New Airport - New City



Bodø in Norway is a small city, with big plans for its future urban and economic development. The relocation of an existing NATO airbase and construction of a new passenger airport, will unlock approximately 350Ha of land and create a significant opportunity for the city. Through an Urban Planning Advisory Team organised by the International Society of City and Regional Planners, our Director led a peer review of the city’s spatial plans. Important themes were transport connectivity, emerging technology, urban realm improvements, regeneration of the harbour area, integrating new and old parts of the city, environmental efficiency.


Reinvent Paris II



Reinvent Paris II is an international design competition intended to bring new life to 34 underutilised and underground spaces in Greater Paris.  Urben's entry for Reinvent Paris II focused on a modest space beneath the Metro line 6 viaduct on Boulevard Blanqui, between the rues Barrault and Vulpian (13th arrondissement). The area beneath the viaduct is 170m long and 10m wide, lined with a footpath, row of mature Plane trees, a two lane road (plus two additional lanes for parking), and a dedicated cycle lane on either side. A small report supporting our entry, analysed the surrounding urban context including population density, land use, open space and traffic speeds. From this basic understanding of the surrounding conditions, we proposed a multipurpose community space titled Ici Blanqui (Here Blanqui) - intended to act as a meeting place for the surrounding community. 

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The viaduct acts as a visual barrier to neighbourhoods on the northern and southern side of Boulevard Blanqui, and like many underpasses, is a space that people don’t feel comfortable spending time. Although the site is currently afflicted by air and noise pollution from passing vehicles, it is possible that transport and mobility trends such as electric vehicles that are quiet and clean at point of emission, could support the long term improvement of the area. We proposed programming the area with three separate functions:

  • West - Commercial / community hub with a multipurpose building. Programmable LED lighting including uplighting of the viaduct columns would add character and vibrancy. The glass clad, two storey building could act as an urban room to host art exhibitions, public meetings, and workspaces; or be let commercially as a cafe, retail shop, or click and collect facility. 
  • Central - Activity / transition area. Parking for Velib bike-sharing; a transitional zone for pedestrians crossing Boulevard Blanqui; and a rock climbing wall mounted behind purpose designed auditorium seating, combine to create a flexible outdoor space that is vibrant at different times of the day and night. 
  • East - Recreation, conversation and relaxation.  A landscaped open space with quiet areas to sit, play chess or petanque, talk, and relax. A Bench "Air Lab"; plus Bay-laurel, Boxwood, and Lavender hedges, would frame the space, refresh the air, and improve biodiversity.

We look forward to discussing our initial concept with the surrounding residents and businesses, and continuing to find innovative solutions for the many underground (and undercroft) spaces in our cities. 


Urbanism Training



In September 2017 Urben Director Elizabeth Reynolds prepared and delivered urbanism training to graduates working at the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council. The training was arranged by the International Society of City and Regional Planners and part of ten modules intended to help young professionals from a range of built environment disciplines to understand contemporary issues in urbanism. Three modules were taught in an interactive workshop setting:  Transport and Urban Mobility; Implementation Strategies; and Elements of a Successful City. 


Key themes included mobility as service; electrification and automation of vehicles; the catalytic effect of introducing new forms of transport; retrofitting cities with new infrastructure; techniques for delivering major projects tools for reimagining places; and defining quality of life in cities. Case studies were provided from a range of international cities as well as local projects.  


Bird Street



While working at Atkins, Urben Director Paul Reynolds developed the concept for a number of ‘Oasis Spaces’ on side roads of Oxford Street, one of the busiest streets in the UK. As part of that work he successfully submitted an application to TfL for funding from their Future Streets Incubator programme, and went on to deliver the Bird Street project - billed as the UKs most ‘Smart Street’. The concept was to have a space which could be used to trial a number of innovations that were aimed at helping to deliver healthier streets. These included Pavegen Paving which generates electricity as you walk on it, and an Airlabs bench which uses an electrostatic process to purify the air.

However, as well as being a test bed for this technology, the scheme included a number of trading kiosks which would activate the dead frontage of the adjacent building, and provide an opportunity for small retailers to take space and have access to the thousands of people each hour who pass along Oxford Street at the end of this site - which is just 1 block away from Selfridges.

The design incorporated a number of greening features - including a linear seating and planting feature which will ultimately provide a screen to the outdoor dining area of the adjacent restaurant, and also a green wall at the entrance to the street to mark its presence. As the scheme is initially a trial, an artificial grass was used to unify the ground plane, which was previously a combination of footway and carriageway, in a cost effective way. The hope is that once the scheme has shown it is a success, the street can secure funds to permanently repave as a pedestrian area, using appropriate high quality paving materials. However, the system used, which included a crate substructure to support the new space, enabled the scheme to proceed on a trial basis and prove its worth. As part of the project, visitor numbers and use of the street are being counted and compared to surveys taken before its installation. Initial results suggest that footfall has increased significantly.


Wood Street Walls


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Wood Street Walls (WSW) is a Community Interest Company (CIC) who bring together artists to create artworks for public and private sector clients, mostly large scale outdoor murals (photo of ATMA by Joe O'Malley. To provide a dedicated space for artists and the community, WSW raised over £38,000 in donations to fund the upgrade of a former manual instruction centre in Walthamstow. A total of 169 individuals and organisations backed the fundraising initiative through Spacehive, with the largest donation of £18,000 coming from the Mayor of London’s High Street Fund. Urben provided WSW with development consent services on a pro-bono basis, enabling them to secure planning permission for a change of use. Now up and running, the centre is providing studio space for local artists; giving children and young adults the opportunity to learn different skills; and a hub for local business to commission original artwork for their shops.


Hatton Garden

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Working closely with Momentum Transport Consultancy, we co-authored a report looking at the issues and opportunities for public realm enhancements across the Hatton Garden BID area. The study included an analysis of the condition of existing streets alongside a review of how they are used today and could be used in the future, based upon existing land uses, and emerging movement patterns. 


Rail & Regeneration



Much of London's planned growth is currently concentrated in Opportunity Areas and Housing Zones designated by the Greater London Authority, and in many of these places regeneration is anchored by improvements in transport infrastructure.  Urben has provided advice to Local Planning Authorities for new railway stations under the Crossrail Act 2008, and for major mixed use redevelopments around these new stations. Services include pre-application feasibility studies and advice to developers, policy review, consideration of cumulative construction impacts, affordable housing requirements, design review, stakeholder engagement, drafting Section 106 Heads of Terms, and assessment of applications for determination.  

Urben is currently providing specialist town planning advice to Crossrail, to help ensure that this major transport infrastructure project is delivered in accordance with the Crossrail Act (2008). Focused on the Central London stations of Whitechapel; Farringdon; Tottenham Court Road; Bond Street; and Paddington, our role is to provide technical advice, stakeholder engagement, project management, and quality assurance services.


A High Line for Gaza?

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The successful transformation of a former elevated freight rail line in New York into a public walking path has triggered a wave of similar projects from Miami to Singapore. Could lessons from the High Line help Gaza?  Converting a former rail corridor to a priority walking and cycling space was one urban design intervention we considered as part of a long term spatial visioning exercise for Gaza as part of an Urban Planning Advisory Team for UN Development Programme and UN Habitat.  The International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) arranged the UPAT and brought together 12 planners from around the world with the intention of undertaking a rapid, creative spatial visioning exercise.  The team was split into two parts, one half focused on the West Bank and the other on the Gaza Strip. 

Initial concepts for the Gaza trail include gabions filled with rubble to separate vehicles from pedestrians and provide seating, planting date palms or other edible landscaping, to further define the space and provide shade and marking a dedicated cycle lane. Over time, the trail could integrate other services like solar powered mobile phone charging stations and drinking taps.  Not only could this type of trail support affordable, healthy and sustainable modes of transport, shops and homes generally overlook it, providing a safe space for all user groups.

Detailed design is needed to create an appropriate layout for each block of the trail, and implementation of the project would also need to include traffic diversions and driver education – not easy tasks in any city but surely worth testing on a small section of the trail to gather public feedback.  Yet the success of Gaza’s port side Corniche suggests that a pedestrian and walking trail could be an important addition to Gaza’s few, but much loved public spaces.


Underground Urbanism



Urben was granted a Design Innovation Award by the Royal College of Art to enable research into how shafts left over from Crossrail construction could be redesigned to better use valuable resources, including land in central London.  As Crossrail winds its way beneath central London, grout shafts are being used to stabilise the earth beneath buildings.  The shafts are open topped, concrete lined spaces, but rather than seeing them as unsightly holes in the ground, Urben reimagined the spaces as slim, 6 storey structures with the potential to provide automated cycle storage, waste storage, parcel drop off / collection, or even cafes and bars (image Jordan Jon Hodgson). Aside from creating great spaces, it is hoped that the project will lead a broader discussion on the need for cities to use their resources more efficiently. Our research is included in the Learning Legacy of Crossrail – a collation and dissemination of good practice, innovation, and lessons learned from the project.


NY-Lon Underground

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The International Society of City and Regional Planning and the International Tunneling Association Committee on Underground Spaces commissioned Urben to research the planning and design of underground spaces in London and New York.  We compared how each city has traditionally approached underground development, gave an overview of the current planning context, plus environmental, policy and design considerations, vertical and spatial integration, and scope for lessons to be learnt.  Case studies were provided on innovative new projects such as the Lowline Park proposed for Manhattan.  Our work contributed to a growing body of research and practice by cities such as Helsinki, Tokyo and Singapore.


Thames Tideway

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London’s 150-year old combined sewage and rainwater system is currently servicing millions more people than it was designed for, leading to the River Thames being polluted by over 39 million tonnes of sewage annually.  The Thames Tideway Tunnel is a £4.2bn Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project to construct a 25.1km long tunnel beneath the River Thames that connects to existing infrastructure at 24 locations and is capable of diverting waste to an expanded treatment facility. 

Urben worked in a multi-consultant team to successfully secure Development Consent for the project.  Blackfriars Bridge Foreshore and Albert Embankment Foreshore were our primary responsibility, each of which posed unique challenges including proximity to Grade II listed properties, complex stakeholder interests and constructing within the river itself. At both sites the proposed infrastructure is to be concealed beneath new landscaped spaces built into the foreshore, at Blackfriars Bridge the design by Fereday Pollard will provide almost 5,000 sqm of new public realm.