"Diary of an independent Urban Design consultant …” or “What am I doing here?”



Many thanks to Jonathan Vernon-Smith who has provided the excellent blog article below.

Jonathan is a Director at Urban Design Box: https://www.urbandesignbox.co.uk/

Jonathan has over fifteen years experience in architecture, master-planning & urban design - most recently as Urban Design Director at Turley.

His experience includes advising on the design of development on a wide range of master-planning and urban design projects as well as leading and designing both residential and commercial proposals at outline and detail level where master-planning is a key input.

Jonathan is an active member of the Design Commission for Wales as a Design Review Panel Chair. He is also a Panel member of South West Design Review Panel. He is a member of the RIBA & is a Recognised Practitioner of the Urban Design Group.

" I set up Urban Design Box Ltd 18 months ago; giving up being a Director at a respected multidisciplinary to gamble my career and self-esteem as an independent designer working from his back bedroom ... Why would anyone do that?

The chance to write a blog seemed like a good place to explore this … what was it that I really wanted to do?

This morning I’m on a Design Panel. There is a familiar context to this single dwelling project: bespoke design, private clients, lots of passion, and a steep learning curve to creating a dream home. I sheepishly describe myself as the ‘urban designer’ in the room. How can I contribute to the design of a single house in the countryside when my primary focus is master planning large developments?

Thankfully throughout the discussions I realise that urban design principles and placemaking values can be applied at any scale.


An appreciation for context, rural or urban, can greatly improve a scheme’s ability to fit in – which will in turn influence the occupant’s ability to fit in to their new community, physically as well as socially.

The proposals are at odds with Planning Policy, but this is a great design which will allow a local family to make a positive contribution to their village. It also raises the design ‘bar’ considerably for new development in the area.

The challenge will be for the Planning Authority to allow this build whilst on the other hand justifiably maintaining the ability to refuse the next scheme in the area which is not nearly so well designed.

What can I say to get the best result for all and contribute to a successful outcome? – this by the way is my own reason for being involved in the Design Review Panel.

I’m back at the office later to meet my client to discuss our ongoing master planning for 2000 new homes. Our work will not only present a strong vision for development, but working collaboratively with the Local Authority, we’ll give them robust positive evidence to help them allocate us and in turn satisfy their housing obligations.


Needless to say I am very excited about developing something exemplar, both for my client and the Local Authority, that sets a vision for development in the area over the next decade or so. Who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to have such a large scale lasting impact from their work?

Our new office is tucked into a well-known independent community building in Southville. My landlord and office neighbour is the former Bristol Mayor, and something of a personal hero. His strong vision and a grounded sense of what is achievable in the long term have made a significant contribution to what Bristol is today.

It’s a great place to work and clients seem keen to come to meetings at our office these days – is it just the convenience - or something to do with the vibrant and diverse neighbourhood that feels inspiring to be part of?

This afternoon I sit down in front of our cloud based finance system to analyse growth, monitor fees and send out some invoices. My accountant was very excited about the software and, a few exasperated phone calls later, I see why. Small business running doesn’t have to be daunting; the network of others keen to help, collaborate and recommend, is both comforting and inspiring.

So, I’ve not really answered my question, but this is only the start of the adventure. The working world is changing beyond recognition, with technological advances allowing almost complete work flexibility. There is the opportunity to redefine what a design company can be, without forgetting the core principles of passionate attention to detail, and building and maintaining great relationships within a trusted community of clients and consultants."


urbandesignbox.co.uk

info@urbandesignbox.co.uk

Urban Design Box

The Tobacco Factory

Raleigh Road

Bristol

BS3 1TF

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