Key Placemaking Issues – Leisure and Retail

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The following learning points capture key placemaking issues from across the range of projects seen through A&DS’ design advice services. The summaries are intended to help those with a role in shaping, decision-making or delivery of plans, policies, briefs and development proposals to support successful placemaking:


Retail development has the capacity to transform the physical character of a neighbourhood, the experience and behaviour of customers, whilst affecting individuals in the local community.

The following learning points capture key placemaking issues from retail-led town or city centre developments and new stores seen through A&DS’ design advice services. The summaries are intended to support those with a role in shaping, decision-making or delivery of retail projects:


Considered site selection

Responsible site selection is a key urban design consideration, and may be the difference between bringing jobs and reigniting economic prosperity or contributing to socio-economic decline.

Encouraging unsustainable development and/or modes of transport or isolating local services from vulnerable communities will have effects on immediate and future prosperity and opportunities.

The project team should be sufficiently skilled in socio-economic and urban design considerations, have acquired knowledge of the area, and have a mandate to ensure appropriate site selection.


Connectivity is key

Accessibility by a full range of transport modes should always be a priority; foot, bicycle and rail as well as bus and car. Accessibility by public transport should be as easy and as attractive as possible for all sectors of the community.


Modelling of impact of structure on microclimate

Large buildings and structures such as supermarkets and other retail developments are likely to have a significant impact on microclimate affecting the public realm. Sun and wind studies will inform design decisions and protect users of adjoining streets.

Sustainable energy use

Retail developments often exert a heavy energy load. Developing a sustainable energy strategy for a project early in the design process, for example by using natural daylight and ventilation where possible, can influence the development of the design and the subsequent energy use.


Let study of the physical and socio-economic context inform the design

Environmental and Retail Impact Assessments will establish townscape, socio-economic and/or landscape character. A sensitive, site-specific response to these factors is more likely to inform the support of existing retail opportunities, the building layout, massing, and the architectural language for building detail and elevations, rooting the project into the location and supporting the creation of a locally appropriate and identifiable place.

Extent of Car Parking

The extent of car parking and its location should encourage use of sustainable transport methods, and avoid creating barriers to other users. Consideration given to the impact of car parking, its location and design, can minimise walking distances and improve attractiveness and safety for local people and those arriving by public transport and cyclists.


Avoid or adapt the generic when needed

Positive integration with the form, scale and massing of adjoining buildings and landscape elements brings advantages of appropriateness and sense of place. Whilst retailers will often have preferred internal layout formats, choice and tailoring of these to suit specific sites can bring wider benefits in terms of the capacity to fit in with, and respond to, the localised needs of communities and support rather than detract from surrounding commercial and social values.

Servicing and Access

Vehicle movements have the capacity to substantially reduce the quality of the public realm, to segregate retail areas from streets and communities. Avoiding locating car parking on the main frontage can allow a stronger relationship to the urban fabric, and sense of belonging in its location. The location of public entrances can be conceived as positive experiences with space and high quality landscape designed from the perspective of people on foot, including parents with buggies or the elderly and infirm. The managing of levels is especially important to the user experience.

Material selection

Material selection can be inspired both by the qualities and characteristics of materials in the local and immediate area, the quality of these where they are subject to contact, and by an awareness of climatic factors affecting performance, longevity and weathering.

Retail facility design has an important role in activating streets

The function of key public spaces, local centres and High Streets should be supported wherever possible by shopfronts and entrances opening directly onto the street. Where shops, cafes, and restaurants have the capacity to, spilling out onto a shared-surface space, perhaps integrating with other street activity such as local markets, can achieve policy aims eg Designing Streets, whilst creating greater economic activity and community buy-in to a sense of place.

Urban design of shopping malls

These have the capacity to provide sheltered and attractive environments giving protection from the worst of Scottish weather. However they should equally have the capacity to open up to the sun, sky, views and adjoining streets on better days. A totally inward looking mall has been shown to be detrimental to the urban quality of adjoining areas. They should be well integrated with movement patterns in neighbouring streets and complement other town centre activities. Car parks serving malls should have safe and attractive public access routes to adjoining streets in addition to accessibility to the mall.

Active frontages make positive places

Supermarkets are examples of a building type that must be carefully handled to avoid long blank frontages to adjoining streets and closes, making them less safe and enjoyable places to walk through. Containing areas such as service yards, goods yards, and storage facilities in between buildings rather than on the streets, avoids detrimental impact to the urban fabric. The inclusion of other uses within a programme, particularly in urban sites, can allow wrapping of otherwise dead frontages to a mutually advantageous outcome.

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