Kiwi landscape architect takes on London
New Zealand landscape architect Bridget Law is working in the United Kingdom after leaving New Zealand three and a half years ago. She’s a Victoria University graduate who worked for Hawkins Construction. Before leaving New Zealand her project work included the Daldy Street Linear Park and Halsey Street upgrades in Auckland. She also worked on the O’Connell Street upgrade, the Judges Bay sand replenishment stage 2, and the Hobsonville Primary School PPP.
She now works for Steer Davies Gleave in the UK, where her team recently won an award for work on a project involving one of the hippest, alternative culture areas, Brick Lane, in London’s East End.
LAA: Bridget, the company you work for seems quite specialised - can you tell us about it?
BL: SDG is one of the world’s leading independent consultancy firms working in the fields of transportation and movement. I work in the Design for Movement Team, a global design team, within SDG. The core areas that define our practice are place, identity and movement. We combine our understanding of people, context and function to deliver innovative, user-centred design which helps to make our cities, transport systems and public places understandable, accessible and enjoyable for all. The Design for Movement team is made up of Urban Designers, Landscape Architects, Wayfinding Strategists, Graphics Designers, GIS Specialists and Cartographers.
LAA: How did you end up in this particular area?
BL: One of my favourite aspects of landscape architecture is being able make improvements to open space for people to enjoy. The work I have been doing at SDG is focussed on improving the street environment to encourage more people to walk and cycle, public spaces, cycleways, traffic calming and air quality.
LAA: Tell us more about the recent award your team won?
BL: SEGD – The Society for Experiential Graphic Design is an association of multidisciplinary professionals who plan, design and build experiences that connect people to place. The Brick Lane Threads Wayfinding and Connectivity Strategy was awarded the 2018 Merit award in the Strategy, Research and Planning category.
LAA: What’s the aim of the project?
BL: Brick Lane is a landmark street with a strategic location in East London, it is well connected and at the centre of an array of attractions of local and city-wide relevance. It’s character is a paradigm of London’s multicultural heritage. The post-recession years have seen the arrival of several large developments in the proximity of Brick Lane as well as public realm improvements and infrastructure projects. Despite this incredible mix of ingredients, Brick Lane is not fully capitalising on its potential and struggles to secure benefits for its businesses and residents.
Brick Lane Threads is a wayfinding and connectivity strategy that explores the current situation of the area resulting in a series of characterful, creative, and distinctive interventions. The aim of a connectivity and wayﬁnding strategy for Brick Lane is to:
1. Create strong connections to surrounding areas and explore relationships and opportunities to link to other local destinations.
2. Extend and connect the pedestrian network providing locals with tools to rediscover the city, its past and cultural assets, and to ‘get lost’, and providing visitors with the conﬁdence to explore.
3. Improve comfort and reduce barriers – physical and psychological barriers and a frequent overestimation of walk distances/times have been identiﬁed as some of the main deterrents for walking.
4. Stimulate economic growth – more people walking means more passing trade, so spreading footfall to less successful sections of Brick Lane means creating opportunities for local businesses. More people on the streets makes neighbourhoods safer, more vibrant and attractive.
5. Improve the visual qualities by adding elements which increase delights for the senses of both residents and visitors.
The wayfinding and connectivity strategy was delivered as a concise output that documents the processes and outcomes of the strategy phase and sets out 34 projects to support wayfinding and spread footfall within the local area. The document outlined the project descriptions, cost, priority level and risks.
LAA: What role does a landscape architect have in developing a wayfinding system?
BL: The influence of wayfinding goes far beyond signage. Wayfinding is the action of navigation throughout a journey, it is the provision of information that allows us to make trips from A to B. The urban environment and its geographic features, architecture, landmarks, public spaces, landscaping, material and lighting play an important role in the influencing of journeys. I was involved in the urban realm analysis for Brick Lane Threads and produced a Lynch analysis diagram that included key destinations, notable trees and open spaces, active frontages, vistas and barriers to movement.
LAA: What aspects of the project do you think other landscape architects will find interesting?
BL: The Brick Lane Threads Wayfinding and Connectivity Strategy includes a connectivity analysis map, created using GIS software, to show the performance of the pedestrian network. The analysis was based on the shortest walking distances to Brick Lane from 166 key destinations. Dark red sections are most connected with multiple optimal routes passing through. This type of connectivity analysis is paired with qualitative analysis of the pedestrian environment provides a strong argument for urban realm improvements.
The report also included a series of user personas to support the movement needs of everyone. Understanding how different groups navigate and what types of information they need forms a fundamental part of a wayfinding strategy. Personas were developed for residents, business owners, tourists, and local visitors. The personas developed were used to test our analysis and inform subsequent proposals.
LAA: Are you able to tell us what the 10 projects were that council decided to take forward?
BL: I don’t know the status on all of the 10 projects that the council has decided to take forward but we could say that the Brick Lane project has proved to be a catalyst for a wider set of regeneration projects and Steer Davies Gleave are currently working on a feasibility study for Allen Gardens, an urban park adjacent to Brick Lane.