics

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The beginning of February saw the exciting launch of our team edge Instagram takeovers! Over the next couple of months, get to know our girl gang a little better as we each take the Instagram reigns to discuss all things Urban Design and why we love what we do. We kicked things off with our first official edgelet, Astrid!

Urban Design?

I am deeply passionate about Urban Design, because it provides the opportunity to influence how people live, travel, work, play, and interact in their daily lives! Urban Designers can promote long-term change, for example, by providing mixed land uses which in turn can reduce car dependency.

However, it’s also a profession many haven’t even heard of. “Urban Design? That’s interesting… what exactly is it?” It is both rewarding to answer but also saddening to realise that Urban Design is almost a ‘semi-secret’ industry which is not understood by many. I am incredibly proud to be part of edge… representing a powerful all-lady dream team who champion high quality, landscape led neighbourhoods for the UK’s future generations to enjoy!

Germi-Nation

For my dissertation at Oxford Brookes University, I created a new urban movement called ‘Germi-Nation’, defined as: ‘The vertical, regenerative growth of decaying urban townscapes simultaneously with the horizontal burgeoning of natural landscapes which facilitates community nourishment’. ⠀

Germi-Nation guides the design of distinctive intensification schemes, advocating a more sustainable and unique future for UK housing whilst satisfying residents aspirations. Getting this balance was tricky – it was almost like trying to choose which flavour gin to go for – but my resulting design principles proved successful when applied onto a test site in Canning Town, Newham.

Within this intensification practice, I included elements such as colourful shipping container apartments and a community workshop (reflecting the Royal Docks’ historic past), providing the neighbourhood with a distinctive identity and increased supply of housing, whilst assisting in its social, economic, and environmental regeneration.

A no from me

In 2019, I did an online survey to understand residents’ views of the regenerated Westgate Shopping Centre in Oxford. I think it’s fair to say that the Centre would work perfectly in a hot, sunny country, however, being in the UK… we are not so lucky! One resident responded saying: “It’s awful. A blank, wind tunnel. Soulless… it has killed Oxford”, while another compared it to a cold “aircraft hangar”. ⠀

It’s clear that Westgate has also detracted from the smaller, independent shops along the primary streets and Covered Market which gave the city its quaint, typical Oxfordshire ambience and catered for local residents. Now, with more of a focus on wealthy tourists, the Westgate Centre offers a degree of exclusivity, sucking the humble life from the streets into its greedy arms. They say that to bring people back into our city centres, we need to invest in experiences. Somehow, I don’t think this is a precedented experience. Sorry Oxford, but it’s a ‘no’ from me!

Harmonious Design

I believe that harmony is the most important element in masterplanning! This includes maintaining and creating harmony between the built and natural environment; diverse demographic residencies; mixed transport methods and unique architectural forms. Harmony is critical when combining elements such as sustainability, equality, safety, respect, and activity within a scheme, and should therefore be considered throughout each stage of a project.

For example, to combat rising sea levels in Amsterdam, houses are being constructed to float on water. This method of working with the environment – not controlling it – creates a more resilient neighbourhood and one which protects the habitats of our wonderful wildlife. It’s a win-win!

Easter Eggs

I LOVE quirky ‘easter eggs’ dotted around a development! I believe that neighbourhoods should be fun and distinctive, encouraging people to smile and get outside together to integrate as a community. Public spaces are where everybody is truly equal, and these spaces should therefore be celebrated in all their glory!

For example, for my scheme in Durban, South Africa (at Oxford Brookes University) I created ‘Mandela’s Quarter’ – a vibrant neighbourhood which aimed to mitigate against rising xenophobic issues in the district and revitalise the African philosophy of ‘Ubutnu’, by integrating quirky assets such as a floating swimming pool; canary yellow pedestrian bridge; PINK sports courts; water fountains; and by designing contemporary, colourful buildings which reflect upon Durban’s traditional art-deco architectural form.⠀

It would be wonderful to live in a world where our towns and cities are as diverse as the natural environment! Or even better… if everything was painted edge PINK!

Written by Astrid