Tall, narrow buildings for a small public square?

IF we are agreed that the first mark on a blank sheet of paper – when it comes to designing a new town – is a small public square, (and those two ‘giants’ of town planning, Christopher Alexander and Jan Gehl, both recommend squares to be small) then what dimensions the surrounding buildings?

This is, of course, a topic liable to attract robust debate, meaning the ambition of this article can only be that of a serving suggestion.

Undaunted, let’s get on with it, by suggesting a possible inspiration: those relatively tall, narrow and – many will say – attractive buildings that are photographed every day of the week, in Edinburgh: on Victoria Street (the main picture).

Without having any sophisticated architectural vocabulary to speak of, there is a compelling simplicity to them, plus a ‘pleasing’ balance to the configuration of windows and their relationship with the ground floor retail premises (and their tall, narrow shop windows).

The flower boxes are a nice, additional touch.

There’s an echo in a couple of buildings photographed in London; the first being just behind Tottenham Court underground station, the other near Borough Market (both pictured).

For this particular new town design, a decision can be made to locate apartments around small, intimate and secure courtyards, accessed via a gated ‘vennel’ – as one routinely finds on the continent (such as Malaga, Spain, pictured below). These gates can be incorporated easily enough in the front elevations of the square, and absolutely on the streets (narrow?) spinning off the square.

In more detail, it might be that the south-facing edge of the public square is a cafe, with outdoor seating protected by an awning (such as the one, below, pictured from Carlisle).

Mike Wilson is a member of the Place Design Scotland

Picture credits: Place Design Scotland

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