Formed by Nigel Gilkison in 2016, following more than 20 years experience in the industry, universalform works across a range of project scales, including designing new subdivisions, assisting with regeneration plans, exploring land development opportunities, or designing new buildings.
The goal is to create inspiring, innovative and sustainable design solutions which respond to local needs and conditions, creating attractive, vibrant and successful places which foster strong communities and provide inclusive environments for all people to use and enjoy.
URBAN DESIGN – WHAT IS IT?
Urban Design is a relatively new field of study, closely aligned with town planning, architecture and landscape architecture. It doesn’t just relate to cities, but to every kind of grouped settlement, from the smallest rural hamlet to the biggest megacity.
Urban Design differs from architecture in that it take a wider perspective and a more contextural approach and focusses on designing urban environments – the spaces between the buildings – the ‘public realm’ of streets, squares, parks, etc. But this is only one side of the story – the most important ingredient in urban settlements, is the people. Without people there is no point – People are a settlement’s raison d’etre.
Renowned British Architect and Urbanist, Sir Terry Farrell draws a parallel between the role of and urban designer and that of a gardner tending his plants. The garden can be left to its own devises and will grow reasonably well on its own, but with thoughtful planning, the added support of a stake here and there, regular watering, pruning and tending to the weeds, it will grow even better and be more productive. So you can have cities without urban designers, but careful thought and planning can make them better, more efficient, more environmentally sustainable and more productive.
MY PHILOSOPHY & VALUES – WHY DID I GET INTO IT?
My interest in urban design developed out of my interest for architecture, but also from my general interest in the fields of evolutionary theory, history, anthropology, social organization and cultural identity.
I am interested in the way in which urban design considers all aspects of human interaction (social, political, cultural, economic and environmental), providing a physical environment for human habitation which enables all of these interactions to take place, and allows us to share skills and knowledge efficiently.
Urbanism forces us to think about the relationship of spaces, movement and buildings together as a unified, well organized entity – like an ecosystem in nature, connected to all things it touches. How we design this entity greatly affects the quality of life of the communities that inhabit it, ensuring that the many complex operations of the city and its inhabitants function efficiently, but also, importantly, its about creating places which inspire pride and delight.
It’s also about telling a story, the narrative about how that place evolved its own unique identity and character over time. I am very interested in an ‘historically sensitive’ approach to urban design, which seeks to retain an identifiable link with the city’s past by selectively incorporating tangible evidence of the city’s evolutionary progression. As Aldo Rossi says, ‘A city remembers through its buildings’.
The buildings in our cities connect us with and tell the story of our cities past, where it came from and how it evolved. Like artefacts from our childhood, they serve as tangible reminders of who we are and where we came from. They define our collective identity and reinforce our sense of ownership of the city.
My process promotes a collaborative approach to placemaking – bringing together specific expertise in wide range of fields, such as Planning & Planning Law, Transportation, Landscape design, Architecture, Retail and Residential Sales analysts, Engineers, Quantity Surveyors, Economists, Marketing specialists, social scientists, artists (the list goes on) – all of the diverse ingredients that exist in a city – and getting them round a table together, drawing out their particular issues and ideas, and resolving any conflicts that may arise between different disciplines and designing solutions to resolve these conflicts.
I favour a bottom-up approach to planning. A publicly engaged decision making process which is led by the people, and based on sound evidence and objective judgement with sensible, balanced outcomes that support the needs of the local community and the region as a whole.
The vast majority of my experience has been working with developers to work through feasibility options or to fully design and to illustrate development proposals in order to secure planning approval. I offer the benefit of being both an Architectural and and Urban Designer and someone who can coordinate the design process and other consultants, from conception through to developed design and submission of resource consent application. Having worked for Auckland Council as an Urban Design Specialist and for private developers, I understand the intricacies of the planning process and the RMA, having experience operating on both sides of the public/private divide.
My focus is on designing the ‘big picture’. Getting the ingredients and the structure of the ‘place’ right, before designing the detail. This approach helps create added value through resilience. But its not just about making it function efficiently, but making it an attractive and desirable place to be. Making it a place where people want to be improves saleability and creates long term, sustained value for both the development and the developer, and also, most importantly, for the inhabitants and visitors.
When beginning a design project, you start with a lot of unknowns, in the form of aspirations and desires, and it is the role of the designer to provide shape to those desires, forming them into a resolved design proposal.
The focus of my consultancy is on providing front end design, not technical detailing. So for both the urban design work and the architectural work, its looking at evolving a design to a finite stage where it can be fully visualised and understood – where all of the potential issues and constraints have been fully analysed and resolved and the clients are happy with it. At this point the proposed design can be priced up. This is what I call ‘front-end’ design… that point where everyone is happy with the outcome and where you can draw a line in the sand and say – that’s it – lets go and build it!