Future of urban spaces - the RTPI annual lecture 2004

After writing a book about his career, Sir Terry Farrell was in the mood to think about planning's future, reports Andrew Kliman.

The RTPI's annual lecture provides a platform for some of the world's leading and most respected planners to address an audience of RTPI members, guests and friends on a broad selection of planning issues. This year's lecture, entitled Urban Futures, was delivered by Sir Terry Farrell.

The event also provides an opportunity for networking and catching up with colleagues. The RTPI was happy to welcome, among others, Kate Barker from the Bank of England and deputy mayor of London Nicky Gavron. As the festive season is upon us, the reception, sponsored by Planning, included fine mince pies and mulled wine.

Sir Terry has had a lifelong fascination with cities and has been privileged to work and live in many of them, including some in America and the Far East. His early interest in town planning was consolidated when he enrolled on a double master's course in urban design, which combined architecture and city planning.

Sir Terry has a huge portfolio of projects including the regeneration of Paddington Basin and the design of the Point - the first building at Paddington Basin to be completed under the Terry Farrell & Partners 1996 masterplan - the award-winning East Quayside scheme in Newcastle, the masterplanning of Greenwich Peninsula and the Millennium Dome. Sir Terry has also been asked by the Greater London Authority architecture and urbanism unit to work on a major study, the regeneration of Marylebone to Euston Road. This is very significant as the London Plan shows that 25 per cent of central London's development is in this corridor.

RTPI president Mike Hayes welcomed the attendees and thanked the joint sponsors, the Crown Estate and Haymarket. "There are two ways to introduce Sir Terry Farrell," said Mike. "The long way and the short way. The long way is the only way to do justice to his long and successful career. Unfortunately, I only have the time to do it the short way."

Crown Estate chief executive officer Roger Bright said: "As a major investor in urban areas, the Crown Estate places very high store by creating high-quality environments. From this perspective I am especially pleased to be introducing Sir Terry, who has an enviable track record of real achievement in delivering improved spaces in so many locations across the world."

In his lecture, Sir Terry addressed society's need for leadership in planning for rapid urban change and highlighted some of the tensions between the professions active in effecting this change.

As both a town planner and an architect he is well placed to see how the professions in their purest forms can lead to inflexibility. He questioned powerful professional assumptions that great places depend on great buildings, that form must follow function and that planners should exercise control over aesthetics.

Sir Terry explained the future of urban spaces in terms of ten themes:

- The role of changing transportation methods in shaping cities.

- How changes of size and scale are shifting our concept of bigness.

- Empowerment through up-to-date information technologies.

- The role of the urban fabric in energy conservation, pollution and

health.

- The compactness and efficiencies of urban life.

- The role of the arts in place-making.

- How individual cities can foster learning and use technologies to

build different types of employment and workplace.

- Whether town planning can continue to expend so much energy on

aesthetic control.

- Who plans the spaces left over between buildings when, arguably,

development control only effectively tackles the landholdings of the

private sector.

- Whether the decision-making process can meet the expectations of urban

inhabitants.

One of the originators of the concept of urban design in the early 1980s, Sir Terry explained the role of planners in enabling architects to "engage inclusively and holistically with life", saying that "urban planning with its messy edges overlaps the neat, ring-fenced world of a professional architectural training".

He argued that great places do not necessarily require great individual buildings and pointed out that an inventive collection of buildings can have a special kind of good effect, as it does in Bath or Venice.

Farrell questioned the architectural dictum that form follows function in the light of current experience that a building designed for one purpose can be successfully recycled into something radically different.

Behind his analysis is Farrell's vision of each place as an accumulation from the past that the current generation has added to and that will be adapted and added to by our successors. "It is these constraints and contexts that make us what we are and our places what they are," he said. "Cities and towns are brilliant and extraordinary expressions of the human psyche in a search for personal and collective identity."

Sir Terry's fascinating lecture was warmly welcomed and provided the audience with many talking points to take with them into the reception area. The Kennedy lecture theatre at University College London, where the lecture was held, provided a backdrop of learning that Sir Terry's views on the future of cities and the drivers of change deserved. During the reception Sir Terry made himself available to answer questions and continue some of the debates. The evening was much enjoyed, but now it is time for all of us to meet the challenges envisioned in his talk.

- Andrew Kliman is RTPI press officer.


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