In October of this year, the 2019 Sterling Prize (for excellence in British architecture) was awarded to a relatively unassuming 100 unit residential development known as “Goldsmith Street”. Designed by Architects Mikhail Riches and Cathy Hawley the project has been citied as nothing more than a “modern masterpiece”
Finally, acknowledgement that well-designed housing schemes can compete with such illustrious past winners that includes the Imperial War Museum, Gateshead Millennial Bridge, the Bloomberg Building and “The Gerkin”, to name but a few; and not a moment too soon, one might add.
It does, however, beg the question: what brought about this award and what has shifted in the public psyche to merit this change of focus? In short, we believe that the aim to develop a highly sustainable, healthy community and the conscious thought required at every level of the project to achieve it.
We are being to understand that poor quality urban environment and mental ill health are inextricably linked; the wide-ranging benefits of accessible, well designed and interesting urban environments are well documented and good street design can have a positive impact on both our mental health and general wellbeing, which underlines the importance of the spaces in between our all of our buildings.
In a broader sense, there has been a tangible shift to lift the stigma of mental health issues. From “Heads Together” to “Mental Health Awareness Week”, there is growing openness, understanding and willingness to address the issues; this is now leading designers towards more holistic thinking in urban design.
From a transport perspective, Goldsmith Street develops over a quarter of the site as communal space that is open to pedestrians and cyclists. The street design has been modelled on traditional Victorian streets and car parking has been intentionally pushed to the edges of the estate; the result is that in this community people, not cars, own the streets.
Poorly designed urban environments can (and do) have negative effects on mental health. This year’s Stirling Prize award is a clear a recognition that spaces in between our buildings should (and must) be celebrated as much as the ‘trophy’ buildings that have won the award before it! This in turn shifts the focus back towards people and how our environment plays a vital part in our emotional wellbeing.
As transport planners, we also have a part to play in this gradual but exciting change. This has been recognised recently in our capital by Transport for London, who are now requesting the inclusion of an “Active Travel Zone” and a “Healthier Streets” approach in the production of Transport Assessment. The primary aim of which is to improve the integration between all modes of transport and the quality of the local urban environment. Walking and cycling as part of daily travel is the main way people in our cities stay active; therefore high-quality public transport services and local environment also contribute to improving air quality and reducing traffic dominance.
At mode transport planning we feel that there is a real opportunity for professionals working in architecture, planning and urban-focused professions to have a positive impact on mental health. We look forward to seeing how the approach taken to deliver “healthier streets” rises up the (transport) planning agenda in the near future and how this filters through into our environment and economy as a whole.