Will the creation of a new flexible home-working class have a significant impact on our cities? Or will our need to congregate, share and socialise mean a return to previous working habits as soon as health issues permit.
With normal living and working practices being turned on their head this year, and no end to the uncertainty in sight, we are interested in what this means for the built environment. We are hoping to share perspectives from the UK, Europe and North America and discuss the issues as they affect homes, communities and city infrastructure. We are inviting panelists who will discuss the topic from both social and physical perspectives. We’ll be looking at workplaces, transport and the places where we live, and discussing how built environment planners, engineers and design professionals may need to reimagine our urban spaces and how we can use them.
Chaired by Dr Celia Way – Happold Foundation Trustee and Research Fellow at the University of Leeds
Helen Page – Technical Coordinator, Price and Myers engineers.
Dr Chiara Tagliaro – Research Fellow and Consultant at Politecnico di Milano
Dr Richard Simmons – Visiting Professor at The Bartlett School of Planning
Tim Hurstwyn – Sellar
Professor Greg Marsden – Institute of Transport Studies, University of Leeds
Professor Henry Way – James Madison University, USA
Panelists from top left to bottom right: Celia Way, Greg Marsden, Chiara Tagliaro, Richard Simmons, Helen Page, Henry Way, Tim Hurstwyn
Celia studied Engineering Design and Appropriate Technology (EDAT) at the University of Warwick. Bridging the gap between engineering and industrial design, and with a social conscience, it was a course that reflected her desire to do something both practical and creative that would help people. After a few forays overseas, living and working with an NGO in the Philippines and pursuing a research project in Uganda, she joined BuroHappold’s new sustainability team in Bath.
In her decade with the practice, as well as working on many small and large scale multi-disciplinary projects, she also managed to complete an Engineering Doctorate, build a relationship with WaterAid leading various projects with them, and instigate the ‘Share Our Skills’ initiative.
Celia is now a Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, working on a DFID and NERC funded project to understand the impacts of climate change on urban sanitation in East Africa.
Celia built her relationship with the Happold Foundation through the development of ‘Share Our Skills’, aligning the SOS timelines with the Foundation, and by providing support to the Human Development theme, bringing her global experience of development in practice to the table. She joined the foundation formally as a trustee in 2016. Within this role, and working closely with the other Trustees, she hopes to enable the Foundation to better support progress in international human development, nurturing the interest of fellow socially-minded engineers.
Helen is a Chartered Structural Engineer and has worked for Price & Myers for 18 years. She enjoys working on a diverse range of projects and has a particular interest in historic buildings and carbon efficient design. In 2016 she became Price & Myers’ Technical Co-ordinator, a role, which allows her to lead change and use her engineering skills to develop tools and guidance that her colleagues use to do their jobs better. Helen is also part of Price & Myers’ Climate Action Group who lead the practice’s work on lower carbon design. During 2020 she took the Engineering Club’s Mini Masters course. She enjoyed the opportunity this gave her to think about wider issues beyond her day to day professional experience. It was during this course that she did the work considering the future of her street that she will be discussing in this City Conversation.
“During the peak of lockdown, when we were all at home, cars didn’t move on the streets. You saw kids on their bikes using the roads for the first time because they were safe to do so. People connected with their neighbours and many saw their own communities in new ways. People noticed nature around them, the trees, the birds singing, the bugs and butterflies. For a while the car was no longer king of our cities. As we return to a more normal life and we find a new balance, I would argue that the way we enjoyed using our streets then is something we should strive to remember and to work towards having again. As many people may choose to work from home more often they will spending more time in their neighbourhoods and will value the environment outside their front doors more. The Climate Emergency brings an urgent need for change too, we need more trees in our cities, to provide the benefits of shade, regulate temperatures, resilience to flooding, wildlife corridors as well as absorbing carbon. Bringing these ideas together I redesigned my street this summer and this was the result.”
Architect, completed her PhD cum summa laude in 2018 at Politecnico di Milano, where she currently works as a postdoctoral researcher in the Real Estate Center. She collaborates since 2017 with the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), on both research and educational projects. Her research interests and consultancy activities concern the design, management and use of workspaces, collaborative work practices, and the digitalization of the real estate sector.
“What was good about Covid-working? We made the best out of our homes and transformed them into multi-functional spaces. Buildings will become increasingly hybrid to host a variety of different activities and users, often swapping usual habits. We will work at home and sleep and cook in the office. Residential buildings will host small gyms, storage spaces to receive fresh groceries every day, laundry rooms, childcare, workspaces and green walkable roofs. At the same time, office buildings will open up to public events, temporary shops, learning activities for children and courses for adults. I imagine future buildings as adaptable to serve various needs with quick layout changes. Multiple spaces will be available around our cities for planned and unplanned events that will foster neighborhood relations. They will be accessible to diverse groups of users (from employees to students and retirees), and managed by a wide range of stakeholders (from professional real estate companies to policy makers and the end-users). Buildings will be used much more as ‘services’ than as ‘spaces’. Property and facility management are going to be increasingly cross-disciplinary fields, as building types will merge to accommodate the blurring boundary between family, work and social life.”
Richard Simmons is a town planner, urban designer and regeneration practitioner who has worked at senior levels in national and local government and regeneration agencies. He was Chief Executive of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment from 2004 until 2011. He is a Visiting Professor in the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL, and a trustee of CPRE, the countryside charity and the URBED Trust, where he is working on the evolution of eco-neighbourhoods and a centre for sustainable development in Tamil Nadu, India.
It’s too soon to say what the long-term impact of the pandemic will be but, as Winston Churchill obligingly said, we should never let a good crisis go to waste: we must shape the future by grabbing the good things that have emerged during the crisis while locking the bad ones back in Pandora’s box.
Tim has spent twenty years in the construction industry working on projects such as the Infinity Footbridge, Stockton-on-Tees, the London 2012 Velodrome and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, Athens. He entered the Covid pandemic an office tenant, an employer, and an engineer. Recently Tim has moved client side to use his skills to support the delivery of high-quality developments that enable thriving, sustainable communities across London.
“The Covid pandemic has given us a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the way we live our lives as individuals, how we organize ourselves as businesses and how the built environment can support the delivery of a positive future. We need to grasp this opportunity.”
Greg is Professor of Transport Governance at the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds. He has researched issues surrounding the design and implementation of new policies for over 20 years covering a range of issues. Greg co-chairs the Commission on Travel Demand which has published influential studies on travel demand and shared mobility. He has led research into learning from disruptions and is currently part of a major multi-partner longitudinal study to examine the impacts of Covid-19 restrictions on travel behaviour and transport policy.
“The carbon imperative means we have to lock in the progressive behavioural adaptations which have resulted from Covid-19. This is likely to mean more people working flexibly – but there is a need to think about who this benefits and who loses out and what the wider implications are for our cities, housing choices, public transport systems as well as individuals and businesses. I don’t know what the “right” answer is.”
Henry is a professor of Geography at James Madison University in Virginia, where he is also Associate Director of the School of Integrated Sciences. He teaches and researches urban geography, sustainable cities, urban design and cultural/political geography. His work has focused in particular on planning and sustainable urban design in smaller cities, small units of cities, and in comparative international urbanism. Living and working in Harrisonburg — a small, diverse city in the Shenandoah Valley — he has recently completed three years as Chair of that city’s Planning Commission and serves on a number of city and university boards and planning committees.
While the long-term effects of this crisis are still to be seen, there is a clear sense that the pandemic has shifted how we might best work, learn, and connect to others and our cities, in part by distilling what really matters in our urban lives and places. The response to the pandemic suggests we need to build greater flexibility into our planning structures, and also see (again?) the value of smaller-scale urbanism and smaller cities as potentially attractive places to live and work. Architecturally, a similar case might be made for such “in-between” places in the built environment.