Key Placemaking Issues – Mixed Use Masterplanning

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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:


Masterplanning provides a holistic approach to managing the development process using design processes to link policy with commerciality, providing greater certainty for investment and testing the effectiveness of delivery. The purpose of masterplanning is to achieve a better quality outcome from the development process.

The Scottish Government promotes the benefits of masterplanning as part of its “urban design toolkit” in the current Architecture Policy, Creating Places, and in Scottish Planning Policy.



Lead Designer

The whole point of masterplanning is to distil and co-ordinate a response to a wide range of interests, legislative parameters and design considerations. The ability to reflect, design and then disseminate such a shared vision effectively is best done visually and graphically by an appropriately skilled and experienced professional designer such as an urban designer, architect or landscape architect.



Masterplanning may be procured by public or private sector agencies. In either case the masterplan helps ensure that the vision is maintained during the implementation period.

Ability to Deliver

The scope and influence of a masterplan needs to be matched by sufficient ambition, commitment and also the capacity of client and stakeholders to deliver the plan.


Sharing the Vision

Participation by the community and local stakeholders is increasingly being used to underpin placemaking and sustainable development. A good masterplanner listens to and learns from communities, to reflect a collective vision and to respond creatively. Design charrettes are only one of a number of potential techniques for doing so.

Transfer of Knowledge

Masterplanning done well is an evolutionary and a collaborative process involving many stakeholders and often occurs over extended periods of time. It often involves the transfer of knowledge and vision from an initial masterplan team to subsequent implementation teams, with masterplanning and design codes as tools to manage the interface between the two.

To deliver a vision, a suitable delivery strategy and mechanism must be put in place, incorporating incentives to preserve the planned quality of outcomes. A design code is one of a number of potential quality control measures.

Value of Design Coding

An overly loose masterplan and the lack of a Design Code may erode confidence and the value of investment over time. Alternatively, an overly prescriptive approach can limit the capacity for designers and developers to make proper responses to the specifics of a site e.g. topography, or changes in market conditions.

Quality standards and issues of cohesiveness can be addressed in a Design Code whilst still allowing scope for individual designers. This is particularly relevant if a masterplan is to be delivered in phases, by differing designers, over a long period of time.


Masterplanning and the Development Plan

Masterplans provide three-dimensional design proposals. These go beyond land-use planning policies to develop a site specific design approach. As such Masterplans (and Urban Design Frameworks) have been effective in Scotland as tools for managing design through supplementary guidance that is applicable either at the scale of individual development sites or the scale of new communities. A good example is the Kirkwall Urban Design Development Framework [KUDDF].


Graphic communication is an essential tool for strategic planning

Work done by the A+DS Urbanism programme and the Scottish Government SSCI programme have shown the value of public participation in the development plan process. It has been shown that communication, design and graphic skills can make a major contribution, whether using design charrettes or other tools.


Orchestrating the Infrastructure

Masterplans provide the opportunity for the orchestration of infrastructure to align with the tenets of sustainable design around location of public services, sustainable transport and travel patterns, power generation, and consideration of local employment and working opportunities. They have the power therefore to substantially influence the sustainability credentials of our future built environment.

Learning from Landscape

Landscaping analysis allows site characteristics such as topography, wind, light, shade, water, to be properly understood and effectively utilized, informing the design efficiency of buildings and external spaces. In addition, there exists the potential to provide wider benefits, such as the enhancement of biodiversity through the incorporation of nature in the design, or utilizing on-site energy resources such as hydro-power, bio-mass or wind power.

Ability to Evolve

Sustainable development includes the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions, economic climate, demographics and other trends, by providing flexible use typologies for changing lifestyles and needs. Such flexibility can bring with it economic benefit as well as more integrated, socially rich, communities.



Integration is Key

It is essential for effective integration to look beyond site boundaries and immediate interfaces in order to ensure compatibility with the existing environment. A broad study of the wider physical landscape and the socio-economic conditions within which a masterplan site sits will prepare the ground for compatible and suitably responsive uses, built forms, public realm and infrastructure.


Public realm is critical to success

The considered design of streets, routes, paths, squares, parks and bridges provides the framework for an enjoyable experience for users, integration with existing communities and businesses, and the first impression for potential investors.


Scale, massing and density are important

Building form, density and the mix of uses directly influences the character and success of the public realm, helping to give definition and enclosure to, as well as animation of, the public realm and external environment; to make it attractive. The subtle relationship between buildings and the public realm helps create successful places where people want to be.


Image Credits

Whiteness Sands – Farrells
Evolution Diagram – Developed from Human Evolution SchemeJosé-Manuel Benitos / CC-BY-SA
Scotland’s Housing Expo site plan – AREA
Garscube Link – © Dave Morris

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