A tip from Seattle for planning committees in the UK

When visiting Seattle recently, I took a look at the lovely waterfall garden built to mark the foundation of UPS at the site of its first offices.

The tiny space is a great little haven of tranquillity in the city:

Seattle's Waterfall Garden

Inside, that is. Here’s the view from the outside, taken from one of the main streets that pass it and so showing how it looks to lots of passers-by:

Waterfall Garden, Seattle - from the outside

Boring, dull and ugly. Other sides do present a better face to the passing world, but this failure to present an attractive face at street level to those who pass a site is a common failing of modern (and not so modern) architecture.

It’s one of the things that bugs me about so many of the architectural drawings used when planning applications are debated, especially those which make it into the media and into publicity leaflets.

Aside from the magic world in which there is no litter, everyone is slim (but carefully gender and ethnic balanced), no drainpipes exist and no aerials are required, the usual perspectives are those that would be seen by a low-flying billionaire in their helicopter rather than by the mass of people each day at street level passing not only the front but the sides and back of the site too.

Great architecture doesn’t just look great from an angle that almost no-one sees it. It also looks great from the angles from which people see it day in, day out. It’s noticeable too how well modern buildings look at street level in places such as Sydney and Vancouver which place a high regulatory importance on the street level appearance (by emphasising street level access for the public and surrounding green spaces respectively) compared with, for example, parts of London.

So here’s a tip if you’re ever a councillor on a planning committee: make sure you get shown how a proposal will look from all the angles people will pass it for decades to come. If that ugly facade down the side or around the back is going to be passed millions of times in total during its lifetime, is that really good enough?

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