Landscape Projects: The city of Brighton & Hove has a world-class reputation for its creative, leisure and cultural industries, and attracts millions of visitors. Its dramatic setting, sandwiched between the sea and south downs, constrains access and perceptions of the city. As a result, parts of the city are relatively inaccessible and ignored; other areas suffer overwhelming traffic congestion. Landscape Projects, working with Gehl Architects from Copenhagen, were commissioned by Brighton and Hove City Council to assess its pedestrian and visitor experience: its urban struc- ture, movement patterns and open air activities, both in winter and in summer; and to provide advice on public realm improvement projects which would result in a more walkable, relaxed, attractive and accessible city. The most significant project to emerge from the study is at New Road: a street laid out in the early 19th century to divert people away from The Prince Consort’s new Brighton Pavilion. The street forms part of the City’s Cultural Mile: a connective public space linking the principle cultural institutions of the City.
Over the last century, New Road became increasingly run-down – dominated by the needs of vehicles rather than people. To that end, the initial brief from the client was to close the street to all vehicles; to reclaim the street and create a pedestrianised linear square for sitting and eating and drinking and watching. However, the unique condition at the site ensured the brief evolved alongside the design; informed by a detailed understanding of how people use the street and the surrounding theatres, restaurants and the Grade 1 listed Brighton Royal Pavilion and its gardens. Using methodologies devised by Professor Jan Gehl, the team collected information on who used the area, where they stood and how they moved in and out of the street.
We talked with local people and councillors about their aspirations and about how they used and understood the street; with traders associations about their fears of removing vehicles from the street; and with the various cultural establishments in the area. The new plan for the street incorporated the needs of all the different user groups: encouraging cycling, sitting, standing and walking activities based on people-focused public space programming. The new arrangement – which responded directly to people using the street – would be a Shared Space; a pedestrian dominated space where all vehicles were allowed.
The principles that the team applied were firmly rooted in a well researched body of work – precedents set by experienced practitioners such as Hans Monderman’s work in Holland, and new guidance in the Manual for Streets. This was complemented by the team’s own experiences – including Gehl Architects’ work in Copenhagen and other European cities, and the unique engineering approach of Martin Stockley Associates. The design of the street reinforces pedestrian priority and encourages defensive driving and low speeds: the visual quality of the street is markedly different from the conventional approach, forcing all users of the street to become much more aware of their environment and encourag- ing eye contact between people. The team consulted with groups including Guide Dogs for the Blind, and included wayfinding measures for the visually impaired throughout – a tactile guid- ance strip along one side of the street; a contrasting strip along the other; and textured paving areas to mark thresholds, potential hazards and movement onto the shared surface. Drivers are transitioned to the street across a textured rumbled strip, whilst the surface was carefully detailed to hint at how people should arrange themselves; changes in the tone, module and fin- ish of the paving working alongside the arrangement of the street furniture to provide an extra layer of information.
The street has a vibrant night time use – the surveys showed the highest pedestrian numbers were actually at night; so the design responded to the pattern, identifying lighting as a key com- ponent. Functional lighting along the street was complemented by the involvement of a light- ing artist. The centrepiece – a finely crafted, long bench gave a well-needed place for people to linger in the street.
The project has transformed this part of Brighton City Centre, making a socially and environ- mentally sustainable public realm which is contributing to the city’s thriving economy. It has cemented itself as one of Brighton’s most important public places, becoming the forth most popular place for people to spend time in the city, just behind the beach. Since its opening, traf- fic levels in the street have dropped by 93%, whilst cycling and pedestrian numbers have risen by 22% and 162% respectively. English Partnerships selected New Road as an exemplar project for its Urban Design Compendium, whilst the project was lauded by CABE, and won awards from the Civic Trust, the National Transport Award for Urban Design, the Landscape Institute and the British Stone Federation.
Landscape Architect: Landscape Projects
Architect: Gehl Architects
Engineer: Martin Stockley Associates
Project Name: New Road, Brighton, UK
Client: Brighton & Hove City Council
Commenced: Autumn 2005
Completed: Summer 2007