A city is defined and recognised by its public spaces. In many cases these are historic, but no city can survive by living only in its own history; public spaces, those places where people meet and interact, need to adapt as the needs of its people change. A good public space is one where people will return without hesitating, without even thinking about it; a bad one will be shunned.
Urban planning takes this into consideration. No city, town, or even village wants its public spaces to be avoided by its visitors and its own citizens, and planning and adaptation will place this question high on its list of priorities:
“What will bring people into this space?”
Attractive, Clean and Safe
A public space needs to be attractive, clean, and safe. If it is all of these, people will be happy to use it, and the more such spaces are used, the safer they become. Deserted streets and squares quickly become derelict, dirty, and dangerous, and councillors who wish to remain in office will make strenuous efforts to ensure safety is paramount when designing public spaces.
Cobblestones, a medieval market cross, a Georgian corn exchange, all of these will attract visitors, but installing them is not within the capabilities of the average town planning department. Concrete, once denigrated as ugly, unimaginative and strictly utilitarian, is playing an ever-greater role in the building, development and designing public spaces, and it is no longer anything but grey slabs; concrete, in the hands of specialists, can be polished, coloured, etched and sculpted, and the range of uses to which it may be put continues to increase.
Works of Art and Soft Landscaping
A modern work of art, such as the famous Eye at Littlehaven, commissioned by the constructors Galliford Try and cast off-site by Evans Concrete can be a visitor attraction as effective as the medieval market square, and is certainly an attractive alternative when it comes to budgetary considerations. Evans also produced the huge dividing walls at Rhyll, with its artworks embossed onto the panels, a concept that would have been unthinkable only a few decades ago.
Pleasant gardens with an imaginative combination of soft and hard landscaping, as may be seen at Paddington, where the Sidell Gibson Partnership commissioned the contractors P.J. Carey (Wembley) Ltd to combine curving steps that were also retaining walls for the earth structure that supported the restful lawns with a range of graduated steps in a more conventional style, is a busy urban environment both by day and by night. It is, as a result, attractive, clean, and safe.
It was not an easy task: Evans Concrete was tasked with designing sixteen different profiles for the four and a half thousand pre-cast concrete units, but nobody seeing the Paddington Central Development would doubt that it was well worth the effort, particularly if they had known the area before the work was carried out.
The redevelopment of Highbury Stadium, previously the home of Arsenal Football Club, was an opportunity for the contractors PAYE Stonework to convert this North London space, not only into a residential community but also into an attractive and safe public space. In order to do so, they took advantage of the technological developments in precast concrete and commissioned Evans Concrete to supply bespoke columns, panels and coping units. This very attractive design carries an echo of its previous purpose in the shape and layout of the soft landscaping, which would have been difficult, if not impossible, to achieve without the use of precast concrete.
A New Identity for Concrete
The new identity of the city centre is changing day by day, and concrete is playing a leading part. It is still concrete, it is still comparatively cheap, but it is now almost unrecognizable when compared to the slabs and blocks of an earlier era.
Concrete is now an artists’ material.