For Haysom Ward Miller, masterplanning is a process which emerges from a study of the relationships which exist within a place and a community. Good planning should not only embody and reflect those relationships but should enhance, nurture and strengthen those connections. Masterplanning is not the impositions of a formal structural plan - viewed from above; it is about reading, revealing and extending existing patterns, viewed at ground level, which make up that complex matrix of relationships, habits and practices of our daily lives.
Planning therefore begins with a thorough process of engagement, observation and mapping. The planner must first develop an intimate understanding of that community. Engagement is complex, and can draw out conflicting hopes and aspirations; people have different ideas for how their community should grow and the role of the planner is to listen, reflect and probe with great sensitivity to help the community to arrive at a framework for positive growth.
Historically growth would have been incremental, with each addition easily reflecting the local patterns of movement, hierarchies, and regional vernacular forms and materials. Modern development is more often planned in large blocks of space and too often primarily subservient to vehicle movement, servicing and statutory controls. The processes and forces of development become detached from the communities most affected by that development. It need not be so. Our experience is that when communities are consulted through a process of genuine ongoing engagement, the process can become an impetus for positive growth which can help build strong and resilient communities for existing and future residents.
The existing built environment carries a rich and layered history which time has nurtured to reflect the social and economic patterns of our lives. The forms and materials speak of our shared history and culture. Our interventions are an extension of that dialogue in a conversation that will continue on into the future, so we must build with the greatest care to ensure that what we communicate is intelligible, relevant, inclusive and open for those many voices to continue that narrative into a positive future.
Our competition entry for the new Oxford and Cambridge Arc was our attempt to map and understand these patterns and forms which have emerged as part of the historic growth of a Cambridgeshire village; patterns which were intimately aligned with the landscape, the waterways, topography, geology and the human connections across its surface. Our proposal was to carry out similar studies of villages along the new line, and propose small scale incremental growth following those intrinsic contextual patterns.
The masterplanning and design for 100 houses for a Community Land Trust (CLT) in Stretham began with a process of engagement and consultation. We walked the site with local residents to map desire lines etched into the landscape by dogwalkers and residents, using their knowledge to make the most of views to locate the future open spaces and plan for movement and connections back to the village. We recorded and mapped the local patterns and forms of the old village to understand the street hierarchies and building placement and then developed design proposals which reflected the scale, massing and growth patterns of this existing historic fabric. This process empowered the local community to engage with the process rather than resist change. The process began in 2012, and ten years on we are now in the fourth phase of housing and working with the Parish Council, alongside the CLT, to design a new Village Hub on the site, to include a village hall, start up business units, a social venue, meeting rooms and possibly a future GP surgery and health centre.
This housing project of twenty-one almshouses was developed with the client, a local almshouse charity. The initial advice from the local planning authority was that any development on the site was contrary to policy and would be refused. We subsequently embarked on an eighteen month process of engagement and consultation with the local community, including the delicate subject of relocating existing allotments. The masterplan was developed closely with landscape architects Emily Haysom to ensure that the generous open spaces would connect with the local surroundings and ecological corridors from the outset. When we finally submitted our planning application to the local authority the Chair of the Parish Council and the Local District Councillor volunteered to speak at committee in favour of the proposal. The scheme was awarded unanimous consent.
The proposal at Great Dunmow was an opportunity for us to test our ideas of masterplanning for slow incremental open-ended growth. An early analysis of the landscape determined the least ecologically sensitive areas where the housing should be located taking into account the topography and views into and out from the site. As an entirely Custom-Build development, purchasers could develop their own plan from a selection of house forms which could be configured according to each plot orientation and the purchaser’s individual needs.
For us the city should be conceived of as an eco-system: rich, vibrant, multi-layered and full of life. There are conflicting forces and symbiotic relationships. It is a place of phenomenal energy drawn out of the richness and variety of life. A city is evolved and is evolving. A city is not a machine; a machine is engineered, efficient but a dead thing. A city is chaotic, full of vestigial bits intricate and complex, but this is what makes it resilient and alive. The architect and planner is like a gardener, nurturing weeding and planting, channelling life.