Perth city centre was used as a creative ‘urban laboratory’ in which to explore and test ideas by Architecture and Urban Planning students at the University of Dundee. During 2019/20 students across both the architecture and urban planning pathways undertook work to support Perth & Kinross Council’s ambition to modernise the core of this historic Scottish city. In pursuing the Council’s vision through the development of an integrated urban design strategy, the students devised a series of connected interventions aimed at changing perceptions, use and animation of Perth. Ideas ranged from pop-up temporary interventions, to rediscovering historic layers and exploiting riverside views and connections.
The urban lab initiative was part of a civic urbanism that HusamAlWaer, Kirsty Macari, Helen O’Connor, and leading planning practitioner Kevin Murray have applied in recent years in Dundee and elsewhere. The core idea was the students would contribute to the research, planning, and design capability of a city, producing creative content that can help solve real problems.
Student’s constructed thematic based visions which culminated in a group-wide 2040 Vision for Perth plus individual student projects based on their own specialisms in architecture or urban design. The projects evolved within a structured, supported approach of participatory co-creation, very much hands-on ‘learning by doing’, with reflective learning techniques and tools such as scenario planning. This encouraged students to critically and spatially explore place themes related to health and wellbeing, connectivity, local economy, cultural and perceptional aspects, public realm, waterfront and street design.
The development of a strategic partnership between Perth and KinrossCouncil, represented by David Littlejohn and John McCrone, and the students ensured their challenge was authentic, and not hypothetical. This relationship was augmented by mentoring and critique from international practitioners such as Pedro Baganha from Porto City Council, Scottish Government’s Chief ArchitectIan Gilzean, Helena Huws from Scottish Canals, Robert Huxford from Urban Design Group, Fergus Purdie from Fergus Purdie Architects, and Stephen Willacy from Aarhus City Council.
The Architecture Students’ collective vision was to reimagine Perth as ‘The Liveable City’. This aims to create small acupuncture urbanism interventions which stimulate and develop the city centre of Perth focusing on urban living, social interaction, resilience and adaptability. The interventions therefore form a network of physical and intangible connections which tie the projects to the vision.
The Planning Students’ collective vision was to create a central core which connects the range of assets of Perth. Developing a network of programmes and events that tie the different areas of the City Centre together, making it a vibrant place to live, work, play and enjoy. The interventions form threads through the city which link and connect to one another together.
The vision process utilised various techniques over three stages: survey, analysis & plan. The students began with a scoping of issues, researching Perth’s history, economy, transportation network etc. They also gained insight about Perth’s present and future needs learning from members of Perth and Kinross Council. Then, the students defined their shared principles and identified potential goals and themes that our individual projects could address/reside in. Throughout an iterative process, they refined their vision getting input from the council and international leaders in the field of architecture and urban planning. The students continued to research how their shared vision and individual projects could match their principles while planning for an uncertain future for Perth in 2040.