Preparing a design code
For some large and complex projects, you can set out more detailed instructions for implementation by preparing a design code. This operates in conjunction with a spatial plan such as a masterplan or strategic framework.
A design code is a type of detailed design guidance that is particularly useful for complex scenarios involving multiple parties in long-term development. A code can be a way of simplifying the complex and often elongated processes associated with new development to give more certainty to all those involved and help to make high quality places. Code preparation can allow organisations and local communities work together more effectively, helping to build consensus about what kind of place everyone wants to create.
Design codes vary mainly according to their level of prescription (what they fix and what they leave flexible) and the scale at which they operate. They can, effectively, set out ‘rules for assembly’ of a place. They are the instructions that tell you how to assemble the different parts of the plan. Preparing a code well is about finding a balance between technical specificity and a succinct description of what is required. Some of the best, most effective codes are very short.
Clients should be clear about what a design code is and what leadership and management role they need to play to help prepare one. Design codes are technical documents written by specialists, but based on up-front agreement between clients and stakeholders on design issues. This means that, as with a masterplanning commission, issues such as the clarity of the brief, procuring the right consultants and managing the project are key to a successful outcome.
How do I prepare a design code?
- Assess the need for a design code
A decision to prepare a design code should be based on an understanding of what this can offer that no other mechanism would.
- Review and discuss with partners the benefits of design coding
You will need to make the case for spending time and resources on preparing a design code. This involves reviewing the benefits that design coding could bring to your project.
- Engage communities and build consensus
Codes do not operate solely as a physical tool: they also require different parties to come together, agree and implement the rules that will govern how the built environment evolves over time.
- Initiate: agree what to code
Many attributes of a place could be coded. As a client, you need to have a view – and to represent the views of stakeholders – on what aspects are important enough to embed within the rules and what can be left out.
- Coordinate: commission a project team
The code writers will need to invite and make value judgements about which dynamics of the place are the ones that determine how it functions.
- Appraise: understand the place
Gathering data is a similar process to that undertaken for a masterplan, although it needs to be done in way that meets the proposed form and purpose of the eventual code.
- Design: manage the preparation of the code
The code writers will need to hypothesise, investigate and propose and be specific in their diagnosis of different elements of the place. They will need to invite and make value judgements about which dynamics of the place are the ones that determine how it functions.
- Formalise: determine the status of the code
As with a masterplan, you must determine up-front what the formal status of a code is going to be.
- Implement: operate the code
You can use the design code to select design and development teams for individual land parcels and to inform the design process.
- Manage: enforce compliance and evaluate the code
The operation of the code does not stop with approval of a proposal. You must also consider how to monitor what is delivered and evaluate how successfully the code is meeting your objectives.
Examples of preparing a design code
Preparing Design Codes: a Practice Manual
This is the comprehensive guide to preparing design codes, based on a pilot programme run by CABE, English Partnerships and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The steps set out below correspond to the steps in the Practice Manual.
Design codes – the English Partnerships experience
This is a review by EP of the use of codes on its sites, with a focus on the Millennium Communities programme.
www.youcanplan.co.uk and www.esp-sim.org
These are tools to allow for and promote self-procurement for housing built to design codes.