Students transform Sheffield site through the eyes of local residents

MA students taking the Urban Design project have been learning how to ensure their designs meet the needs of local people, through ‘character centred design’.

Student work by Christopher Young, Charlotte Jones, Helena Pemberton, Lydia Kirk, Sara Engelstad and Jackson Dean shows how a cast of characters forms the basis of urban transformation

The module, led by Dr Kevin Thwaites, see students work in groups to re-design a site in Sheffield’s Upper Don Valley. Instead of imposing a designers view on the space, students create a group of residents — each with diverse needs and daily routines — and shape their designs in response.

MA Professional Landscape Architecture student Christopher Young said: “using a person-centred approach meant our design became less prescriptive and more intuitive. We wanted to create a space where people could both live and work, by taking into account people’s needs. Our design has areas where private and public space blur and the relationship between spaces is complex and ‘messy’ in nature."

“We were aware that in real life, economic and political constraints might interfere, but we were encouraged to be radical and satisfy the user first, before anything else. It is perhaps a unique way to design, but it is certainly feels more instinctive.”

To visualise their final designs, students create intricately detailed 1:50 scale models.

Christopher said: “for our group, the model became a tool to play and test spatial arrangements and to make sure we satisfied the needs of each of our characters.”

“We had grumpier characters  — who would likely engage with only certain features of the design — and some characters that were more open minded. In some ways that is very much the way in which we personally approached the process, as we embodied the characters as we went along!

Projects focussed on Sheffield’s Upper Don Valley urban river corridor; reflecting the continuing role these areas play in urban regeneration and renewal in UK cities.

The Urban Design Project cultivated a very collaborative atmosphere in the studio

Christopher Young

MA Professional Landscape Architecture

Module lead Kevin Thwaites said: “in comparison to other UK cities, Sheffield’s river corridor regeneration is in the relatively early stages. The pace of progress in the last two to three years, however, has been accelerating, particularly with some new residential provision.”

“Its significant opportunity and challenge is, therefore, the chance to lead the way in exploring more human oriented approaches to redevelopment than are often evident elsewhere.”

Christopher added: “the Urban Design Project was definitely unique in that it cultivated a very collaborative atmosphere in the studio. We really enjoyed the camaraderie within the group setting; engaging with our characters and their idiosyncrasies and creating unique backstories for each other."

"It was very refreshing and it really influenced my perspective on what a place offers.”