Key Placemaking Issues – Waste, Water + Energy Infrastructure

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Through analysis of projects seen at Design Forum , we have sought to draw out a number of specific considerations which apply across project types and which we consider to be Key Placemaking Issues.

INTRODUCTION

The National Planning Framework for Scotland 2 (NPF 2) dated 2009 described the long term spatial strategy for Scotland’s development. This document set out not only which projects are included and why, but also that, as developments of national importance, the Scottish Government expects their design to be of a high quality.

There are sound economic reasons behind the expectation of quality. In cities and towns, environmental quality, built heritage and cultural life are seen as strong economic assets which should be protected by planning policy. A positive sense of place is described as just as important in rural areas, the document noting that as the rural economy changes, a high quality environment and a strong cultural identity will be key assets in promoting sustainable growth, economic diversification and community development. NPF3 is currently under consultation.

Energy, water and waste projects are becoming increasingly prevalent as Scotland looks to respond to legislation on low carbon targets. These projects are also significant due to their size, and competing imperatives around the efficiency of their being located close to energy users, whilst accommodating the requirement to transport often large quantities of raw fuels to, and output materials from, such installations.

We are conscious that the scale of such projects often makes them controversial, with great public interest in the implications of what is often new technology on the immediate surroundings and quality of life implications for the public. The Scottish Government Energy Directorate are responsible for the technical assessment of all energy related proposals over 50Mega Watts, while below this threshold Local Authorities are responsible for assessing these.

In both instances, where we have engaged with projects, A+DS have been able to consider how design might add value or mitigate the implications of scale, siting, and impact on the built and natural landscape.

PROCESS

Involving design consultants early adds value

Energy and recycling facilities are by their very nature engineering led. However, involvement of designers; architects, landscape designers, artists, at an early stage can assist with the potentially challenging job of integrating these large pieces of infrastructure into either rural or urban, very often sensitive, settings. There is the potential for exciting and dramatic structures, buildings which perform a practical function, and also demonstrate confidence in technology and investment in the future of the country.

Visualisation

The creation of a large energy or recycling facility will have a major impact, with potentially significant effects on towns and settlements.

Visual and contextual analysis of the existing landscape or urban context and setting is critical in order to understand the impact of the size and scale of the proposed building elements as perceived both immediately and from distant viewpoints, including potential impact on important views.

Proposals need to be tested in a three dimensional context through use of, for example, site sections and small-scale physical models, in order that the implications can be accurately weighed against the potential benefits.

STRATEGIC DECISIONS

Managing the impact of new infrastructure by siting guidance

National policy is clear as regards the need for infrastructure, and the need for quality. Planning authorities have a significant role in managing the impact of new infrastructure. This can be addressed by developing strategic thinking about the placement of facilities in urban or other contexts, and in developing masterplans so that clear design guidance can be produced for those areas where facilities are planned.

SUSTAINABILITY

Lifecycle of facilities and materials

New buildings can be designed in such a way that they can be easily and affordably adapted and maintained over their lifetime. Anticipated lifespan of boiler equipment is currently often circa 25 years and therefore consideration will be given to how plants will be disassembled or re-used once no longer required, and the site use thereafter.

The use of recycled materials might also explored in the design of key building elements as part of the overall ethos of the project and to reduce embodied energy and waste generated by the construction processes.

Environmental protection

Transporting fuel to, and recycled materials and waste from sites can involve using heavy freight vehicles which substantially increase the size and volume of traffic in the area. Alternative transportation modes other than road, such as rail or sea links might be considered in order to limit effects of operations on the character of an existing place as a result of the proposed plants’ operation.

Any potential environmental impacts caused by plant processes, such as transfer of odours and noise, will be considered by the appropriate regulatory departments, however there can also be potential for these to be mitigated via building design and use of innovative technologies.

Education and public interface

Incorporating a visitor centre can provide education on emerging technologies for public and professionals, celebrating Scottish innovation and engineering. When included as an integral part of a development, such a centre for excellence can include space for industry professionals to carry out research and design, pioneering the associated technology whilst also offering the potential for community buy-in to the project as a whole.

CONTEXT+LAYOUT

Community benefits

In locating a new energy production facility, consideration will include not only proximity to where the fuel is sourced, but also strategically where the plant might be best placed as regards maximising the potential for heat generated being effectively and efficiently used. As energy is lost through conversion (ie, heat to power), the most effective use is local to the production site, providing the potential for community benefit. Early planning will allow maximum benefit to be derived.

Building layout and levels

The large scale of proposals and the engineering-determined building elements required often creates a challenging design proposition. Within the bounds of the practical requirements of access and the processes of the plant, landscape and level changes across sites can be explored in order to respond to the topography of the site as well as to other qualities of the immediate and wider landscape.

Using landscape design and planting strategically and creatively

A clear a vision that addresses the relationship of buildings to the wider environment can make a prominent complex an asset to the landscape e.g. by creating a positive gateway impression. Landscape design needs to respond to the scale of the proposition, and also to its time span.

Tree planting might mediate between built environment and landscape, linking to wider horizons to avoid abrupt and awkward settings within the wider context, however there may be little point in a screening tree belt taking 25 years to grow to fulfil its function, if the plant lifespan is 25 years.

Ecology and biodiversity

Working with an ecologist who understands biodiversity can help develop a more minimal approach towards detailing in the landscape – in particular in those areas where there is little or no human activity. Instances may exist where, perhaps small, but meaningful ecological interventions might be integrated.

BUILT FORM

Optimise the arrangement of the main elements

The organisation of the main building forms is usually defined by the engineering requirements of the production processes. Where consideration can be given to the optimum visual arrangement of these elements, especially where there is substantial height and bulk of components, this has the potential to greatly influence how the project is perceived in the land / townscape.

Mitigation of building scale, appearance and function

Designs might seek to reduce the apparent scale of individual components by for example submerging part of the plant into the ground or incorporating green roofs, utilising and working with the landscape and topography across the site, or breaking up the mass through articulation of the building.

Alternatively, drama can be created through a bold approach, making a positive feature in the landscape/cityscape and expressing objects at different apparent scales day and night, for example revealing the processes going on inside the building through lighting and the transparency of the external skin.

Image credits

The Scottish Housing Expo – AREA
The Olympic Energy Centre – Steve Malone
Bute Recycling Centre – Andrew Lee/Collective Architecture
Whitelee Windfarm Visitor Centre – Hypostyle Architects
Pudding Mill Pumping StationRob Scott / CC BY-NC-ND
Walbrook Wharf Waste Transfer StationDiamond Geezer / CC BY-NC-ND

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