Masterplanning the places of tomorrow – today

During the last year, we’ve all had time to reflect about how we live and work; David Weir, director of Canterbury-based On Architecture, considers what’s important when building new communities.

Masterplanning the places of tomorrow is all about focusing on three E’s – Environment, Economy and Emotion – with each impacting on the overall wellbeing of our communities. It’s a conversation focusing the work of both our strategic masterplanning team and our technical architects, who wrestle with creating buildings that achieve high environmental standards.

As we look to renew and reshape our communities, there is an opportunity to strengthen a place’s connection with its people. This will require a greater focus on how and where we want to live, work and spend our leisure time and the result will be communities with a better balance and higher levels of wellbeing.

The Government is demanding we build back better, and also faster and greener. That requires us to individually and collectively improve our environmental performance by using offsite manufacturing technologies and energy efficient building materials. Carbon net zero is firmly on the agenda and set to stay.

Light touch

As we emerge from lockdown, the days are getting brighter and longer, helping us to feel more positive and highlighting the importance of light to our collective wellbeing. Capturing light all year round must be designed into our new homes, offices and community buildings. The issue of air quality and flow has also risen up the design agenda during the pandemic.

After a year of working from home, architects are designing flexible, dedicated learning and working spaces within the homes they are creating for housebuilders, large and small.

To support this, there’s a need to adopt an infrastructure first policy, with broadband access a priority. Designing in broadband from the start makes commercial and community sense and avoids expensive retrofitting.

Wide open space

Outside the home, it’s about public space where communities can connect to their landscape, escape their homes or take some exercise. The last year has demonstrated that for our mental and physical wellbeing, we need these open spaces for meeting and sharing time with others.

Having spent months at home during lockdown we are more conscious of our living space than ever before. Housebuilders have responded, they are more garden-focused and tasking us with the getting home office and living space into gardens, balancing work and home. The garden is being seen as an integral part of the homes being designed, an active asset and reflecting how people have engaged with their green space during the lockdown.

As people have reflected on their day-to-day lives there’s a strengthening move towards sustainability and being much more eco-minded, which will be reinforced by the Government’s push towards being carbon neutral. As a result, the emphasis on cars and where people choose to live whether it’s in a city near to transport links, or in rural communities.

Work-life balance

Many will be eager to get back to the office, but the thought of returning to the drudgery of the daily commute will not be welcome. While we have missed our colleagues, there is a lot of appeal in working closer to home, or balancing home and office working. This brings pressures on larger businesses to downsize in the city, create space and even consider establishing a network of smaller satellite hubs – and therefore opportunities for small-scale office development.

Office-based businesses have also responded. The focus is increasingly on creating high-quality office space, which nurtures effective and creative teams. The aim has to be enabling staff to flourish, balancing work with the benefits of being in a feel-good city or town environment, in our case in the heart of medieval Canterbury.

As architects, we must learn the lessons from the pandemic and reflect them in the designs we bring forward. It is our responsibility to help create spaces and communities which balance the environmental, economic and emotional factors that influence our collective wellbeing.