Designing for Everyone
28 February 2022
We believe that buildings and places should be designed for everyone. We see all external spaces as social spaces, and an important focus for us is creating opportunities for interaction and connection.
A key group that we often see overlooked when it comes to designing the public realm is teenagers. While there are rules governing the type and amount of space that should be provided in new housing developments for younger children, as well sports provision for young people such as multi-use games areas, incidental spaces where young adults can gather outside structured activities are rarely provided. Many young people don’t enjoy sport or want to hang out in formalised settings where they can be monitored by adults; they like to range further and prefer informal spaces of their own choice. We think this age group needs to be empowered by their environments to safely exert their independence.
Teenagers are excluded from public meeting spaces in a number of ways: they aren’t allowed in pubs or bars, tend not to have the disposable income to spend on expensive leisure and entertainment activities, and are often discouraged from gathering in parks and playgrounds due to concerns relating to noise and disruption. With community youth clubs shutting down all over the UK due to a lack of funding, where can young people go to hang out in an informal setting that’s both safe and accessible?
We aim to address this in various ways across our projects. In one scheme, we proposed a series of ‘follies’ throughout the landscape. These structures serve multiple functions – as viewing platforms to observe nature, as play areas, and as hang out spaces for young people. They’re far enough away from homes for the teens using them to feel independent (and to not disturb residents), but still observable to ensure safety.
Safe routes to these spaces are as important as the spaces themselves. We often propose car-free ‘park streets’, providing a network of safe routes between different public spaces, which also allow opportunities for independent doorstep play for younger children. The public realm at Deben Fields includes a series of interconnected play streets and shared gardens as part of a clear and legible street pattern, with sheltered structures that can be used for children’s play or as informal social spaces for young people in the evenings. Our scheme at Wembley Park Gardens provides a series of shared gardens that are linked by a high-level pedestrian walkway, which is itself a social space with opportunities for interaction by people of all ages.
We also design spaces to be functional and safe throughout the seasons and at different times of day and night, asking detailed questions relating to possible uses and modelling for various eventualities. What’s the area that looks amazing in the sun-drenched CGI really like on a winter’s evening? What would it be like for a young person to use a particular route on foot late at night? What’s on offer for a family with children of mixed ages and levels of independence?
A much more diverse range of options within public space is needed, and more research should be carried out into how young people use the public realm available to them. Teenagers can be encouraged to participate more in the consultation process by focussing on digital consultation supported by social media. It would benefit us all to encourage young people to contribute to the design of our built environment, and this is a priority for us when designing new communities and public spaces alike.