People, place and time – UK’s high-speed rail network | Sadie Morgan

Annual Congress X – Health, Happiness & Wellbeing
Sadie Morgan, Chair, HS2 Design Panel & Co –Founder, dRMM Architects

In this talk Sadie Morgan, Chair of the HS2 advisory board and design panel, spoke about how the already established vision for HS2 fits into the Academy’s principles of urbanism. She discussed the vision document, published by HS2 design panel, which is a conclusion of the work of a number of professionals to which HS2 can be held to account. There are three main principles which the document has been structured around: people, place and time. ‘People’ – As the HS2 has been paid for the taxpayer and will be built for the taxpayer, they wanted to make sure there are benefits for the people.

In Sadie’s practice, architecture firm dRMM, they always ask the question: ‘How to achieve those benefits of design successfully’. They like to engage with communities in an intuitive and collaborative manner. It is about socialising and connecting in your own terms – they try to promote the richness and joyfulness that can come from good design. For the London Design Festival in 2013, they were asked to produce an installation at the Tate Modern. They used discarded timber, which when recycled could be turned into an extremely strong product – cross-laminated timber – increasing its lifespan. They took design inspiration from artist M.C. Escher, feeling that his endless staircases were perfect examples of social spaces as one always stops to talk to people on the stairs. Using the ideas of the ‘endless staircase’ and the ‘stairs to the sky’, they put the cross laminated timber in a design which could be re-configured in endless variations and yet provide stability.

The installation of the staircase made people inquisitive and intuitive – it promoted endless possibilities. As a temporary feature it offered a different type of dynamic – it ignited people’s imagination and excited visitors. One appropriation of the design was by a group of flash mob dancers, who used the staircase as a backdrop. The stair promoted new experiences and was used to promote curiosity. It served as a natural magnet and a place for people to enjoy, whilst having no real purpose.

‘Place’ – HS2 will expand our choice of where to live and work by increasing connections. Regeneration, identity and the environment must be considered in the design process. When improving the quality of life for people, environmental standards must be at the forefront. The King’s Cross redevelopment project is a good example of how to regenerate a transport hub. It is not necessarily about size, but more about the sense of life that has been achieved and the sense of connection and of community. We have seen residential developers starting to appreciate the latter through new spaces such as ‘super lobbies’ – very large lobbies which allow the community to use them as cinemas or libraries. A residential tower project by dRMM in Rundeskogen, Norway, demonstrated how thinking about the people can influence design. The brief asked to look at a complex play between the needs for storage and parking but also the potential snow and wind loading. They wanted to make sure everybody had access to southern light and the spectacular views on offer. Creating better public space at the ground floor was essential. They wanted to protect the sense of open space, hence the squeezed form of the towers at the bottom. There we generous overhangs and play areas were incorporated within the actual structure of the buildings. The mix of apartments was very diverse – 1, 2 and 3-bed flats. They wanted to promote a healthy mix of all ages and provide opportunities not only for the developers.

‘Time’ – The HS2 document aims to deliver on time and to promote adaptability. We want to know that HS2 will adapt to future needs and as such are trying to make sure that it is designed as a system. A project by dRMM similar in philosophy was the Sliding House, which respond to seasonal changes. The roof and walls, both super-insulated and laid on tracks, can be moved and re-configured according to the desired environment, allowing you to bath in open air, for example. This joyfulness and fun within the adaptability of the house are very important in any design. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend a night watching the stars from your own living room.

Words by Young Urbanists




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