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MA Urban Design

Peter Livings

Peter Livings - Site Aerial

Peter Livings / Urban Design

From Landscape to Urban Design

This is my second time studying in Leeds having completed the Landscape Architecture Masters back when Leeds Beckett was still called Leeds Metropolitan. I have been working as a Landscape Architect for a number of years since but a large portion of my work has focused on landscape planning, particularly carrying out Landscape and Visual Impact Assessments for large linear schemes such as road, rail and electricity infrastructure. Although I still enjoy working on these schemes, particularly their strategic nature, I have missed the creativity that comes from more design focused projects. So when I returned to my employer after working abroad, I raised the idea of going back to study Urban Design to help build up the company’s Urban Design team (and to give my career a little nudge toward the design side). Luckily my employers agreed and I have been working alongside studying for the past year.

It has been a strange few months for students and staff as we have all had to adjust to a new way of working as a result of the co-vid pandemic. However, a lot of things about studying are the same; the deadlines are still tight, the hours are still long and I still hate Harvard referencing. The main difference is how appreciative I am of the freedom we have as students to experiment and to fail (tutors are a lot more forgiving of failure than clients seem to be). This year’s Urban Design modules have covered the critical theory but there has also been a particular emphasis on experimentation.

The work I present below is from the Milton Keynes Cinematic Commons/Placemaking module that we have been working on since September (with our final assignments due to be completed by October). During the module we got a solid grounding in the theory surrounding the Garden City movement and the New Towns programme but we also were encouraged to use photography, film, models and projections to communicate our analysis and design proposals. I have particularly enjoyed using photography and film and the skills I have learned from the project have started to bleed into my job.

Milton Keynes Placemaking project

Milton Keynes is an interesting site to work with given its formation as a New Town and the often negative perceptions the city attracts. For semester one we focused on the public area in-between the two shopping centres (shown in orange below). For semester two we got to choose our own site boundary and I focused on the wider CBD.

Much of my site analysis was done through film and photography. The first video below shows a tour of the Festival of creative Urban Living which was aimed at generating interest in the underutilised public spaces of Milton Keynes. The video also highlights the Redways (cycleways) and Port Cocheres (shelters) that have come to be an integral part of my project.

This timelapse video show how underutilised our site is compared to the busier shopping centre which offer enough activities and excitement for people to stop and interact with their environment. This excitement is lacking in the public realm and my project has aimed to create interest through using the existing elements that are relatively unique to Milton Keynes.

During the site analysis I became particularly focused on the Redways and Port Cocheres and I really wanted my design to utilise these elements and ensure the response was unique to Milton Keynes. I used sketching to explore a number of possibilities for the public space before I proposed a temporary park that would enable the people of Milton Keynes to experiment with their public realm in a playful and meaningful way. This could then organically grow into a permanent park that the people of Milton Keynes could take ownership of. Through my conversations with various characters on-site I put cycling at the forefront of my park and created a multi-tiered urban playground that allow cyclists to ride up the structure (formed by joining together 4 existing Port Cocheres) and the cycle directly into surrounding buildings and places of work.

Semester two has seen me expand the site boundary and look for wider ways to use the Redways and Port Cocheres as vehicles to overtake larger swathes of Milton Keynes. I have been exploring new ways of consulting on ideas and am currently producing an interactive PDF that would allow the people of Milton Keynes to vote on the ideas that resonate with them the most. Once I have established a suitable way of digitally consulting (something that is perhaps going to be very topical as we move through the co-vid pandemic) then I will produce another series of design proposals that celebrates the reclamation of the MK public realm. Although it has been challenging to adapt to both working and studying from home, it has still been exciting to experiment freely and I look forward to seeing what I can pull together for October.