Putting design at the heart of infrastructure

Published: 13 Jun 2018

By: Tony Burton


A tower crane against a blue sky

At its best, infrastructure can do so much more than help a community to function – it can help it to flourish. Walking around such landmarks as London King’s Cross or Birmingham New Street offers a clear demonstration of the impact that good-quality design can have on an area. If we are to avoid the mistakes of the past and ensure residents can welcome new infrastructure into their neighbourhoods, we must ensure that design is at the heart of everything we do.

Work is now well underway to deliver the new HS2 line, presenting an opportunity not just to get from A to B quicker, but also to redesign some of the country’s railway stations. As vice chair of the project’s independent design panel, I’m pleased that it will lead to the redevelopment of London Euston.  Currently tired and overcrowded, this station will be completely transformed to incorporate new platforms capable of serving up to 18 trains an hour and improve local connections for people who love and work in the area. But as conversations continue with affected communities outside the capital, our focus has been relentless on the designs of their stations, too. That’s why we’ve been holding regular events across the country, sharing our design plans in places including  Solihull, Manchester and Leeds.

My work on this project, and others throughout my career, has confirmed my long-held belief that good quality design is crucial to how we use infrastructure, how we secure better value for our investment and to the positive impact it can have on communities.

I’m therefore delighted to be working with the National Infrastructure Commission’s new Design Task Force as it examines this issue alongside the country’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment. This will ensure that design is at the forefront of everyone’s minds as we all consider how best to meet the country’s infrastructure needs over the next three decades.

As we start this work, we’re keen not just to learn lessons from HS2, but also other nationally-significant infrastructure projects where design has played a role in their delivery. That’s why we’ve put a call out for case study examples that demonstrate the benefits of good design in delivering cost and programme savings, and reducing risk, while at the same time delivering quality outcomes.

These could be UK-based or international examples, and can be drawn from across infrastructure sectors – whether that’s transport, waste, water, digital or energy. We want to see how design, and design thinking, has unlocked opportunities in delivering infrastructure from a number of different perspectives, whether that’s placemaking and urban design, engineering systems, or the customer or community experience. The examples could also offer a perspective in how design has helped in the project’s procurement approach, the presentation of information, the delivery process, its environmental sustainability or its infrastructure.

Anyone wanting to share their experiences and examples can do so by Friday 15 June. We’re looking for people to email nic@expedition.uk.com setting out the name of the project, a key point of contact, and a short description of how design made a difference.

If communities are to give new infrastructure projects their backing, they must be helped to see past the short-term inconvenience and disruption and towards the long-term benefits for their area. But to do that, we must win hearts and minds – and that gives weight to the need for good quality design. As we look ahead to how we meet the infrastructure needs of the future, the National Infrastructure Commission will be an important voice in that debate – and to help us do that we must learn the lessons of how good design has helped our existing projects to succeed. I would urge anyone to submit their examples to help us with this crucial work.

Tony Burton is vice chair of the HS2 Design Panel and is advising the National Infrastructure Commission’s Design Task Force, led by Sadie Morgan

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