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Connecting with landscape and open space

Annie Coombs
25 May 2009

Ensure that the competition clearly respects and responds to its context. The brief needs to describe the physical and visual components of the landscape and public realm setting.

Annie Coombs

Annie Coombs

Annie Coombs has supported a number of public realm procurement projects for CABE. She worked with the client leading the Pennine Lancashire Squared competition from inception of the design competition idea to announcing winners.

Get the right project team and vision

Procuring the right design team through a competition takes time, can be expensive and requires focussed drive and management. Creativity is at the heart of the process and it is important to ensure that design teams have the right mix of skills and expertise. Where landscape and public realm issues are a key element of the scheme a landscape professional should be a core member of the team at the outset.

Annie Coombs’s tips for making competitions work

1. ensure there is a well structured baseline for the competition brief that includes the wider setting
2. establish a strong project management team that understand the complexities of the site
3. secure political commitment for the entire process, not simply the final decision
4. appoint a well structured and decisive jury with appropriate professional expertise and managed by a respected chair
5. make sure there is adequate funding to develop, manage and communicate the entire competition process

Understand the wider environmental context

The scale and setting of the scheme will determine what specific environmental information is needed for the competition. For example, information on landscape designations, topography, ecology, hydrology and archaeology may need to be provided. It may be useful to involve statutory agencies such as Natural England, English Heritage and the Environment Agency in helping to prepare the brief and assessing the schemes.

Analyse connectivity and movement

It is important to understand how places work. What are the key pedestrian vehicle and routes? Is there a clear hierarchy of movement patterns? In creating public spaces and streets that are more inclusive, proposals should ensure that movement patterns are neither compromised or generate conflict.

Understand the use and adaptability of the public realm

With increasing demand on open space it is important to maximise the functionality of design proposals. Beyond their amenity value, new parks and green spaces can provide valuable areas to manage flood risk, reduce summer temperatures and enhance local biodiversity. When urban spaces are referred to as flexible and multi-functional, it is important that proposals demonstrate how they can be used.

Make sure you know what the public thinks

Lack of engagement and poor communication can generate vocal criticism and undermine confidence in the selected scheme. For the Pennine Lancashire competition, creative community engagement was established at the outset through drop-in events to meet the design teams who could then respond to local opinion.

Committed client leadership will make it happen

Competitions will take significantly more time and generally require wider consultation and communication than traditional procurement. The Pennine Lancashire competition included six ‘squares’ in six different towns, requiring involving seven different local authority partners. Such demands need strong leadership, and this came from Regenerate Pennine Lancashire’s project manager, supported by the Landscape Institute, who coordinated the competition process.

And finally, for success, the whole process has to be meticulously staged and brilliantly managed.

Further reading

  • For a full description if the Pennine Lancashire competition process, submissions and winning schemes refer to 62 Pennine Lancashire, edited by Rachael Farricker and Stephen Hodder, published by Regenerate Pennine Lancashire 2010
  • For a summary of recent landscape competitions, read The Competitive Edge, published in Landscape, the journal of the Landscape Institute, Spring 2010.
  • The Landscape Institute’s support for competitions is also summarised in their document The Landscape Institute and Registered Practices.

More advice on running a design competition