Transforming Places

Written By

Fraser Maitland

17.6.2021 Thinking

Page\Park has been helping to transform places for almost 40 years; whether in the form of traditional masterplans and public realm strategies, or simply through the aspiration that underpins all of our projects: to improve the wider settings in which we live, work, learn and socialise.

When we begin projects, we look back before we look forward; using all available physical and digital resources to collate the history of a place. This shows us how it has developed in response to historical, social, and economic factors. It also gives us insight into its present-day identity, and what we can do to enhance it.

In our work at Pollok Country Park, we discovered through research that several major historical features of the park were lying dormant, including the original approach to Pollok House. We proposed to reactivate these assets, not only to provide new economic opportunities, but to preserve them in the visible history – and identity – of the park.

The significance of historical cues in unlocking places and generating ideas is nothing new. In our 1985 competition-winning entry for Glasgow’s Cathedral Precinct, developed collaboratively with artist Jack Sloan, a key driver for the site was the reinstatement of the historic diagonal approach to the Cathedral. The route, visible on 18th century maps but lost following the construction of the first Royal Infirmary Building, linked Glasgow Cathedral and Glasgow Cross at opposing ends of High Street, the city’s oldest and most significant medieval route. In a part of the city where very little of the historic fabric remains, reinstatement of this small piece embedded the other new parts of the Cathedral Precinct proposals – St Mungo’s Museum and new flats for Milnbank Housing Association – in a richer and more memorable context.

When masterplanning boomed in the 1990s, our approach was usually intuiton-led. We found our intuition was often correct, but the evolution of our process into the 2000s to become more systematic and analytical strengthened the justification for transforming places. Today, our new generation are enthusiastic advocates for capturing the experience of places, injecting new energy and technical innovation as we record how places work.

The blend of these three components – intuitional, systematic, and experiential –  in our approach to recording places helps us to capture and assess both the tangible (physical) and more intangible characteristics (like how the place makes us feel, or how prevalent its character is). We like to follow our intuition, but then find ways to interrogate it, while simultaneously assembling a methodical picture of how the place functions, including transport networks, travel distances, and demographics.

We often engage with hundreds of people over the course of a project; from client bodies and building users, to archaeologists and landscape designers.  In the last ten years, the wider public have also become increasingly involved with our work-in-progress through the internet and social media. Managing these conversations becomes a catalyst for creativity and helps to protect a collective vision.

Once we have identified areas for improvement, there follows a challenge in sorting these and distinguishing between short and long term moves. To do this, we employ an understanding of metrics, and of how the proposed aims fit together in the larger economic picture. By working with a range of clients in different economic settings, we have developed the experience to identify opportunities, and collaborate effectively with Quantity Surveyors, Business Consultants to find the answers we need.

At the McManus Galleries in Albert Square, Page\Park were engaged to rethink the role of the building and its immediate public realm, in the newly pedestrian-friendly centre of Dundee. The Galleries existed within a loose and informal enclosure of surrounding buildings, and so we used the opportunity to express a new shape in the public realm; a circular sweep around the building derived from ‘vesica piscis’, the geometric circles that generate Gothic architectural forms. This radical re-think of the public realm let us re-orientate building access to be more accessible and position a new café in the optimum commercial location in the new civic square.

Our work at the Italian Centre in the 1990s was a similarly successful commercial transformation. It was one of the first projects in the regeneration of Glasgow’s Merchant City, and its mixed-use model of residential, office, retail, and cafes – wrapped with high quality public realm – would become a template for the wider area, stimulating long-term change in this area of the city.

We think about ‘shaping places’ as having three components:

How do you arrive in a place? This might be by car, on foot, or by public transport, but in each instance we consider how the public realm and surrounding buildings enhance the arrival sequence.

How do you structure the internal circulation of the setting? We aspire to create a joined-up setting that is more accessible and comfortable to navigate on foot or by bike, and in which people naturally spend more time.

How do the activities and public realm spaces face onto that circulation and support it? The culmination of this process is a series of recommendations about how these public realm spaces might be improved (or new ones created) to support a more diverse range of use. A more inclusive and healthier setting as a result becomes more attractive for commercial investment.

Our aim in shaping places is to create settings that are more: permeable, being easier to move through; sociable, having found the thing that breathes life into a place; and memorable. ”

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