Great architects from every century have understood the importance of the space between buildings. 20th-century proponents have included Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano and Gianfranco Franchini, who won the architectural competition to build the Beaubourg Centre in Paris as a result of both inspired architecture and a scheme that only built on half the site. The public realm created in front and around a building has proved as important to its success as the building design itself.
The property market has also come to appreciate the importance of public spaces and this understanding is embraced to the benefit of occupiers, the public and the investors in new mixed use developments. You only have to walk around King’s Cross to see and feel the benefits of leaving space between buildings, allowing the development to breathe and for the architecture of the individual buildings to be seen. Whereas before nobody had stopped to think of a name for the concept, now its value has been recognised and the term 'placemaking' has emerged.
The challenges for new, mixed use schemes remain the same and successful public spaces are fundamental to their success. At least today’s architects and developers know that money invested in these areas will be rewarded. The real challenges, therefore, lie in revitalising schemes developed over the last couple of decades which didn’t embrace placemaking, either because it was not understood or, if it was, because designs were constrained by budget and return appraisals that failed to attribute value appropriately.
Looking forward, it will be interesting to see how new tower buildings such as 22 Bishopsgate evolve. They certainly have a design team with vision and a practical understanding of the needs of today’s office worker and the public alike. How this manifests itself in the design will be fascinating to follow.
More than ever, good design matters and may now be rivalling location in importance to occupiers. This is great news not just for developers and architects but even better news for cities which will reap the long term rewards of well conceived and properly valued design.