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Principle: Sustainable places should adopt established placemaking principles to create coherent, connected developments with an appropriate character and sense of place, to ensure a built environment of quality.


This section integrates and incorporates the foregoing principles and objectives with those of the principle of ‘placemaking’, adopted as part of central government advice on planning and design. 

Placemaking concentrates on considering the outcome of the design process, bringing together all the elements of design, architecture, mix of uses, movements and connections, sense of safety and sense of place, local distinctiveness, access for all, sense of ownership and landscape and biodiversity. 

All of the elements covered in this module can be used to establish the character of particular places, whether they are small, intimate and domestic, civic and commercial, arcadian or urban, formal or informal. 

Key questions for planners and developers include:

  • What type of place (or interconnected places) do we want for the proposed development?
  • What extent should it defer to or contrast with the existing character of development?

 What makes a place "good"?

  • Distinctive
  • Connected
  • Active
  • Convivial
  • Sunny
  • Safe
  • Surveilled
  • Quality
  • Functional

Hierarchy of spaces

Objective: To create a hierarchy of spaces, routes, greenspace, density and form of development and landmarks.

Hierarchy of routes

Proposals should show a hierarchy of circulation routes, encouraging a range of connections between places, spaces and activities. Each proposal is emphasised according to its importance. 

A legible structure of streets

A legible structure of streets can contribute to reducing vehicle speed and road safety.  Short street lengths, with prominent buildings terminating views (A) can emphasise the need to stop at junctions. Relatively restricted sight lines at junctions (B), ensures that vehicles slow down. Tight radius corners (C) also ensure vehicles have to turn slowly.  This arrangement also means that pedestrians can cross directly, with more safety.

Design - legible structure of streets

Landmark or continuity?

Consider where landmark buildings would assist legibility in a scheme. However most buildings will be components contributing to the continuity of the streetscape. 

Vista planning

Where appropriate, proposals should use vista planning principles and existing focal points / landmarks within the site to the benefit of the scheme and their surrounding neighbours. For example, are there any particular aspects, features or landmarks of the site that can be enhanced by the new development?

Massing, footprint and sense of enclosure

Objective:  To ensure appropriate massing, footprint and sense of enclosure.

Scale and context

Proposals for new development should consider its relationship to neighbouring development in terms of scale, aspect and massing, and particularly in the continuity of frontages, building aspect, plot and street enclosure. 


Proposals for major new development should demonstrate a clear structure and rationale behind block and massing arrangements and provide illustrative materials justifying decisions leading to the framework.

 Design - massing

 Design - massing 2

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The diagram above help to illustrates that most spaces and places are successful when they have a satisfactory sense of enclosure: Long views are terminated by buildings or trees (T) and the frontages, whilst continuous, offer glimpses (G) of other spaces or landmarks beyond. Deflected views (D) indicate the way to other places without losing the sense of enclosure. Trees and high walls can contribute to a sense of enclosure in the same way as buildings.

Spaces can lack enclosure where buildings are too widely or incoherently spaced. Other spaces can be oppressively enclosed where buildings are continuously fronting a relatively small area, with no glimpses of spaces beyond.


It is important that the design of a development reconciles differences that can sometimes occur between urban design and environmental sustainability. 

Design - massing 3

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Definition of space

Proposals for new residential development should consider the design of the setback (if any) for building thresholds, paying particular attention to reinforcing the clear definition between spaces and local character.

Case study : Swan Mews

Ware, in common with most Hertfordshire market towns has a structure of long linear burgage plots running perpendicularly to the High Street. In this case the plot extends to the bank of the River Lee. 

Historically these plots, (often laid out in the early medieval period) have accommodated a wide variety of uses, from inns to industry and have latterly become prime locations for small businesses, workshops and housing.
The ‘grain’ of the plot presents challenges for the designer, but also opportunities to create innovative solutions to high density schemes.

Skylines, rooflines and building heights

Objective: To ensure appropriate skylines, rooflines and building heights.

Skylines, rooflines and building heights

  • Higher buildings can add drama to a townscape through their contrast with extensive areas of low and medium rise development, or perhaps fronting onto a park.
  • They can enhance the sense of being at the centre of a busy and thriving town centre or new urban development.
  • They are an obvious aid to legibility if located at focal points in a townscape.
  • They can create memorable skylines if taller buildings of different heights are clustered together.
  • They can provide exhilarating views and suggest different lifestyles.

Taller buildings should be designed to the highest environmental standards, to offset their potentially higher carbon footprint. For example, the incorporation of photovoltaic arrays and/or wind generation might be expected, to take advantage of exposure to higher wind speeds and greater exposure to sunlight.

A critical test of the design and impact of a taller building is not only its skyline profile, but its impact at street level and its relationship to the roofline of surrounding developments. 

Taller buildings may not make good neighbours in many locations as they can:

  • Cast long shadows.
  • Create unpleasant micro-climatic conditions through downdraughts and eddies.
  • Overlook adjacent developments to an extensive degree, eroding a sense of privacy.
  • Create a coarser grained built environment as they are often set apart from each other or their neighbours and are set back from established building lines, to ensure that they do not reduce or prevent access to daylight in the surrounding development.

Higher buildings are unlikely to be appropriate in conservation areas, within the setting of conservation areas, or within the setting of listed buildings. Exceptions may be in conservation areas which are designated for parts of new towns or other areas where modern architecture is an integral part of the character of the area.

Generally however, conservation areas are designated partly to protect their historic scale, skyline and grain. Moreover, it is likely that church towers are an integral part of the skyline of a conservation area and therefore view corridors to these features should be identified to ensure that their skyline is not compromised by a poorly located taller building. 

Some towns and cities in the UK have overall building height restrictions (usually about 12 metres of 4 storeys) to protect the ambience of cathedral towers or spires (e.g. Salisbury and Chichester).

Design - skylines

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Design of space

Objective:  To ensure appropriate design of space between buildings: including hard and soft landscape, edges, boundaries, lighting and street furniture and streetmaking.

Character of boundaries

Development within urban and rural areas should preserve and enhance the character of the local area in terms of its relationship to the public and private realm and the enclosure of boundaries. 

Public/private space hierarchy

All design proposals should demonstrate a clear understanding of the relationship between public, semi public and private space.


Proposals should show an appropriate level of detail to demonstrate design quality. If necessary, large scale details or illustrations should be requested.

Quality setting

Proposals for the design of highway, cycle and pedestrian routes through a development should consider the design and quality of interfaces with the public realm and landscaping. Such routes should enhance the character of the area. Excessive highway signage should be avoided.

Quality details

Thoroughness in design should be extended to the design of interface elements such as bin storage, meter boxes, service entries, walls, public realm materials, etc.

Architectural response to built environment

Objective: To ensure an appropriate architectural response to the existing built environment

The design of new buildings in traditional urban or village settings can often be controversial and usually revolves around the choice of contemporary or a more conservative stylistic approach.  

However, in most cases the ‘style’ of a proposed development is less critical than its achieving the appropriate:

Footprint, layout and grain

  • The relationship to the established street frontage pattern (e.g. back edge of footpath, set back behind boundary walls etc.).
  • Continuous or semi-continuous frontages such as terraces or pavilions.
  • The pattern of plot widths.
  • The plot coverage or plan of the building related to the spaces remaining on site.

Massing, bulk and height

  • The way in which the volume of the building has been expressed (e.g. whether the building is treated as a single regular block or whether it has been expressed as a series of smaller elements, projecting or recessed, in both plan and height.
  • The overall height or the profile of the roofline may be an overriding factor.

Scale and proportion 

  • The methods of subdivision of the elevations of the building(s), related to the size of a person.
  • A building can be increased or reduced in scale by the expressing of the intervals (bays) between columns, the subdivision of glazing, size of openings, the predominance of vertical or horizontal lines and windows etc.
  • The use of a small scale material such as brick, or a larger scale material such as a storey height cladding panel will contribute to different senses of scale.   

Materials, colours and textures

Due to the unprecedented range and availability of standard building and cladding materials, choices have to be made using many criteria:

  • Appropriateness to building function.
  • Robustness, durability and ease of maintenance.
  • Thermal/Insulation performance.
  • Sourcing: local, regional, or international?
  • Life cycle costs.
  • Contextual appropriateness.
  • Traditional materials may not be appropriate or available and therefore judgement has to be exercised regarding the characteristics of a new material to be complementary with the established pattern, rather than be poor imitations in terms of colour or texture.


There is little consensus today on what constitutes the style of 21st century buildings, unlike for instance in the Georgian, neo Gothic, Arts and Crafts periods or even Modernism between the 1930s and 1970s. 

Thus it is possible today to have proposals in classical, modernist or more organic, overtly sustainable solutions and many variants between. The everyday ‘commercial contemporary’ styles vary every few years. At present this often consists of tilted planes or mono pitch roofs, square windows, bands of brickwork, (topped by render or a ground storey of reconstructed stone), steel balconies and lintels.

Given this wide stylistic range, the headings above should assume a significantly higher priority in most situations than the passing fashions of style, together with a consideration of general urban design principles.

Design - architectural

Design - architectural 2

Click to enlarge.  


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