Lead urban designer, Fife council and founder of DPT Urban Design.
David founded the practice a little under a year ago with the aim of bringing collaborative and effective decision-making experience to planning and development projects. In this short time, collaborations have delivered Charrettes and training events with more projects in the pipeline. Core services also include masterplanning, site assessments and engagement.
This year David featured in Building magazines rising stars of Sustainability.
What other European cities in your opinion are leading the way with urban design and why?
The place I tend to find myself looking towards is Copenhagen. I’ve listened to Tina Saaby (City Architect) on a number of occasions explain the policies, projects and approaches that support the process of creating places for people, clearly influenced by Jan Gehl. The most obvious sign of Copenhagen’s influence in Scotland is the city’s key policy phase of ‘urban life before urban space, urban space before buildings’ adorns the front page of the Scottish Government’s recently published policy on Creating Places. Adopting and delivering on this simple approach is a challenge we should all embrace now, there’s never been a better opportunity.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge when it comes to designing for environmentally sustainability?
The challenge is to synthesize the range of policy priorities down to very clear approach and then align the activities of those who influence, shape, own or adopt our built environment to ensure it happens. Issues highlighted at a strategic design level as an environmental priority may get lost or diluted as proposals progress through layers of the planning process. A development may have ‘green buildings’ but the streets and spaces may not encourage people to get outside or walk to everyday destinations thereby impacting climate change.
Who inspires you?
My inspiration comes from the day-to-day conversations with colleagues and fellow built environment professionals. A single fact, sometimes overlooked, can help link a number of bigger ideas and make the whole idea work.
There’s no doubt that legislation and political direction is setting the pace for a more sustainable built environment. There are powerful advocates out there within a range of professions but ultimately, investors will build what is set by planning and building standards, which sets the client brief and defines a consultants role and remit. Following on from my earlier answer regarding the greatest challenge, the aim should be to align public and private interests to ensure people living, working and visiting our new places have the best chance to lead social, healthy and enterprising lives.
What do you feel about the current attitude with towards constructing green buildings in Scotland?
The recent announcement that Building Regulations will again tighten in 2015 will bring ‘green buildings’ closer to mainstream production in a matter of years, mainly in terms of carbon emissions. Water and space heating accounts for around 75% of all home energy use so big gains can be made. My preference would be to see a shift to considering the ‘street’ as a whole so better consideration is made of house type’s that can stack as opposed to focusing on make the ‘boxes’ better.
Can you describe the path that you followed to become an urban designer and what motivated you?
Writing this now, 20 years after starting my design training, I would say that I’m only now beginning to attain the status as an urban designer. My original training as a Chartered Landscape Architect ensured I began my career by focusing on people and not buildings. I started by learning how to design space and to understand how people interact and use their built environment. I needed to know more about buildings so I undertook further post-graduate study in urban design. The evolution in my skill set opened up opportunities for town centre masterplanning and planning urban extensions. My public sector experience has been vital as it has overlaid an understanding of the vital need to plan for ‘outcomes’.
Where do you see the future of urban design in the next 10 years?
If you ask ten different people what urban design is you’ll likely receive ten different answers. This isn’t their fault either. The private sector in particular is now bristling with practices that have added a bullet point with ‘urban design’ to their profile. Again following on from a previous answer, urban design in Scotland should be clearly focused on the relationship between how people live their lives in the best way possible by ensuring their environment impacts positively and provides all the services they need. This requires urban design knowledge and collaboration with architects, landscape architects, engineers to achieve the best built form that can be delivered. In 10 years I would hope urban design is a protected title so standards can be targeted.
What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your work?
Things change. Usually when you don’t expect. Opportunities can come from nowhere. I never had had a grand plan and still don’t, deliberately. My skill set has evolved from designing space, to structuring new places and into an understanding of how to shape built outcomes for people. My goal is to keep learning about people, urban structures and how to articulate places, through policy or design frameworks, so buildings, spaces and lives coexist. People will always be the most important consideration so my efforts will be focused on this area.