Case Study

Runcorn, England, UK: city planning as architecture as urban design (1965+)

Runcorn is a satellite town of Liverpool located on the south bank of the Mersey River. It was designed to house a population of 90,000 people on a site of 7250 acres (about 2800 hectares). The goal was to provide new employment opportunities and good housing for the people of Merseyside. The development was heavily subsidized by the central government in London through the Runcorn Development Corporation and designed by the corporation in conjunction with Arthur Ling Associates.

Ease of accessibility and providing for high mobility were major criteria in designing Runcorn. The goal was to establish a balance between the use of private vehicles and public transport. The importance of the infrastructure can be seen in the conceptual diagram and model of the layout of the town (see Figures 4.3a and b). An expressway encompasses the town. Feeder streets off it give access to the Runcorn's various precincts. The local mass transportation system was based on having single-decker buses operating on a dedicated track. The objective was to have a rapid public transit system and to have easy access to it (i.e. to have the majority of the population living within 500 yards of stops).

A figure eight plan was deemed to be the most efficient high-speed road system. It would link residential areas to both what was proposed to be the town centre - an enclosed shopping mall - and the industrial areas on the outside. The proposed centre -now the Halton Lea Shopping Centre -would also be reached by cars off the expressway and be encompassed by a road giving access to car parks that surround it. Such concerns are as much urban design issues as planning ones. What is now called the Town Centre is not the shopping centre as designated in the original plan but rather the core of the old Runcorn village (see Figure 4.4a). People's hearts designated it as such.

The Halton Lea Shopping Centre is a total precinct design (see Figures 4.4b and c); it is a megastructure. David Gosling and Keith Smith were the principal architects. It is a proud architectural statement representing the abandonment of the past idea of a town centre as an accretion of buildings (as in the core of the village of Runcorn) and of all-of-a-piece precinct design as the modus operandi ofurban design. Coordinated urban design using controls, incentives and guidelines were replaced by architectural design on a grand scale as an embracing of the future.

The actual functioning of centres of this type (e.g. the similar one at the last of the British new towns, Milton Keynes) has led to the abandoning of such designs as a prototype for town centres (Francis, 1991). The limitations of such 'functional' designs have given rise, sensibly or not, to the Neo-Traditional movement in urban design. The standard suburban shopping mall in Columbia, Maryland operates more successfully as a centre than that at Runcorn being tied into an automobile-based transportation society well understood by property developer James Rouse.

In Runcorn the line of thinking applied to the shopping centre as the heart of the town

(a)

Figure 4.3 The Runcorn master plan. (a) The conceptual diagram for the town's layout and (b) the model of the proposed Runcorn.

Figure 4.3 The Runcorn master plan. (a) The conceptual diagram for the town's layout and (b) the model of the proposed Runcorn.

Figure 4.4 The Town Centre and the shopping centre, Runcorn. (a) The Town Centre in 2004,

(b) a conceptual diagram of the proposed Town Centre (now Halton Lee Shopping Centre),

(c) the Halton Lee Shopping Centre (first stage) and (d) Halton Lea Shopping Centre in 2004.

Figure 4.4 The Town Centre and the shopping centre, Runcorn. (a) The Town Centre in 2004,

(b) a conceptual diagram of the proposed Town Centre (now Halton Lee Shopping Centre),

(c) the Halton Lee Shopping Centre (first stage) and (d) Halton Lea Shopping Centre in 2004.

Figure 4.5 Residential area design, Runcorn. (a) A conceptual diagram of the community structure, (b) a sketch plan of a community layout adapted to the topography,

(c) a conceptual diagram of the dwelling-parking relationship at the cluster level and

(d) a view of a residential cluster in 2004.

Figure 4.5 Residential area design, Runcorn. (a) A conceptual diagram of the community structure, (b) a sketch plan of a community layout adapted to the topography,

(c) a conceptual diagram of the dwelling-parking relationship at the cluster level and

(d) a view of a residential cluster in 2004.

was also applied to the transportation structure - pedestrian and vehicular - at the 'community' level. Each community has its own centre that provides everyday social and shopping needs. The infrastructure was designed with this end in mind and the residential areas were then plugged into the system. The community centres, like the bus stops, lie within 500 yards (5-minute walk) of all residents. The vehicular routes act as seams for residential areas and a network of pedestrian paths links the various components of a community together.

The communities have about 8000 people in them subdivided into four neighbourhoods (see Figure 4.5a). The neighbourhoods are further subdivided into clusters of 100 to 200 people who form the local social unit. The distance of the walk to primary school, the picking up points on the transit system and the nature of the service areas of different facilities determined the sizes of the various residential areas not any social statement on the nature of'community'. The provision of electricity and a reticulated water system can be provided within almost any framework, but sewer lines and drainage systems need to take the natural topography into consideration (see Figure 4.5b). These latter two elements of infrastructure and the greenway system further structure the town. The open areas consist of an outer green belt and fingers following lower land areas in towards the centre of the town and the centre of the communities.

Clustering the dwelling units around pedestrian quasi cul-de-sacs afford the development of a social network. The parking of cars is clustered in landscaped parking areas. From there people walk to their dwellings all of which are located within 50 yards of the parking lots (see Figure 4.5c and d). The goal was to provide opportunities for the types of activities that would foster social interactions between neighbours, particularly children, by encouraging casual contacts that would lead to neighbouring.

The layout of Runcorn's infrastructure has many generic qualities. The hierarchical nature of the town is similar to that of many other new towns around the world. The designs of Brasilia and the Gujarat State Fertilizer Corporation (GSFC) Township in Vadodara were based on a similar idea (see Chapter 7). The search for efficient layouts is also clear in the design of Aranya Township (see Chapter 10). The detailed design of their infrastructure systems, the nature of their streets and the relationship of buildings to open space distinguish them from each other.

Major references

Runcorn Development Corporation (1967). Runcorn New Town. Nottingham: Midlands Engraving Co. Ltd.

Gosling, David and Barry Maitland (1984). Concepts of Urban Design. London: Academy Editions, 91-4. Thomas, Ray and Peter Cresswell (1 973). The New Town Idea. Milton Keynes: The Open University.

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

How would you like to save a ton of money and increase the value of your home by as much as thirty percent! If your homes landscape is designed properly it will be a source of enjoyment for your entire family, it will enhance your community and add to the resale value of your property. Landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment