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Why we don’t like the word ‘masterplan’

By David West

David West shares his practice’s 10 principles for creating loose fit frameworks for a place’s evolution

Over the last two years there has been a great deal of discussion around what constitutes good growth and how best to involve communities in the densification of their neighbourhoods. At Studio Egret West we avoid using the word ’masterplan’ to describe a vision for an area’s change. Instead, we use the word ’framework’, acknowledging that it is more important to set the loose-fit direction of an area’s growth than to put it in a straitjacket subservient to some unknown master. We look to agree a flexible, strategic framework for a place’s evolution shaped by 10 key principles:

1. Forging relationships between public and private sectors. This has become crucial to conscientious placemaking, particularly in the contemporary climate of increasingly limited public-sector funds.

2. We believe that positive change can be best achieved if people are willing to step out of professional silos to think beyond the red line boundary of any given site. For example, our work on the London Underground Station Design Idiom demonstrates the considerable benefit of rooting stations into the communities they serve.

London Underground Idiom Studio Egret West Image 8
London Underground Design Idiom
London Underground Idiom Studio Egret West Image 54
London Underground Idiom Studio Egret West Image 10
London Underground Idiom Studio Egret West Image 25

3. Over the years we have learned that a consideration of the histories and textures of a place allows people to share in the story of renewal from an early stage.

4. Creating rich stories for future places often entails acknowledging what resides within a site and whether any structures can be reused. Our work on Park Hill and more recently the Balfron Tower highlights the vast potential to give second lives to buildings.

Creating rich stories for future places often entails acknowledging what resides within a site and whether any structures can be reused.”
David West Founding Partner at Studio Egret West

5. Sensitivity towards crafting places rests on an understanding of our place in time, acknowledging that everything built must retain a capacity for change. There should be unfinished spaces in the city where unpredictability can occur – meanwhile is definitely worthwhile.

6. We believe the future of urban living rests on the creation of flexible and resilient neighbourhoods. Driving industry out of the city results in areas where ground floors are left vacant and mono-cultural use persists.

7. The sustainable solution is to find ways for light industry, fabrication spaces, homes, schools and retail to cohabit. We are lucky to have a number of projects in Hackney Wick, Fish Island and the new neighbourhoods of Eastwick and Sweetwater adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Park, where we are weaving existing and new communities together. Nurturing the co-living and co- working models of informal ’warehouse living’ represents part of the solution to the housing crisis.

Hackney Wick Studio Egret West Image 19 Hackney Wick

8. Debate around our cities’ rapidly changing skylines and the pros and cons of tall buildings will inevitably continue to rage.

9. We have learnt that replacing a singular tower proposition with a collection of more aggregated forms can assist taller buildings to be more closely knit into their surroundings and that softening the edges of buildings can have a positive effect upon the massing of large-scale projects. Our Bath Western Riverside and Vicarage Field proposition in Barking are two good examples.

10. Aligned to this, it’s increasingly apparent that if we turn up the density of inhabitation then we should equally amplify the density of nature. Enriching increasingly dense and complex mixed-use urban developments with natural life enables the careful balance required for urban living.

Perhaps the most important thing we have concluded is that to fully translate a ‘good growth’ agenda as the mayor of London is asking for, architects and urban designers need to empower good design and delivery leadership by channelling the energy of the widest team.


Why we don’t like the word ‘masterplan’