dRMM highlights six guiding principles for regenerative urban design

2019 Seoul Biennale
'London is a City for Living', dRMM's entry into the 2019 Seoul Biennale

dRMM’s Urban Design Strategy & Guidance document focuses on the studio’s approach to urban design as a transformative process, built through extensive consultation, a strong collaborative and cross-disciplinary approach, and a motivation to push boundaries in envisioning what public spaces could and should be like.  

dRMM’s urban design experience crosses different sectors and typologies. We have worked to make public spaces the heart of our housing developments, re-imagined seaside promenades for the 21st century, and offered a radical solution to inner-city housing where the city takes to the water. To us, urban design is about developing solutions that support the evolving ways in which people want to live.  

Across all our work, our team designs places that look, feel and function best for end-users – places that are flexible and respond to changing social needs. We describe our work as ‘socially useful,’ meaning it is designed to be flexible to changing prioritises and to emphasise the universal traits people want from their built environment. This holds true to our place-making and urban design approach.  

dRMM sees urban design as a regenerative process as opposed to a rigid masterplanning approach.

Beyond design codes and parameter plans, we believe having an approach to urban design that is defined by flexibility and integration could create meaningful, long-term impact. Street networks outlast buildings by multiples – they impact the way people live, work and travel, directly effecting communities’ happiness indices. Urban design can support social change, encourage inclusion, and have tangible environmental impact.  

For this to happen we believe in an urban design approach that rests on design principles that can build resilience, efficiency, and vibrancy into urban settings. As such, our six main urban design principles are:  

Adapting to circumstance 
This means starting off the design process through criticality, assessment, and asking the right questions. What is really required of the urban system? What is the history of the site and wider context? Urban design should plug into wider infrastructure and ecosystems, focusing on what can be kept and how flexibility and adaptation can be designed in tandem with preservation.  

Telling a story
Envisioning a system that unfolds itself over time and an urban story that is written collaboratively. Its characters include the local community, stakeholders and designers. To create this narrative, designers must ask questions others don’t. Urban storytelling must capture the identity of a place and community, tracing it from the past into the future.  

Building meaningful participation 
Seeing urban design as way to enable community involvement in development processes. Participation means engaging with users, inhabitants, and makers, designing spaces that can be shared and planning for meanwhile uses to activate, engage and test programmes. It means looking for opportunities for co-design, co-location, self-build elements and community focused uses.  

Encouraging evolution
Designing the process rather than the finished product. This means seeing neighbourhoods and urban places as ecosystems, working to urban strategies that are adaptable and not reactive. Encouraging evolution is about designing for longevity of structures and asking which elements of urban systems should be fixed, and which can be left open to organic evolution.  

Getting the numbers right 
This means getting the basics right: plot sizes, street widths, servicing, access, parking – all prerequisites for creating good places. It means creating the right kind of density, creating human-scaled buildings and streets, creating a strong local economy, stimulating local entrepreneurship, encouraging the creation and exchange of multiple kinds of value (social, environmental, cultural).  

Closing the loop
Visualising the city as a circular ecosystem includes considerations such as designing for a fully renewable energy supply with mostly local production; designing for zero waste; aiming for 100% circular material flow; designing infrastructure that is flexible and guarantees maximum use; designing for local mobility with zero emissions; and designing to maximise green space.

The studio’s Urban Design Strategy & Guidance document outlines these principles as a conceptual framework for the studio. This is partnered with practical design guidance considering issues including energy and microclimate; density; massing and plots; land use and frontage; public realm and landscape; streets; access and servicing; design code; and parameter plans.  

dRMM sees urban design as a means for building better and brighter futures for humanity. Throughout the studio’s history, we have always embraced challenging briefs and difficult sites, finding unconventional solutions to universal urban challenges. We value collaboration and care about people and planet and are passionate about designing cities as dense and mixed places. Our aim is to envision vibrant, diverse, and inclusive urban environments that can be enjoyed and cared for by everyone – our Urban Design Strategy & Guidance document creates a roadmap for achieving this.

dRMM highlights six guiding principles for regenerative urban design


dRMM highlights six guiding principles for regenerative urban design

Will Howard