Design for the masses, not for your design peers

I read with interest your piece on “design improving urban life”.

Agreed. Design can improve urban life. But often it doesn’t, because it neglects its surroundings and its users.

London has a distinct character, based not on any particular architectural “style” but rather on form, colour, light, texture, sound, and smell.

I fear that very often, the architect/designer becomes so obsessed with his/her “creation” that the context and the users are not only forgotten, they may even represent some sort of “enemy”, stifling individual creativity.

I recently boarded a brand new double-decker bus on Route 168. The lower level was dark, claustrophobic, and had very few seats.

This design forced everyone boarding the bus, including elderly passengers, to climb the steep stairs to the top deck.

Then I caught the Northern Line at the newly-redesigned London Bridge station. The station treatment is relentlessly cold, with raw grey concrete and bare metal finishes. It is also woefully under-lit.

I wonder whether the designers of that bus and that Tube station actively considered their users; or were they perhaps only considering their own aesthetic dogma?

If we are to design a more habitable London for the future, we must really be thinking “future” and not “futuristic”, a silly, glitzy, dated, superficial buzzword currently being applied to so much design these days (witness its use in the current ads for Canary Wharf).

In your editorial you called Sir Norman Foster’s new GLA building “stunning”. Well… I don’t know about that. That word is rather subjective and it seems a matter of taste. Some may agree, others not. I suppose history will judge. The danger is that many buildings considered “stunning” by architectural and design professionals in, say, 1963 are not considered quite so stunning today.

We can only hope that professionals will invariably consider their work’s context – and its users – when putting forth their plans for London in the next millennium. If they design for themselves, for their own egos, for design professionals rather than for Londoners, they’ll only be repeating some of the worst mistakes of the 1960s.

You’re so right – designers can make it happen. Either way.

Charles Wunderman

London SW5

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