Press & Comment Uncategorized

Parc Pencrug and Maes y Farchnad, Llandeilo – DCfW Consultation Response

Press & Comment

Y Bryn Wind Farm – DCfW Consultation Response

Comment Uncategorized

Rhyd y Car West – DCfW Consultation Response

Comment Uncategorized

Factory Road, Newport – DCfW Consultation Response

Comment Uncategorized

Technical Advice Note 15 – DCfW Consultation Response

Comment Uncategorized

Review of Wales’s Renewable Energy Targets – DCfW Consultation Response

Comment Press & Comment

Planning Policy Wales: Net Benefit for Biodiversity and Ecosystems’ Resilience

Comment Press & Comment

Designing for Renewable Energy in Wales – Consultation on Draft Guidance Document

The Design Commission for Wales is undertaking a second engagement on the new draft guidance – Designing for Renewable Energy in Wales. The consultation opened on 24 April 2023, and the deadline to respond is 19 June 2023.

Please see our letter for more information.

To comment, please complete the questionnaire as per the format indicated in the consultation materials and send it by e-mail to

Thank you.

News Press & Comment Press Releases

Jen Heal Appointed Deputy Chief Executive

1st April 2023


 Design Advisor Jen Heal has been confirmed as the Deputy Chief Executive of the Design Commission for Wales.

A Chartered Town Planner with a background in planning and urban design in private and public sector practice, Jen first joined the Design Commission in 2014, devising and leading much of its training and client support programmes and co-chairing its national Design Review Service.  During her time at the Design Commission Jen has also served as a Commissioner for the South East Wales Transport Commission. She now leads the placemaking agenda for the Design Commission, advising on policy, supporting practice and leading the development of the Placemaking Wales Charter and guidance.

With significant professional experience in the private sector, Jen studied City & Regional Planning, has an MA in Urban Design from Cardiff University and is a fully accredited member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (MRTPI).  In her previous roles, Jen led a diverse range of urban design, planning and regeneration projects for public, private and third sector clients; delivered design concepts, town centre strategies, environmental improvement schemes and complex planning applications as well as developing engagement and training programmes.

Commenting on the promotion, Chief Executive Carole-Anne Davies said: “Jen is an outstanding professional and valued colleague. She is a talented placemaking specialist and a passionate advocate for the importance of good design. Jen has the leadership capability required for this role and has long demonstrated her ability to engage with and support colleagues across sectors, in local authorities and the Welsh Government.

“Jen is particularly adept at equipping others with the knowledge and understanding of how to create better mixed-use communities with a sense of place in the context of change for existing settlements or new development. I am pleased to confirm Jen’s promotion as we come to the end of events which mark our 20th Anniversary and move forward to further accelerating positive change and creating the conditions for everyday excellence in design in the context of climate and nature emergencies. I’m delighted to have her by my side and I know she will thrive in the role and continue to strengthen our skilled and agile team. ”

Jen Heal said: “The value of design to Wales and the UK should not be underestimated. It is a major economic driver and enabler of social value, particularly as we work towards net zero. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to step-up and continue with the excellent work that we deliver as a team. It’s making a difference to communities the length and breadth of Wales and I’m proud of all that we do.”

As an expert body, the Design Commission for Wales was established by the National Assembly for Wales in 2002 to promote good design. With a remit spanning the whole of the built environment in Wales, the expert, multi-disciplinary team works with local planning authorities, investors, developers, communities and commissioning clients across Wales to capture the value of high quality design.

Press & Comment

Designing Renewables in Wales Consultation

This engagement, on ‘Designing Renewables in Wales’ opened on 10th of August 2022.

The deadline to respond is the 7th October 2022.

Find out more in our letter here.

Please download and complete this questionnaire (where relevant to you) in the interactive pdf, and return as an attachment by email to

Comment Press & Comment

Ystyr Enwau Lleoedd: The Importance of Welsh Language Place names in a Changing Climate

One of the six elements of the Placemaking Wales charter is ‘Identity’. A vibrant language and cultural richness are also cornerstones of the Well-being of Future Generations Act. Many Welsh place names, whether ancient or modern, are readily perceived by their meaning, and their meanings can still be understood in modern Welsh. But how do they signal ‘identity’ and could a place’s identity be affected by a changing climate?

Welsh-language place names often tell us about the landscape of the place, as well as its location, history, and heritage. Name is an integral part of its identity. With the effects of climate change threatening to shape the future of the Welsh landscape, it is more important than ever that we cherish the meaning of these names. When the climate changes, the landscape changes – land that has been shaped, known, and understood for generations. As such, without significant action, our place names could become like headstones, inscriptions only of what once was.

Aberteifi, Abergwyngregyn, Aberystwyth, Aberarth, Abertawe, Aberdaugleddau, are located near the coast, with ‘Aber’ often meaning the confluence of two bodies of water. A changing landscape brought about by climate change would mean that these names are no longer descriptive.

Places with names such as Glanyfferi, Glanyrafon, Glan-y-wern, and Glan-y-gors, with ‘Glan’ often indicating a location near a body of water, could have their landscapes altered and shaped by the changing tides and flooding. Traeth is another word that appears in Welsh place names, meaning ‘beach’. Pentraeth, Traeth Mawr, Trefdraeth and Traeth Bach all feature this element.

Cors Fochno, Cors Caron, Cors Ddyga, and Glan y gors all feature the word ‘cors’, which refers to a bogland. With industrial peat excavation as well as burning affecting bogland, it is of key importance that these landscapes are protected, recognised for their importance, and celebrated. ‘Gwern’ refers to the alder-tree, which grows on damp land and in bogland, and features in names such as Gwernydomen, Gwernymynydd, Glanywern, and Penywern.

Landscape and language are filled with clues that can tell us about the history of an area, and the history of people and communities across Wales. ‘Ynys’ means land surrounded by water, and features in island names such as Ynys Llanddwyn, but also in mainland areas, such as Ynyslas near Aberystwyth.

Morfa refers to saltmarsh or moorland, and features in place names such as Tremorfa, Morfa Nefyn, Morfa Bach, Penmorfa, and Morfa Harlech. These landscapes could be greatly changed due to the use of pesticides and fertilizers on surrounding farmland, sea level rise, and pollution in rivers. If these places are transformed, can they still be marshlands?

Many elements of Welsh place names tell us about their landscape and location, such as Mign, Tywyn, Trwyn, Pwll, Rhyd, Penrhyn, Sarn, Ystum, Cildraeth, Gwastad, Isel and Gwaelod – these are often commonly understood even among those who do not speak Welsh fluently.  They are meaningful – they bind those of us who identify as Welsh in a shared culture.

It is imperative that these place names are acknowledged and celebrated. Places and place names don’t exist in a vacuum: they are the product of action and interpretation. Whether they are recent or ancient, someone’s way of life has shaped that place, and someone looked at the landscape and decided to name it according to their understanding of it. That shaping and those names transform land into place.

The Welsh landscape is still rich with these names. Seek them out, discover their meaning, connect with the past that shaped them – and the land will speak.

by Efa Lois

Press Releases

Design Council Launches Landmark Design Economy Report

Design Council Launches Landmark Design Economy Report

Press & Comment Press Releases

Global rail test and innovation hub on track for arrival in 2024 as work starts on new Global Centre of Rail Excellence

Global rail test and innovation hub on track for arrival in 2024 as work starts on new Global Centre of Rail Excellence

Comment Press & Comment

DCFW Celebrates International Women’s Day 2022 – Professor Juliet Davis

Our colleague Professor Juliet Davis shares her thoughts today to mark International Women’s Day and help #breakthebias #IWD #IWD2022

Professor Juliet Davis

Years ago, I was lucky to be able to go on a site visit to a well-known public building in London when it was still a construction site. The first thing I had to do at the start of the visit was pick up a hard hat and suitable footwear at the contractor’s office. One of the foremen was tasked with handing out boots of suitable size to the visitors. When he came along to me, he worried that he didn’t have boots small enough. I stood before him, the top of his head level with the bridge of my nose. “What size do you take?”, he asked, nicely enough. “Size 10, EU 45”, I said. I’m more than six feet tall; it’s not surprising.

This capacity to hold in place a stereotypic image even when confronted with evidence that clearly defies it is a kind of bias. This, of course, is just an amusing story, but it illustrates a serious and often forgotten fact – that what the eye apparently sees is not necessarily what is, and that perception of another is always developed in a social context. As John Berger argues, different ‘ways of seeing’ are possible. Social and physiological factors meld together to form durable images, preconceptions, and expectations of other people.

Seeing and visualising people and places are core activities of architects and, hence of architectural education. Designers learn early on to observe people’s interactions and uses of everyday spaces, and to situate people within the places they imagine. Do we teach them enough about who they see and how, about how preconceptions might shape their analyses? About how the frame of a picture can include and exclude? About the assumptions regarding people, roles and potentials that architectural plans and renderings can contain?

To commit to addressing bias in an architecture school is to recognise a multifaceted project, an opportunity encompassing new approaches to design history, reworkings of old pedagogical forms such as the ‘crit’ and the transformation of studio cultures leading to long working hours. But, for me, tackling seeing and perceptions is also vital if the young architects of today are not to perpetuate injustices rooted in bias, through tomorrow’s built environment, limiting the opportunities of girls and women at different stages of life and from different cultural backgrounds, to navigate public spaces comfortably and safely, and to develop and realise their potential in the work place.

As my opening story suggests, tackling issues of seeing is an urgent task across the building industry given the potential for stereotypes to affect far more than a choice of boots, casting doubt over women’s professional knowledge and competence, and shaping their capabilities for fulfilment in practice. Schools have a role to play in this too as they prepare women for careers in design practice and engage with professional bodies. As the first woman head of the Welsh School of Architecture, I am committed to all facets of the project.


Professor Juliet Davis is the Head of the Welsh School of Architecture.

Comment Press & Comment

DCFW Celebrates International Women’s Day 2022 – Cora Kwiatkowski

Our colleague Cora Kwiatkowski shares her thoughts today to mark International Women’s Day and help #breakthebias #IWD #IWD2022


Cora Kwiatkowski

The construction industry is without doubt high-pressured with a lot at stake – programme, budget – and ultimately the success of places and spaces that we create for people for years to come. Projects become more and more complex with bigger teams involved. We therefore need to make a lot of decisions quickly – and this is where our brains have a natural tendency to simplify information which not only applies to our work but the people we work with. Many behaviours and attitudes arise from, are influenced by and depend on mental shortcuts and categorising people into stereotypes without even realising it.

Bias is everywhere: gender, age, origin, accent – even height and beauty. We all need to keep an open mind and check ourselves to step back from preconceptions, even if it takes more effort.

Although it is now more widely acknowledged and better understood, our industry still has a long way to go when it comes to bias. Perceptions are very hard to shift. Recognising achievements and respecting everyone for their contribution and personality in this mostly white middle-aged male dominated industry will help to change the status quo – it should become normal to see women and people of colour in strategic roles, leading companies as well as high-profile projects, bringing the industry forward as a whole. And when we meet them, let’s lift them up together and make them even more visible.

Looking at my own work, I couldn’t have succeeded alone in any of the amazing projects I designed, it needed the support of a whole team to make it all happen based on mutual respect, seeing the ‘real person’ rather than the stereotype, communication and teamwork – valuing everyone’s contribution. Creating long-term relationships and a network of support not only makes projects more fun but enables honest conversations so potential obstacles can be overcome more easily. It feels definitely easier to do that in a multi-facetted environment such as higher education where there is already more diversity among designers, clients and end users alike.

Single perspectives don’t give rise to innovation. One person doesn’t have all the answers. Not all of us think the same way. Different perspectives and ideas accelerate creative problem solving. Let’s not be lazy and narrow in our thoughts but open and inclusive so that we all benefit!

Cora Kwiatkowski is a Divisional Director at Stride Treglown and a DCFW Commissioner.

Comment Press & Comment

DCFW Celebrates International Women’s Day 2022 – Chithra Marsh

Our colleague Chithra Marsh shares her thoughts today to mark International Women’s Day and help #breakthebias #IWD #IWD2022


Chithra Marsh


Hi Mum,

It’s been a long time!

I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately – about the lessons you taught me through your many stories, repeated over and over again, and how you guided me to be a strong Indian woman with ambition.

I loved learning that you were the first working woman in our family. Bucking tradition must have been difficult, but you were rewarded with a job at a telephone exchange which helped you to hone your skills in English and make close friends. Sounds like you had lots of fun too!

Taking another courageous step, you left the safety of your family home in Bangalore and moved to the UK with Dad in the 1960s, losing no time in looking for a job and forging your independence. You refused that job in a sari shop, offered to you at the job centre as the only option for an Indian woman, and started a long career in Accounts.

You wanted to fit in, so you did what you had to do in order to be accepted in this new world. You dressed in ‘Western’ clothing, saving your saris for special occasions. You were careful with your cooking, too, making sure it didn’t smell too strong so as not to upset the neighbours. I wish you had been accepted and valued just as you were – a proud Indian woman with ambition (who cooked amazing South Indian food!)

You wanted the same for me right from the start, firmly telling my first teacher to treat me the same as all the other kids so that I didn’t feel different. You encouraged me to respect my Hindu heritage and culture, and held high expectations for me when it came to my education and career prospects.

At times, I didn’t appreciate what you were trying to do, but with hindsight, I know you were trying to give me better opportunities to be accepted and thrive. Now that you are no longer here, I have your voice in my head and your stories for inspiration.

Thanks to you, I am committed to advocating for inclusivity and diversity in the building industry. I want to bring about positive change so that no one else feels the need to change who they are in order to fit in.

No bias. No stereotypes. No discrimination.

Thank you, Mum.

#breakthebias #IWD2022


Chithra Marsh is an Associate Director at Buttress Architects.

Comment Press & Comment

DCFW Celebrates International Women’s Day 2022 – Carole-Anne Davies

Our Chief-Executive Carole-Anne Davies shares her thoughts today to mark International Women’s Day and help #breakthebias #IWD #IWD2022


Carole-Anne Davies

The one.

The one who…

…checks herself before entering the room.

…can’t believe she’s there.

…stands out and not in a good way – she thinks.

…whose skin is different from the others.

The redhead.

The big one.

The stroppy one.

The chopsy one.

The one who apologises whenever she speaks…sorry can I just…

The one who isn’t academic.

The one who is academic.

The one with ‘the hair’.

The gay one.

The trans one.

The old one.

The junior one.

The reader.

The one who didn’t catch where the others were going.

The one who isn’t just ‘the one’ but is only one, among millions, getting the message every day that they don’t fit.

How exacting the dimensions are in a biased world.

#breakthebias #IWD2022


Carole-Anne Davies is the Chief Executive of the Design Commission for Wales.

Comment Press & Comment

DCFW Celebrates World Book Day 2022

To celebrate World Book Day 2022, we asked DCFW friends and colleagues for their book recommendations.


Cora Kwiatkowski

I always loved books. I generally read whatever falls into my hands and is recommended to me, and there is not enough space on my bookshelves to hold them all so some had to be banned to the loft, only to be pulled out again after a while, and some read again. As a teenager, my favourite place to read books on holiday was sitting about 5 meters up in a tree!

I do own a good selection of architecture and design books although more recently they have been replaced by newsletter and internet articles.

Nevertheless, sometimes there are books that catch my eye, and I just have to buy them, despite the lack of space. After visiting the Renzo Piano exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in September 2018 – January 2019, I was so inspired by the short film and interview by Thoms Riedelsheimer that was shown in the room where ‘Piano Island’ was built – a large model with all the project he has been working on – that I wanted to relive the experience and continue to be inspired by Piano’s ideas. ‘Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings’ interpretive text centrepiece is a similar interview and it felt like Renzo Piano being in the room.

His work has followed me in my whole career. When I was a student, I was deeply impressed by the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Nouméa (1998), which comprises of elegant structures which combine tradition and context with modern engineering and cultural appeal. Now I see The Shard (2012), one of his more recent buildings, most times I am in London, a needle-sharp marker of the centre.

Piano talks about ‘beauty’ – a well-discussed word recently – and how incredibly complex it is. Something we all aspire to; it is being described like Atlantis. Something you look for but that you’ll never find- but you can come close. Our job as architects is about creating places for people and bringing the beauty to the world we live in.

Taking a step back from the daily design work and all its challenges, it is lovely to be reminded about the importance of our jobs and the impact our buildings can have.

I’m currently reading ‘Spring Cannot Be Cancelled’ – David Hockney in Normandy’. A reminder of the power of art for distraction and inspiration. This life-affirming correspondence between two old friends – Hockney and Martin Gayford – not only lets us take part in their life but is also very personal – David Hockney’s simple way of life in the middle of lockdown, getting closer to nature again and enjoying being undistracted. Be prepared for more book recommendations and enjoy beautiful drawings, some previously unpublished. David Hockney shows us how to see things and how his life has changed, concentrating on the essential things in life. Highly recommended!

Cora Kwiatkowski is a Divisional Director at Stride Treglown and a DCFW Commissioner.

Read and watch the text and films from the Renzo Piano exhibition film here. This 17-minute, dual-screen film installation was commissioned especially for the exhibition. © Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2018. A film by Thomas Riedelsheimer.

Buy the books:
Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings

Spring Cannot be Cancelled: David Hockney in Normandy 


Jon James

Books and the variety of reading inspires us all in many ways – I have always tried to mix architectural essays with books that can give a me an alternative cultural view that I will never experience myself. I have a bit of a bad habit of having a few books on the go at the same time and tend to stop and restart: sometimes months apart!

I currently have two books on the go Gandhi’s autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth and I have also just started Still Breathing: Black Voices on Racism – 100 Ways to change the narrative. Both are about first-hand experiences and insights that simply make you sit up and think in so many ways about the reality and bravery of facing adversity. Almost everything I read is non-fiction, biographical/ autobiographical, however in contrast to this I recently read a book, highlighted for its reaching ideas called The Power by Naomi Alderman. The story in its simplest terms is about women gaining powers to become the dominant gender in the world. It is brilliantly written, thought provoking and gripping from start to finish.

In relation to Architecture, there are a number of books that stand out for me. Most are classic reading for an Architect but none the less important and have inspired me throughout my career. Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture is important for its arguments in generating discussion at various levels. It ranges from the human modular scale to the city wide urban planning. It reminds me to think wider in context and learn from the past, it encouraged me to travel as much as I can and understand historic places such as the Acropolis. This in turn informs the future, but we must also be in the present and not simply recreate the nostalgia of the past. This seems particularly poignant to me as we urgently face the climate emergency; and that leads me to Richard Rogers’ brilliant Cities for a small planet (and the complementary Cities for a small country), written some 25 years ago it rings true on many fronts today. Most significantly is how culturally a shift is needed to change what we perceive as value in our built environment which has been dominated for decades by real estate making money. I like to think this is now changing and that the emphasis is now on sustainability.

Aside from the written text, being in a visual profession, I enjoy books without words as well. Some books feature design ideas/ buildings/ details and materials of how our buildings and spaces are made and what they are made of.

Finally, as an amateur cyclist and living in South Wales I have enjoyed my signed autobiographical accounts by Geraint Thomas, Tour De France Winner. In particular his adventures, over and around the hills, Valleys and Mountains of South Wales. Anyone who has cycled them can relate to his experiences, even if it is at a slightly different pace!

World Book Day is a great excuse to stop, reflect and share. I am looking forward to reading other people’s recommendations so I can continue to find new inspiration.

Jon James is a registered Architect, a certified Passive House designer, and a DCFW Commissioner.

Buy the books:

An Autobiography – M K Gandhi 

Still Breathing: 100 Black Voices on Racism–100 Ways to Change the Narrative

The Power – Naomi Alderman

Towards a New Architecture – Le Corbusier

Cities for a Small Planet – Lord Richard Rogers

Cities for a Small Country – Lord Richard Rogers

The Tour According to G: My Journey to the Yellow Jersey – Geraint Thomas

World of Cycling According to G – Geraint Thomas

Mountains According to G – Geraint Thomas


Gayna Jones

Invisible Women – Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez opened my eyes to ‘how in a world largely built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half the population’. I am a woman in a world designed by men!

My journey to the Design Commission began in social housing, where design can be poor. Reading this book, my experience began to make sense.

In my kitchen, some cupboards are high. Most men could reach, but as a 5’4” woman, I can’t. Criado-Perez points out ‘seeing men as the human default is fundamental to the structure of human society’ and she provides lots of data to prove it. A simple example is the way things as diverse as a piano and a smartphone are designed for the average size of a male hand.

She demonstrates that cars are designed for and by men, creating real safety issues for women. A frustrating example for me is car seat belts; I have never found a comfortable one!

Housing estates are largely designed for the needs of cars rather than people often ignoring the needs of children in particular. Partly due to the pandemic we are moving away from valuing cars over pedestrians, but most estates are still designed around highways, car parking and car use. The transport profession is highly male dominated. Criado-Perez says, ‘the available research makes bias toward typically male modes of transport clear’. Transport is designed largely around male travel patterns – by default; two daily journeys to and from work, rather than multiple trips to school, shops, relatives, healthcare. It caters for men travelling on their own, rather than women who travel with shopping, buggies, children, or elderly relatives. ‘Rough, narrow and cracked pavements littered with ill placed street furniture combined with narrow and steep steps makes travelling around a city with a buggy extremely difficult’. Many women feel unsafe in public places like bus stops, yet urban places are designed taking no account of this. Street lighting is given little or low priority.

Another good example, is from Sweden, where they prioritised clearing snow from roads for cars, rather than from the pavements which are mostly used by women pedestrians. Changing this priority dramatically decreased accidents.

This book helps you see why things are as they are & how a change in focus is long overdue. I highly recommend it.

Gayna Jones is the Chair of the Design Commission for Wales.

Buy the Book:
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men – Caroline Criado-Perez


Martin Knight

I love being surrounded by books, even though I often cannot imagine when I will find time to read them. January brings a rare opportunity, with long nights and a logjam of birthday and Christmas books to work through.

I have selected four books to celebrate World Book Day, three of which are current and encompass reading for pleasure as well as knowledge. The fourth I have read many times and is a source of inspiration and enlightenment as well as enjoyment.

I recently bought David Mellor: Master Metalworker while visiting the David Mellor Cutlery Factory in Hathersage, Derbyshire. Although aware of their handmade cutlery and beautiful factory in the Peak District, designed by Hopkins Architects, I knew less about the role of David Mellor in post-war British design. His work includes exquisite tableware for society events and street furniture that is immediately familiar, including the iconic British traffic lights, pedestrian crossing (with the inviting button that every child has pressed), and bus shelters. The importance of design, whether for extraordinary events or everyday life, is lovingly chronicled.

The daily trials of last year’s Tour de France are told first-hand with brutal honesty in Tour de Force, by Mark Cavendish. The fast-paced narrative is even more powerful given his return from several years of illness, injury and poor form. It is gripping to read the painstaking preparation of athlete and machinery – always under the scrutiny of a sport with a dirty history – combined with the supreme self-belief of an elite athlete.

My uncle loaned me his copy of Island Years, Island Farm by Frank Fraser Darling last summer (I have since bought my own!), following a conversation about our own island heritage. Another account of an arduous pursuit – measured in seasons rather than in split-seconds – this chronicles one family’s true adventures on various tiny Scottish islands in the 1930s, observing wildlife and learning to farm. It describes a slow, rewarding and respectful relationship with nature that modern life has largely forgotten to its cost.

The final choice is my favourite book. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig is a story of a motorcycle road trip, of a father and a son, of philosophy and reality. The road trip is a metaphor for life and the storyteller explores themes including Quality and a Sense of Place, which resonate with my passion for bridge design.

Martin Knight is Founder and Managing Director of Knight Architects, and a member of the DCFW Design Review Panel.

Buy the books:
David Mellor: Master Metalworker

Tour de Force – Mark Cavendish 

Island Years, Island Farm – Frank Fraser Darling 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig


Joanna Rees

Wet 1980’s Saturday afternoons in Pyle Library. The smell of plastic lining and rustle of shushing. Books bought in Smiths in the Rhiw Centre and read in the car before we got home. The excitement of a birthday book token for Lear’s and a trip to Cardiff. It’s been a lifelong love of books, storytelling and the escapism they offer. I can’t pretend that reading was a great influence on my career; if my early years were anything to go by I would have been running a boarding school or doing pony jobs with Jill.

Now, I love books with a sense of place, history and architecture where I can step into another’s thoughts and landscape. From the opium wars of a Sea of Poppies (Amitav Ghosh), to war torn Penang and divided loyalties of The Gift of Rain (Tan Twan Eng) I like being transported back in time and made to think. It’s the books that stay with you, wondering whether the Sealwoman’s Gift (Sally Magnusson) based on a pirate raid of Iceland in 1627, and the family taken in slavery to Algiers, were better off eating pomegranates by the fountains or stuffed puffins on the windy cliffs.

Nature writing too, Robert Macfarlane’s glorious writing of the British landscape on land, language and the Underland. James Rebanks’ Shepherd’s Life with his Hardwick Sheep and the challenges of restoring traditional farming in the Lake District. Not to forget the delight of a small anthology of poetry. John Clare’s feeling for nature, Robert Frost’s two road diverging in that wood and Hardy’s Darkling Thrush. And that Boathouse in Laugharne offering up, ” the mussel pooled and the heron Priested shore”

Finally, for insomnia, always poetry and always Mary Oliver for hope and Wendy Cope for that wistful sardonic twist.

Joanna Rees is a Partner at Blake Morgan, and a DCFW Commissioner.

Buy the books:
Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh

The Gift of Rain – Tan Twan Eng

The Sealwoman’s Gift – Sally Magnusson

The Shepherd’s Life – James Rebanks

Faber Nature Poets: John Clare

The Collected Poems – Robert Frost

New and Selected Poems – Mary Oliver

Serious Concerns – Wendy Cope

Read ‘The Darkling Thrush’ by Thomas Hardy online.

Read ‘A Poem in October’ by Dylan Thomas online.

An article on John Clare’s poetry.


Fiona Nixon

There seems to be a common thread to all my favourite fiction books, and that is, a strong sense of place, or a building that is central to the plot. I love a well-researched book and one set in a real place. Is it just me that checks out the locations out on Google Earth?

My all-time favourite, and one I frequently recommend is Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey. There are just so many fascinating elements to Carey’s masterful storytelling; the excruciatingly awkward Oscar, the unconventional Lucinda and her trials working in a man’s world in the late 1800s, scandalously drawn together by their gambling addictions. The detailed and humorous narrative shifts seamlessly between the different characters’ perceptions of the events that unfold. I love the facts and metaphors around glass, particularly the Prince Rupert’s drop – a ‘firework’ in the world of glass manufacturing. The story is drawn from miscommunications and misunderstandings and culminates in the transportation of a glass church over unchartered land and down the Bellinger River.

The Bone People by Keri Hulme is a more challenging read. Set in New Zealand with Maori influences, it is an unconventional story of love and relationships between a woman, a man and a child, but with themes of isolation, fear and violence. Kerewin lives in a stone tower, which she deconstructs and rebuilds in a different way, symbolising the changes in her life.

In the last year I’ve read two more excellent books with houses at their cores, both coincidentally set in the outskirts of Philadelphia. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, centres on a family’s attachment to a large eccentrically designed suburban house – More glass, more misunderstandings and more bad decisions. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver follows two families living in the same house at different times, 1870 and 2016, each struggling to maintain the house and keep their families together. It has more contemporary themes of capitalism, poverty, feminism and mental health.

What am I reading now? Well a slight shift from buildings, and not fiction, but definitely deeply rooted in place – English Pastoral by James Rebanks. ‘A story of how, guided by the past, one farmer began to salvage a tiny corner of England that was now his, doing his best to restore the life that had vanished and to leave a legacy for the future.’ I’m only two chapters in, but I think I’m going to enjoy it.

Fiona Nixon is an Architect, a DCFW Commissioner, and a former Head of Estates Projects at Swansea University.

Buy the books:
Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey

The Bone People – Keri Hulme

The Dutch House – Ann Patchett

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver

English Pastoral – James Rebanks


Jamie Brewster

The Electric State – Simon Stålenhag

I first discovered the work of Simon Stålenhag six years ago. Whilst searching the web for imagery I came across his arresting images which at first glance seemed convincingly real. Almost photo-realistic in execution, it was only the subject matter, the strange juxtaposition of rural landscape with other-worldly infrastructure and technology that suggested otherwise. I delved deeper and encountered an extensive portfolio of beautiful paintings, all sharing that unsettling quality in combining the everyday with the unusual. With clear influences of Syd Mead, Ralph McQuarrie and Edward Hopper, the appeal was even greater in realising that what were assumed to be paintings in oil/acrylics were in fact 100% digital. On his website, he frequently shares magnified extracts of his ‘paintings’, generously explaining his technique. I have spent hours ‘reading’ his imagery, marveling at the supreme skill in digital image-making.

And yet he is also a skilled writer. The images are created to support fascinating stories which reminisce on alternative histories. Firmly steeped in sci-fi, his is a reverse-engineered vision of the future viewed through a nostalgic lens. Having concentrated his story telling on his native Sweden in his first two books, The Electric State takes place in a reimagined version of American history.

A road trip with a difference: the story traces the journey of Michelle and her small robot companion Skip, from east to west coast. On the trip through what appears to be classic American landscape, they encounter strange yet beautiful structures, machines and a population in the grip of a techno-induced self -destruction. As the story progresses the mood and atmosphere of growing dread and darkness increases. The closing reveal of who/what Skip is adds a moving finale.

I’ve enjoyed this book many times using a different approach each time. Sometimes, I restrict my view to the images alone. Sometimes I do the reverse, focusing exclusively on the text. The experience is richly satisfying regardless how you choose to read the work. Either way, there is room for an ongoing interpretation whether using the visuals, the text or both as the source.

The common thread in Stålenhag‘s work, exemplified in The Electric State, is the idea of place. His ability to conjure real depictions of place by capturing mood and atmosphere through words and imagery makes this book hugely compelling and inspirational on so many levels.

Jamie Brewster is a Senior Associate Architect with DB3 architecture, and is a member of the Design Commission for Wales Design Review Panel.

Buy the book:
The Electric State –  Simon Stålenhag


Steve Smith

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning – Laurie Lee

Moments of great change in a life are frequently marked by ceremony and public celebration. The change of leaving home for the first time is not one of these events. It is a marked by a powerful mix of parental sadness and pride, youthful anticipation and fear. The drama of the moment is concealed beneath commonplace salutations of farewell, and advice given sincerely but half in jest. The occasion is too personal, but also too momentous, to allow public ritual and ceremony to intrude on this private moment.

Leaving home is captured perfectly by the title and in the first pages of Laurie Lee’s book describing how he walked out from his childhood home to explore the world in 1934. Somehow he evokes the emotions of his mother without the use of a single word on the topic. Instead, there is a simple description of her waving farewell as he heads away carrying his violin to embark on this adventure and the next chapter of his life.

The tale that unfolds describes the encounters of this innocent and naive youth on the roads in Spain in the years before the cataclysm of WWII. He seems to travel safely through a simpler word, sure of his invincibility- a privileged state of mind given only to wandering, innocent youth. Gradually his innocence is tempered by growing evidence of impeding civil war in Spain.

Any reader who encounters the first chapter of this book will be enriched by it. If they go on to read further they will discover an adventure that will live on in their enriched imagination.

Steve Smith is an architect, Founder and Director at Urban Narrative. He is also a member of the DCFW Design Review Panel and an advisor to the Design Commission for Wales.

Buy the book:
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning – Laurie Lee



Comment Press & Comment

DCFW Active Travel Map Consultations Statement Autumn 2021 Active Travel Network Maps – Local Authority Public Consultations Autumn 2021 – Walking and cycling in …. have your say

Active Travel Network Maps – Local Authority Public Consultations Autumn 2021 – Walking and cycling in …. have your say

Comment Press & Comment

95cm Perspective

We were all 95 cm tall once, typically when we were about three years old. Do you remember what places were like from down there?

It can be easy to forget the perspective of a child from our lofty 5’ to 6’ height, or from the driver’s seat of a car. But children see and experience things differently – the joys, the dangers, the magic of places.

Being a parent or caregiver to a child also changes the perception of a place. Walking times multiply when you have little legs to account for, access to toilet facilities becomes all the more important with nappies to change or in the midst of potty training, and ‘stay on the pavement’ becomes a highway safety mantra but only works if there is a clearly defined pavement and there aren’t cars on it.  Navigating and enjoying the city changes in the presence of children but their perspective is often overlooked in the planning and design of our town and city centres.

It is from this perspective that Urban 95 Academy want city makers to view the city.  The Bernard van Leer Foundation and the London School of Economics and Political Science had developed a ‘leadership programme designed for municipal leaders across the world to learn and develop strategies to make cities better for babies, toddlers and their caregivers’[1].  The programme offers a fantastic opportunity for city makers to learn from international experience and draw upon it as they devise strategies for their own city.  More information can be found on the Urban 95 Academy website.

As highlighted by Play Wales, all children have the right to play, a right in fact enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child[2].  Article 31 of the Convention says:

Every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

This includes not just young children but also older children and teenagers who often get actively designed out of spaces rather than being welcomed and accommodated.  It is in this context that the charity Make Space for Girls was established to ‘campaign for parks and public spaces to be designed for girls and young women, not just boys and young men’[3].  Their research found that in many cases not only were teenage girls not well catered for in the design of public spaces, but they could also feel actively excluded by the design.  They highlight the need to understand the context of any particular public space and to speak to girls in the area to develop creative solutions as there is no ‘off the shelf’ fix.  Their website does, however, provide some examples of ideas that work of have been tried elsewhere.

Whether it be a new development, a town centre strategy or investment in existing public spaces, what is often sadly lacking is sufficient thinking from the perspective of the full range of people who will be inhabiting these spaces.  Research, talking to and involving those people who may be future users of the space should be a standard part of the approach to planning for investment in the public realm, as well as on going monitoring and investment.

Many people with many needs can be overlooked when places are designed for a hypothetical average standard model. People are not standard, and the lens of a child is a helpful one as planning and designing for children will often result in places that are more accessible and more equitable for everyone.

By Jen Heal



Press & Comment Press Releases

Over 100 of Wales’ leading organisations commit to tackling climate change by signing the Wales Placemaking Charter


Monmouthshire County Council has confirmed its support for the Wales Placemaking Charter, joining 101 other leading Welsh organisations in the fight to tackle climate change and support recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the latest local authority to sign the Placemaking Charter, Monmouthshire County Council joins Neath Port Talbot Council, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Swansea Council. Other signatories include 29 architecture or design practices, 20 membership bodies, ten Government organisations, 11 housing associations including Pobl Housing and seven private housing developers including the UK’s leading housebuilder Redrow and Magor-based Edenstone Homes.  All have pledged to:

  • Involve the local community in the development of proposals
  • Choose sustainable locations for new development
  • Prioritise walking, cycling and public transport
  • Create well defined, safe and welcoming streets and public spaces
  • Promote a sustainable mix of uses to make places vibrant
  • Value and respect the positive distinctive qualities and identity of existing places.

Welcoming the latest signatory to the Placemaking Charter, Minister for Climate Change Julie James said: “The backdrop to the placemaking charter’s first year has been like no other and it is very pleasing  to see that more organisations are committing to the challenge of increasing the quality of development across Wales.

“I’m delighted that another local authority has joined the charter as they are particularly well placed to plan and deliver projects that directly improve places and people’s quality of life.  I hope this encourages other local authorities to join in the near future.”

Councillor Sara Jones, Monmouthshire’s Deputy Leader and cabinet member with responsibility for placemaking said: “I’m proud that Monmouthshire County Council has become a signatory to the Placemaking Wales Charter.  Our aim is a thriving and well-connected sustainable county that gives people the best possible start in life, maximises the potential of our environment, improves well-being and focuses upon the future.  Recent times have shown us how important the places where we live are to our quality of life.  Our focus must now be on the future; building back better by creating sustainable places that aid regeneration and improve health and well-being.  Good placemaking is at the heart of our local development plan and future aspirations and signing the Wales Placemaking Charter emphasises our commitment to these objectives.”

Carole Anne Davies, Chief Executive of the Design Commission for Wales added: “The commitment made by those that have signed up to the Placemaking Charter represents a key response to more sustainable places and addressing climate imperatives.

“In just one year since the launch of the Placemaking Charter, we have seen over 100 different organisations step-up and pledge their support for sustainable development that will leave a lasting legacy by putting the health and well-being of local people at the heart of all developments. This is particularly important given the need to help protect communities from the effects of climate change.

“Wales really is leading the way – we are the first nation to have a dedicated Minister for Climate Change and we now also have a new and updated Technical Advice 15, further supporting  planning policy that requires developers in Wales to consider potential future flood or coastal erosion due to global warming. That’s also a UK first.

“Now, more than ever, we need to think about places and placemaking. That’s why it is so encouraging to see these organisations join us in making Wales a better place with newly developed or regenerated areas focussed on people and communities that are active and socially connected. We will of course be keeping an eye on commitment being carried through to delivery and expect to see significant positive change.”

The Placemaking Charter was developed by the Welsh Government and the Design Commission for Wales in collaboration with the Placemaking Wales Partnership – a multi-disciplinary group representing professions and organisations working within the built and natural environment. Further information is available at

Comment Press & Comment

Sense of the past with a commitment to the future – Jon James

Board member Jon James discusses why we need to refurbish and repurpose buildings rather than bulldozing to make way for new developments. You can read his blog here:

Sense of the past with a commitment to the future – Jon James

Press & Comment Press Releases

Swansea signs Wales Placemaking Charter

Press & Comment Press Releases

Appointments to the Design Commission for Wales

Comment Press & Comment

Opportunity to help DCFW Reimagine?

Press & Comment Press Releases

Cyfarthfa Plan will reveal world importance of crucible of industrial revolution and work in harmony with nature.

Comment Press & Comment

Commissioner Elinor Gray-Williams discusses how we can inspire sustainability and build resilience with WalesBusiness

Press & Comment Press Releases

Search is on for three new Design Commissioners for Wales

The Minister for Housing and Local Government is seeking three new Commissioners to join the Board of the Design Commission for Wales (DCFW).
Applicants have until 9 November to apply for one of the three roles that will help make Wales a better place by championing high standards of design and architecture. An appreciation of and a strong interest in good place-making, design and architecture is essential.
Chaired by Gayna Jones, DCFW was set up in 2002 by the Welsh Government as a public body working throughout Wales to promote good design for our places, buildings and public spaces. The remit of the Cardiff-based organisation is to work with local planning authorities, investors, developers and commissioning clients to capture the value of high quality design; helping to deliver better outcomes, a better return on investment and greater public good. DCFW also nurtures the design talent and skills necessary for growth and innovation.
The Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James said: “If we want to make Wales a better place we need talented professionals to bring their skills and experience to the Design Commission for Wales”.

“The creation of high quality new development is a key element of our national planning policies and the Design Commission for Wales plays a crucial role in supporting the Welsh Government’s objectives in this area.

“The Design Commission for Wales’ board ensures the good governance of the organisation and I am looking for new, enthusiastic people to join the existing team to carry on their good work in promoting good design in the built environment across Wales. By having a strong and diverse board we will achieve good design which everyone across Wales will benefit from and enjoy.”

Gayna Jones, Chair of DCFW said: “We’re confident that there are some hugely talented and inspirational built environment enthusiasts and professionals out there, with the skills and experience to add a new dimension to DCFW.

“With a remit spanning the whole of the built environment in Wales, we are an expert, multi-disciplinary team and benefit from a very strong Board who actively champion high standards of design and architecture, We’re really keen to welcome applications from those with a background in design, place-making and architecture and a passion for good design. Together, we can help make Wales a better place.”

For more information on the application process and to apply, please visit Please contact the Public Appointments Team at with any other queries.

Please see links below:

The role is also advertised on the Cabinet Office website at:

Press & Comment Press Releases

The Placemaking Wales Charter

The Placemaking Wales Charter

Comment Press & Comment Uncategorized

Good design is intelligent and that’s how we should build places to live if we want better homes – Carole-Anne Davies

Good design is intelligent and that’s how we should build places to live if we want better homes – Carole-Anne Davies

Comment Press & Comment

DCFW comment on Pier Pavilion, Llandudno (Aug 20)


Comment Press & Comment

DCFW’s response to Viridor proposal (Aug 20)

Comment Press & Comment

19/03053/MNR 4 Dock Chambers – Part change of use (Aug 20)

Comment Press & Comment

Statement in response to the interim report from South East Wales Transport Commission

Carole-Anne Davies, Chief Executive of the Design Commission for Wales has welcomed the publication of the interim report of the South East Wales Transport Commission . She said: “The South East Wales Transport Commission is considering how to reduce congestion, aid connectivity and demonstrate the need to consider transport and land-use planning comprehensively.

“As the Design Commission for Wales, we fully support efforts to align transport and land-use planning fully and strategically. As demonstrated in our collaborative 2019 Transit Orientated Development charette, we are working with Welsh Government, the Cardiff Capital Region, local authorities and Transport for Wales to help ensure that future investment in placemaking is well coordinated and aligned.

“Our work on placemaking through the Placemaking Partnership and emerging Placemaking Charter highlights the location of development and a movement hierarchy that promotes active travel and public transport as critical elements for success. It is, therefore, encouraging to see the emerging recommendations seeking to establish a network that will increase the modal share of public transport and active travel in the region, making it an attractive and viable alternative to private vehicle use.”

You can read the interim report here

Comment Press & Comment

Statement in response to the publication of Building Better Places

Jen Heal, Design Advisor at the Design Commission for Wales has welcomed the publication of Building Better Places. She said: “The planning system can help deliver a more resilient and brighter future for Wales.

“Recent months have shown us just how places and placemaking can make a real difference to our quality of life, our well-being and our economy. The planning system is central to this so we very much welcome the publication and confirmation of the commitment to quality and placemaking.

“As the Design Commission for Wales, we continue to work with design teams, local authorities, and developers to help deliver better places through good design. This includes our work with Welsh Government on the development of a specific strategic design review service for local development plans to ensure that strategic placemaking decisions help achieve the best outcomes.

“We’re also continuing to support the Placemaking Wales Partnership. In all our work right now we are also aiming to apply what we’ve learned throughout the most difficult months and promote better outcomes for all as we work together with Welsh Government to assist recovery.”

The Welsh Government publication can be read here.

Comment Reports

Neuadd Maldwyn, Welshpool (Comment July 20)

Press & Comment

Jen – Places for Life Blog

Jen Heal is an urban designer and planner with a particular interest in placemaking in new and existing town centres and neighbourhoods. She is co-chair of the Design Commission for Wales’ national design review service and leads on the Commission’s placemaking agenda. Entries for the second Places for Life conference have just opened so Jen is taking this opportunity to explore how we can create better mixed use communities with a sense of place.

Press & Comment

Call for Entries: Places for Life II

Entries are now open for Places for Life II.

The Design Commission for Wales invites submissions of abstracts of up to 400 words for written reflections and/or articles on the theme of Places for Life for inclusion in a new publication as a follow on to the first Places for Life conference.

Held in 2016, the conference explored the connection between the places where we live and our health, well-being, relationships, access to work, social life, and impact on the environment. It brought together a multi-disciplinary group of professionals to engage with the subject and challenge the status quo.  The conference was followed up with a publication capturing post-conference reflections and key messages from the speakers, workshops and discussions, which can be found here.

We now encourage submissions from designers, planners, developers, surveyors, policy and decision makers, academics, artists, authors and others with an interest in what makes a great place to live and the difference that where we live makes to health, happiness and wellbeing.

The submission may be a reflection on the last four years since the Places for Life conference, research findings from studies that you have been involved in, new ideas, fresh perspectives or case studies.  It may relate to the current COVID-19 context but does not have to as we are looking for a range of perspectives on different aspects of placemaking. It could relate to a conversation, an idea, a shift in practice, or a change of thinking. Images, diagrams and illustrations to accompany the text would be welcomed.

Abstracts and essays may be submitted in English and/or Welsh language. Joint authorship is allowed. You may enter more than one abstract. All abstracts received will be reviewed by the Design Commission for Wales, and a range of proposals will be selected for inclusion in the publication. Abstracts will be judged on the merit of their critical response to the theme of Places for Life, clarity of structure and expression, and their potential to stimulate and contribute to the debate.

Authors of selected abstracts will be asked to submit text of no more than 3,000 words with relevant illustrations to be included in the publication which will be made available on Design Commission for Wales’ website.

Jen Heal, Design Advisor with the Design Commission for Wales said: “These are unprecedented times; never has the need to think and plan for the future of our places been so important. Placemaking is at the forefront of planning policy in Wales through Planning Policy Wales 10 (December 2018) and there is growing recognition of the long-term impacts of the places we make and the need for quality places not just quantity of houses.

“As we adapt to the new normal enforced on us by Covid-19, and think about what the future might hold beyond this period, it is important that we work together to promote good placemaking and build back better. That’s why we are inviting you to join the discussion by contributing to a Places for Life II document.”

Abstracts must be submitted to the Commission by Friday 3rd July 2020.  Selected authors will be announced by Friday 17th July 2020. Completed essays should be received by Design Commission for Wales by midday on Friday 7th August 2020. The selection and editorial decision of the Design Commission for Wales is final.

If your article is chosen to be included within the Places for Life II document, you will receive a copy of the publication and be profiled in future Places for Life activities.  Please contact Jen Heal, Design Advisor at the Design Commission for Wales if you have any questions and submit your abstract to Jen at the following email address:


Comment Press & Comment

DCFW Evidence Submission to National Infrastructure Commission Apr 20


Press & Comment

Statement on the Future Generations Report 2020

Carole-Anne Davies, Chief Executive of the Design Commission for Wales has welcomed the publication of the Future Generations Report 2020. She said: “As Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe calls on us all as one nation to do the right thing, to champion change and to contribute to our national goals.

“Never has the need to think and plan for the future been so relevant. The way we plan, design and build our communities and infrastructure for the future is critical in addressing long-term challenges and ensuring well-being. That’s why we will continue to ensure that our work is fully aligned with the Well-Being of Future Generations Act and support the proper and consistent implementation of Planning Policy Wales 10. Together, we can make Wales a better place.”

You can read the full report here:


Response to Public Consultation: Cardiff University CSM Building (Aug 18)

Please see below link to the DCFW response to Public Consultation Cardiff University CSM Building August 2018.

DCFW Response to Public Consultation Cardiff University CSM Building


Response to National Assembly for Wales Consultation: State of Roads in Wales

Please see below the DCFW response to the National Assembly for Wales Consultation: State of Roads in Wales.



More with less: Designing for quality in the public estate and why it matters

Ysgol Bae Baglan by Stride Treglown wins Eisteddfod Gold Medal for Architecture

Public value should be the primary objective of any investment of public funds and resources in any project, shouldn’t it?  Now more than ever we need to recognise that quality and adding long-term value matters more than short-term capital cost. The latter is perhaps even the critical factor that drives value down and undermines the power of the public purse.  Public value matters because people and communities – the public – matter.

In a context of uncertainty and budget cuts, it is easy for governments and local authorities to be tempted by lowest cost options now, with insufficient regard to the problems and costs they may store up for the future.  The financial cost of designing and delivering a new building, for example, is easy to measure – a sum of the fees, material and labour costs.  However, the true value and cost of that building over its lifetime is much more complex to understand and cannot be simply represented by a number.  Designers are continually challenged to achieve more with less – arguably it is their key skill.  Decision-makers must take responsibility for understanding and meaningfully assessing the whole-life costs, value and impacts of publicly funded projects, irrespective of how well supported they may be to do so.  Cheap, political quick-fixes are not a good solution.

The cost of poor quality
Poor quality buildings will cost more to operate due to higher energy use, demanding maintenance requirements and the need for more frequent replacements and repairs due to lack of durability.  Poor quality places undermine health, well-being and productivity which, in turn, places greater strain on public services.  And, if bad design means that a facility is not fit-for-purpose or is underused because it is unattractive or uncomfortable, the investment will not have been good value.

The value of good design
We know, and have known for a very long time, that well-designed, quality buildings and places represent good value for public money.  Durable, good quality materials and carefully designed details reduce maintenance and repair costs.  Well-planned and integrated environmental strategies minimise energy consumption and cost and create comfortable, healthy environments.  Countless studies show that good building design can reduce the recovery times of hospital patients, increase the productivity of workers and help children concentrate better at school.  Good quality streets and public spaces can encourage walking, cycling and other activities and foster an environment for social interaction.

Moreover, investing in quality in the public estate is symbolic of the value we place on people and their communities.   What kind of a declaration do we make when we default to the cheapest solution, regardless of its potentially detrimental impact?  Public spending must demonstrate responsible, resourceful, good value investment.

Investing in the design process
The good news is that quality public buildings and places don’t need to cost significantly more to deliver and provide significantly better value for money in the long-term.  Investing in a talented design team and affording enough time for early design processes are key to unlocking this value.

Sunlight, daylight, fresh air and good views are freely available and contribute to well-being and sustainability.  Good designers will make use of these natural resources to minimise energy demands and create comfortable, delightful buildings and places that stand the test of time.

Good designers are creative problem solvers and will aim to find the best value solution within a given budget and set of constraints.  Having a multi-disciplinary design team working on the project from the outset will ensure that different problems are tackled in an integrated way.  Meaningful engagement with clients, building users and members of the public helps designers identify constraints and opportunities and allows them to shape the brief and response for the project.

Complexity in buildings adds costs.  Intricate junctions are more difficult to build and complex mechanical services can be more expensive to run and are more likely to attract maintenance costs.  Good designers simplify without compromising function or beauty; but simplification requires time and skill.

A good design process involves a cycle of testing ideas and refining the design in response to the results, leading to better understanding of how a building will perform over its lifetime, reducing risk.

Good design takes time and skills.  Cutting costs and reducing investment in design reduces quality and value in the long run.

An encouraging winner
This year’s Eisteddfod Gold Medal for Architecture winning project, Ysgol Bae Baglan is a case in point.  Designed by Stride Treglown Architects, the so called ‘super-school’ provides for children from age three up to 16.  The Gold Medal, supported by the Design Commission for Wales, recognises architecture as a vital element in the nation’s culture and celebrates architecture achieving the highest design standards.  Encouragingly, this year saw a higher proportion of publicly funded projects entered and short-listed than recent years.

© James Morris

Judges praised the winning scheme for the aspiration to unite a local community which suffers from high levels of deprivation.  The approachable and welcoming building provides a focus for the community and offers facilities for everyone to use, so that the whole community draws value from the school.

The classrooms are spacious and abundant with natural light, and the architecture provides inspirational spaces for play and learning.  A central stage allows for arts, performance and gatherings; for a shared environment where lives and their potential are shaped.

© James Morris

Ysgol Bae Baglan encapsulates the aspirations of the school and the wider community and, through good design, delivers quality and represents good value for public money which no arbitrary capital cost cap and truncated design process will ever reflect or enable.  Prudence does not reside in the cheapest or the fastest. Public investment should focus on public value.  It should say ‘we value these communities, these children, these people.’  It is entirely possible, and should be the norm, to set out and adhere to realistic timescales, budgets and value-driven objectives, in a clear vision for the outcomes we wish to result from our investment.  Let us not only aspire, but commit to make every publicly-funded project in Wales worthy of an award for design quality and public value.

Written by Amanda Spence, Design Advisor at DCFW

Comment Hatch

Exploring the Potential of the National Development Framework

By Efa Lois Thomas

On the 2nd of March 2017, Hatch members came together with Young Planners Cymru for an event at DCFW that provided and opportunity to explore the potential of the National Development Framework (NDF). It was particularly interesting for me, as I come from an architectural background, not a planning one, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was interesting to think that the preparation of this plan could have real impact on what happens on the ground in Wales in the next 20 years.

The presentation began with an explanation of the National Development Framework, how Wales needs an overarching vision for planning, how we want to create change in our communities and what makes a good place. We also discussed how Planning Policy Wales will be reviewed and integrated with the NDF.

We then split into two workshop groups, one discussing the National Development Framework and the other thinking about the objectives of planning and sustainable places for Planning Policy Wales.


The National Development Framework workshop considered the 20-year national development plan (which will replace the Wales Spatial Plan) and the key issues that face Wales now and in 20 years’ time . Some very interesting ideas were discussed including: the inherent potential in linking the NDF to the Well-being of Future Generations Act and Active Travel Act, how large nationally important projects might be reflected and, on a smaller scale, how every town and village could have safe routes for people to walk to amenities, and how the focus should shift to more sustainable travel methods, such as cycling or trams.

We also discussed how the character of some towns is being slowly eroded by the impact of national retail chains, resulting in the closure of local independent businesses and the loss of a sense of ‘place’.

The potential for Wales to increase and improve its tourism industry, through better marketing and planning emerged as a key theme. We discussed how some towns outside of Cardiff have tourists commuting from Cardiff to get there, just because there aren’t enough hotels in the capital. We also considered how the protection of historic Welsh place names could potentially become part of the NDF as they are something completely unique to Wales, which is a perfect opportunity for marketing tourism.

IMG_0352 (2)

On the subject of decarbonisation, we discussed exciting opportunities presented by the tidal lagoon projects, as well as how the devolution of control over natural resources could affect Wales’ carbon output. It was also raised that, in an ideal world, there should be financial incentives to reinsulate existing housing stock as the ineffective use of energy greatly affects the amount of carbon that is used.

We also briefly explored the potential of re-wilding Wales’ farming landscapes and the impact of changes following departure from the EU.

After half an hour, we swapped workshop groups to go to a workshop on Planning Policy Wales.

IMG_0348 (2)

This was much more focused on the potential of what the Planning Policy Wales specifically could do to rectify the problems that Wales currently faces.

We discussed how planning should operate, for example, whether putting planning notices on lampposts is an outdated custom.  The issue that current demographics that are usually consulted in planning are either those over the age of 65 or school children was raised and we considered what could be done to rectify this.

A complicated issue that emerged was how to give a town or area that arises from a new development ‘soul’ and ‘community’. We discussed how some areas on the outskirts of Cardiff only have two supermarkets, a school and a few housing complexes and what could be done to make this place better.

We then had a discussion about why people wouldn’t want to live in certain areas, and what makes people feel safe in a particular area. I was personally reminded of Jane Jacob’s theory in ‘The Life and Death of Great American Cities’, about having eyes on the street, and people feeling ownership of the street. We explored what makes us personally feel safe and what may deter us from walking somewhere, but feel perfectly comfortable in a car or a bus. We then considered whether improving the safety of some areas would make people want to live there.

The evening concluded with a brief Q&A session with the representatives from Welsh Government’s Planning Division. It was an enlightening evening and it was very exciting to see what could potentially be shaped into the Welsh landscape over the next 20 years.

Efa Lois Thomas is at Part 1 Architectural Assistant at Austin-Smith:Lord and Winner of the National Eisteddfod Design Commission for Wales Architecture Scholarship 2016.

Comment Press & Comment

Welsh Ways: DCFW’s NDF proposal for a national tourist route in Wales

The Planning Directorate at Welsh Government has begun work on the production of a National Development Framework (NDF).  The NDF will set out a 20 year land use framework for Wales to replace the current Wales Spatial Plan, and provides an exciting opportunity for good design to add value through a coordinated approach.  In a response to a recent call for projects, the Design Commission for Wales submitted a proposal for a national tourist route for Wales.

Download the full proposal here: DCFW’s Welsh Ways NDF Project Proposal

Coordinated by the Design Commission for Wales, Welsh Ways is a proposed Wales-wide project which will harness the power of good design and planning to enhance people’s experience of the magnificent landscapes in Wales, whilst adding value to the tourism industry and rural economies.

The project will identify and promote scenic routes around Wales and commission interventions along those routes which engage people with the landscape and its natural resources and heritage.

The routes will allow for a variety of travel modes, including driving, walking, cycling and public transport options, with interventions including viewing areas, picnic spots, rest areas, public toilets and transport stops.  Each  intervention will be carefully designed in response to a deep understanding of its place in order to showcase the beauty of the landscape setting, design talent and craftsmanship.

To achieve best value from the project, a number of organisations will collaborate to coordinate the various aspects of the project which will be led by the Design Commission for Wales.  The ethos of the project closely follows the seven goals of the Well-being of Future Generation (Wales) Act, by addressing issues of economy, resilience, environment, tourism, culture, heritage, health, community and inclusivity.  The commissioning of design and construction teams for each of the interventions will encourage innovative and collaborative practice, supporting and promoting design talent.

As a core project of the Wales’ National Development Framework (NDF), Welsh Ways provides a useful strategic, nation-wide project which meets Welsh Government’s objectives for sustainable place-driven planning with minimal capital investment.  Welsh Ways can be used as an exemplar early-win to demonstrate the value of the collaborative, integrated, strategic approach to planning and place-making in Wales endorsed by the NDF.

Download the full proposal here: DCFW’s Welsh Ways NDF Project Proposal

Comment Hatch

Developing Cardiff Bay: Hatch Review

The latest Hatch event involved a walk around Cardiff Bay, guided by urban designer Dr Mike Biddulph, from the Place Making team at Cardiff Council.  To reflect the range of built environment disciplines represented in the Hatch network we have collated the perspective of an urban designer, arts consultant, public engagement and experience design consultant and an energy and building physics engineer to see how their views on the event varied.



Emma Price, Arts Consultant reflects on an illumination of Cardiff Bay and the common aspects of seemingly different disciplines.

I was not sure what to expect at the latest Hatch event as I am not an urban designer, landscape architect, planner, or architect. So when it was my time to introduce myself, I hesitated, before revealing that I am an arts consultant working predominantly in commissioning art in the built environment. It is my professional experience in this field which therefore framed my interaction with the workshop.

The walk and talk brought together a range of designers and innovators working in the city. Mike set out the challenges of urbanisation and the creative potential of speculative design. We collectively examined the constraints and areas for potential development; exploring the physical factors that can affect development prospects, and the potential for urban design solutions for an ever evolving Cardiff Bay

I learned that urban design is a particular form of enquiry into the nature of our city, its form and function.  We all seek to understand the city as a place of human coexistence and to contribute to the creation of strategies and projects that inform its future development.  This struck me as similar to the new and innovative ways that artists are approaching working in the public realm.

We were encouraged to look for and explore new ideas around the design decisions faced by Mike and his colleagues when developing an urban space that works for a wide section of the local population and visiting community.

During our walk we explored and reimagined the Bay through its physical landscape and its role in cultural regeneration. The discussions reminded me of the Situationists and their interpretation of psychogeography. This is something that I have long been interested in, but until now, only from the perspective of working with artists to investigate the experiential and physical elements of place making. But in fact we are all, in some way, psychogeographers.

Psychogeography and the dérive

…The Situationists’ desire to become psychogeographers, with an understanding of the ‘precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’, was intended to cultivate an awareness of the ways in which everyday life is presently conditioned and controlled, the ways in which this manipulation can be exposed and subverted, and the possibilities for chosen forms of constructed situations in the post-spectacular world. Only an awareness of the influences of the existing environment can encourage the critique of the present conditions of daily life, and yet it is precisely this concern with the environment, which we live, which is ignored.

(Source: Plant, S. (1992) The most radical gesture: The Situationist International in a postmodern age’ P58: Routledge.)

Mike enthused us as to the benefits of walking through a place with eyes wide open, and the need to truly address and represent contemporary urbanism in future plans.  Mike also brought home to us the challenge in resolving complex issues facing transport, public space (including streets and land use), and building typologies through creative design plans.

The group’s critical contribution throughout the walk paid homage to the importance of cross-sector consultation, mirroring Mike’s generous, site-specific explanation of the work of urban designers in creating our streets, buildings and transport routes that consider both people and place.

Although I had worked in the Bay for several years, I was now seeing the Bay’s streetscapes in a new light. Perhaps we are so tuned out and focused on travelling through places for practical reasons that we don’t pay sufficient attention to our journeys – on foot, via varying modes of transport, or via our creative imagination. The workshop highlighted that fully engaging our senses and emotional awareness on something as basic as a short walk can be used to positively influence place.

As the site-responsive workshop progressed I felt increasingly at ease with the contributions I could make when discussing potential opportunities in line with the cultural heritage and future aspirations for this part of the city. This comes from working with artists, many of whom, through the context of their practice, research place, people and the cultural offerings of a particular site and whose work directly or indirectly offers creative development opportunities. So, not too dissimilar to that of an urban designer.



John Lloyd, Energy and Building Physics Engineer, enjoys the bigger picture offered by urban design.

Coming from an engineering background, I must admit to being a little in the dark as to exactly what Mike’s line of work as an Urban Designer entailed, so before arriving did a little internet search, turning up the following:

Urban design is about making connections between people and places, movement and urban form, nature and the built fabric. Urban design draws together the many strands of place-making, environmental stewardship, social equity and economic viability into the creation of places with distinct beauty and identity. Urban design is derived from but transcends planning and transportation policy, architectural design, development economics, engineering and landscape. It draws these and other strands together creating a vision for an area and then deploying the resources and skills needed to bring the vision to life.

(Source –

As interesting as that sounded, I still was still a little vague on the specifics so went along with an open mind and no preconceptions. To all of our surprise, Mike Biddulph chose to focus on the area of the Bay where Lloyd George Avenue connects Bute Street and Roald Dahl Plas. Hatch members in attendance initially struggled to visualise the development of a site, which on face value, appeared to be an area of the city that was already “complete”, modern and a significant part of the local road network. After some encouragement or perhaps coercion, we all came to agree that while the area may not require redevelopment, it is underutilised space in a prime location and the focus of the evening’s conversation therefore centred on how it might be improved.

This is one of the parts of Cardiff that has seen substantial change over recent decades, but there is scope to think about it differently if infrastructure projects such as a South Wales Metro system extends down to the Bay. Routes can be found to better link Cardiff Bay to other areas of the city and one of a number of routes could bring a tramline through the road network around Craft in the Bay and the Red Dragon Centre. If this were to go ahead then the significant construction work required would in itself bring opportunities to redesign and make better use of the spaces around this area; most of which is currently uninviting to pedestrians and therefore arguably a poor use of such large open public space.

While the Hatch group is made up of a fairly diverse set of disciplines, all of which demand a degree of creativity, I think it’s fair to say that most of us rarely need to operate on the scale and with the lack of restriction that Mike’s job demands. As an Energy and Building Physics Engineer, I’m usually focussed on small details and technical calculations and personally found the lack of constraints on Mike’s current work as quite liberating, if perhaps a little overwhelming!

From our starting point at the Millennium Centre, we walked along an old footpath behind buildings facing onto Bute Street, leading to the old derelict train station building. Mike chatted though how he would think about such an area, including ideas for how this listed building could be brought back to life and how, on the back of this, the Council could try to influence further development of this area.

We walked along Bute Street to discuss the importance of the Loudon Square development, how Bute Street could potentially be opened up to allow access across to the Lloyd George Avenue area and the benefits this could bring to the Butetown community. Finally, heading back towards Bute Place for a closing conversation bringing together all that had been discussed, Mike worked through one possible vision for how this part of our city could look in the future.

One of Mike’s opening lines at the start of the evening was that he thought that his was the best job in world. By the end of the evening and now with a better understanding the full scale of the positive influence someone in his position could have on the future of our city and its communities, I think he might have a point!



Peter Trevitt, Public Engagement and Experience Design Consultant, on the importance of someone looking at the bigger picture.

Gathering outside the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC), Mike set out to provide a flavour of what his work as an urban designer in the local authority is all about, by taking us on a journey around his mind, as well as the Bay.  He then surprised us when he asked us which part of the bay we thought he was thinking about at the moment. We all assumed it would be one of the obviously run down or under-used areas, but in fact his focus is on the relatively well-kept area between Lloyd George Avenue and Roald Dahl Plas.

Mike explained that his work involved thinking long term about the big picture, and that it was a fluid process of exploring how even quite radical changes and options might work and being prepared to reconsider them as often as necessary. It was as if in his mind he has a big pencil and eraser does endless sketches of road layouts, development blocks and landmark features, using his skills to find interesting configurations. He works with other specialists at the Council to provoke wider discussion and consultation, long before a scheme is formally defined.

This strategic approach felt very appealing, but also very necessary – if no one is considering our environment in this way, how can we be sure that the best solutions are being found at an early enough stage?

Continuing our walk there were more surprises in store. We quickly found ourselves on a long footpath following the line of the old dock boundary that most of us had never seen before, and provided a new angle on very familiar sights. We looked at the old Bay Station building and then explored more of Bute Street, as far as the potential cross-route to the south of Loudoun Square. Mike explained that if a tramline comes to Cardiff Bay, this could become a key point to provide a new east-west route in Butetown. We began to appreciate better how his mind worked now, always looking for the links and connections that were key to opening up the city and attracting investment.

This fascinating walk ended back near the WMC drawing tram stations on a large piece of paper on the floor, and debating the merits or otherwise of whether high rise development could even be accommodated in this area or not. Mike had said he loved his job, and it was not difficult to see why.



Lindsey Brown, Urban Designer reminds us of the importance of ‘looking beyond’ ourselves and our everyday, and to future legacies.

As an urban designer it is almost impossible not to stand in a public space or on a street and refrain from analysing the urban fabric, watch what people do or wonder why all the seating has been positioned on the shaded side of the street. We’re never off duty!  So when the invitation arrived to join Hatch’s latest event exploring development and placemaking around the Bay, it went straight in my diary!

Meeting outside the Wales Millennium Centre Mike began the workshop by asking us what we thought of the space around us.  There was a suggestion it was the culmination of the Bay’s transformation; once a redundant and inaccessible dockland, now a popular destination for visitors and residents of Cardiff.  There was discussion too on the connection between the city and the Bay, focusing on Lloyd George Avenue, its poor level of use and disjointed links to the city centre.  Mike immediately turned this on its head and asked us whether this is really the burning issue for the future development of the Bay?  His assertion being that Lloyd George Avenue exists and people do use it to walk, cycle and drive between the city centre and the Bay.  Instead he posed a different question; what connections and opportunities in the Bay have not yet been realised?  And so the tone for the evening’s workshop was set – where is the potential in the Bay and how, as designers, can we shape its development?

We focused on ‘The Flourish’, the rather large traffic island home to a Grade II listed building housing Craft in the Bay.  Mike led us along a narrow path, edged by original dockland railings.  It forms one of the many north–south linear routes in this part of the Bay, but it was the opportunity to introduce east-west connections and bring together the dotted collection of galleries and art spaces that appealed to Mike.

Heading further north talk of unrealised opportunity went up a level.  We gathered on Bute Street and Mike asked ‘What about punching a hole through this wall?’  The wall in question being an 8ft stone wall bounding the railway track.  Whilst eyebrows were raised, eyes also lit up!

We walked through Cardiff Bay railway station and Mike mentioned the possibility of a tram and the opportunity to extend the line to the Flourish.  An opportunity to not only create a sense of arrival befitting of the Bay but improve connectivity for everyday passengers and visitors alike.

Stretching alongside the railway line we touched on Lloyd George Avenue and how introducing a tram line would create opportunity for new building lines and streets that would add layers to the Avenue rather than erode people’s patterns of movement.

Our final stop brought us to the traffic island in the centre of the Flourish and it was here that a blank plan was cast on the floor in typical urban designer style.  Thoughts and ideas from the discussion were quickly sketched, bringing to life the opportunities and potential we had spotted during our walk.  For me it was an inspiring and somehow reassuring experience.  We are all familiar with plans and drawings but so often we don’t get to see the journey of how we have arrived at the design on the plan.

The event came with the brief ‘to be prepared to look and talk’.  This reminded me of an urban design phrase I often use when exploring the built environment, ‘look up, around and along’.  For me Mike’s workshop has added a fourth dimension to this: ‘look beyond’.   To remember that as designers we are not just here to celebrate the good and undo the bad but to realise the potential.


Samuel Utting, Architect welcomes the opportunity to think more strategically.

From an architect’s perspective, the workshop was an opportunity to better understand the thinking processes and frames of reference of urban designers, who generally operate at a more strategic level and within longer timescales.

As we were gathering in Roald Dahl Plass to start our workshop, Mike asked what we thought of the space. Although it is a place quite familiar to us all, it wasn’t easy to pinpoint why we weren’t instinctively in love with the space. The solutions to transforming it into a successful public square became clearer as we walked through the area with our guide, reorganising it and solving its issues in a piecemeal way. Talking and walking around Butetown and Cardiff Bay was a welcome reminder of the principles behind successful urban spaces that the likes of Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl and William H Whyte introduced to us in architecture school. It was good to see these principles in the future vision of Butetown and Cardiff Bay… at last.


Thank you to all of our contributors.

Comment Hatch

Who Are They? Hatch’s evening with the Policy Makers

DCFW Hatch member, Elan Wynne, reflects on Hatch’s evening with the Policy Makers

…Who are these people that make the decisions on what can and can’t be built, and what guides their decision making? This is a question often asked by designers of all disciplines and their clients as they navigate the statutory requirements, the planning system and the impact of policy.

The most recent event organised by HATCH, presented an opportunity for designers working in the built environment to hear from ‘Them’; the experts who are driving, influencing, changing and upholding current planning policies. And guess what? They came across as being passionate about doing what was right for the community as a whole at a local, national and international level.

The evening covered the hierarchy of policy and planning through presentations from the following speakers:-

  • Gretel Leeb, the Deputy Director of the Environment and Sustainability Directorate at the Welsh Government on the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015
  • Stuart Ingram, Senior Planning Manager at Welsh Government on the Planning Act (Wales) 2015, and Planning Policy Wales
  • Judith Jones, Head of Planning at Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council on Local planning policy

The night was kicked off by Gretel Leeb’s heartfelt presentation on the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015 (FGW). We were introduced to this recent piece of legislation which aims to encourage ‘joined up thinking’, and is one of the first of its kind.  The FGW Act will call on public bodies in Wales to find ways to meet all of the 7 goals identified in the Act, working together toward a more prosperous, resilient, healthier, equitable country that has more cohesive communities, a vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language, and is globally responsible. Gretel viewed the role of designers, as specialists in problem solving and joined up thinking, as vital in helping to achieve the goals and positively influencing the construction industry. Gretel reminded us of our capacity to enthuse and educate people through the way that we design.

Stuart Ingram of the Welsh Government Planning Directorate, presented a very clear account of what national planning policy is, and how it works at a national level. His role includes briefing, advising and preparing information for Ministers, who when they speak on an item in public, may be seen to be making policy. Stuart is one of the team that helps shape, communicate and monitor policies that are made, ensuring that they are evidence based and made in the best interests of the people.

Policy making in this country is of course part of a democratic context, and if not perceived as the speediest of processes, provides time for anyone who is interested to be properly consulted, informed and involved. Inevitably, policies made will not please everyone, but through the careful practice of identifying a need, evidence gathering, developing, consulting, adapting, implementing and monitoring, it is now said that we have a good track record of evidence based policy making in Wales.

Decision makers undertake a balancing act to ensure that one policy doesn’t clash with another. There may complexities that challenge good intentions. For instance, planning for the natural environment and local carbon reduction might not always be a harmonious match; wind turbine farms or photo voltaic arrays might be not always be appropriate to a local natural environment or its immediate community. As new challenges become apparent, new policies have to be made to address their effects. Like the editor of Vogue magazine, people like Stuart have the continual task of keeping on top of emerging trends, so that we can be safe in the knowledge that our country can cope with the latest land use issues.

Judith Jones discussed, what was, to me, the more familiar side of how local planning policy is utilised, and how it guides planning departments and designers alike in the parts they play in the continually developing built environment. Her references to Patsy Healey’s lecture at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at Newcastle University in 2011, Civic Capacity, Progressive Localism and the Role of Planning, addressed the responsibility of society to engage in the process, as well as planners’ roles in providing ‘explanations not just of how formal regulations work, but why it has evolved and what value it carries’.

Judith went on to discuss how emotional attachment to an area or building is often not considered as important as it should be, and that design and planning processes and policies can at times fail to address this fully. And yet emotion is still part of the decision making process at a certain level, where a planning applications can be decided or influenced by an officer’s preference. It is a difficult task that planners face, this balancing act; and alongside local policy which sets out the fundamentals, such things as ‘material considerations’ can also become grey areas. Weighing up considerations can often be influenced by the responses received from those that are consulted. This highlights the need for an early local voice, getting people in the community involved so that the community affected can be part of shaping their own environment. Whether the disillusioned voice of many is a good thing against the inspired thinking of a few is something we at HATCH have all discussed before and I’m sure will come up again. In this age of social media and global trends, an up to date local policy has an important role in regulating the evolution of the environment in which we live, which is happening at lightning speed.

As designers we have a responsibility to ensure and promote good design, and by the same token planners have a responsibility to avoid poor outcomes and use tools within planning policies to support them in saying ‘no’. From tonight’s illuminating talks, which helped us all gather a clearer picture of the legislative and policy environment within which we all work, it is evident there are bigger challenges ahead with which we may be able to help.  As designers we can play a key role in inspiring more people to become involved, in getting communities more interested in their built environment, in developing better understanding of the work of these professionals, juggling complex realities every day. Moving us all closer to collaborative, cohesive working practice for the future is the key to doing our bit for well designed places.

Elan Wynne is Principal Architect at Stiwdiowen and an active member of DCFW’s Hatch network for fresh-thinking shapers of the built environment in Wales.


A building for everyone….

Carole-Anne Davies, Chief Executive at Design Commission for Wales, reflects on the National Assembly for Wales’s Building for Democracy event which took place on Tuesday 1st March 2016 at the Senedd.

Yesterday morning the Senedd was unusually busy. The whole building was decorated with daffodils, microphones were in place, cameras and mobile ‘phones buzzed, media people touched base. A St David’s Day at the Senedd is always special but this year marks its 10th birthday. All day, choirs, school groups and individuals took their places and told their stories of the National Assembly and of the Senedd – its home, for a decade of devolution and different democracy in Wales.

Last evening, a kind of birthday reunion brought Rogers Stirk Harbour Partners architects back together with key players and members of the project team. Deftly handled by Menna Richards, the conversation that unfolded at this RSAW event was a warm, candid reflection.

The stories of a clear brief for an architectural competition that sought ideas, not designs as such, meandered through familiar territory: the need for transparency reflective of democracy; the aim for a very public building; a non-hierarchical chamber for a new democratic process; a benchmark exemplar of sustainability for a client with the sustainable development principle enshrined in its core. And a client that, technically, didn’t yet exist.

Ivan Harbour, in a double hander with his business partner and mentor Lord Rogers, is quick to acknowledge that what makes this building work is the public ownership; the care and warm familiarity of the people of Wales that give it its spirit. That’s impossible to draw or design, he admits.

And so we hear about the journey from the power of an idea, a few key principles and the leadership of a handful of key individuals: Lord Elis Thomas then Presiding Officer, Sue Essex, then Assembly Member and Minister and Richard Wilson, a senior civil servant who understood the importance of good buildings.

The chequered history is well document and this is not the only success story where the architects have been hired, dramatically un-hired, and perhaps slightly less publicly hired again, to get on with the job. A bumpy ride, says Lord Rogers, comes with architectural terrain.

More than this though, Harbour reminds us that this was the first time – there were no benchmarks. Few in the industry had any idea what an exemplary debating chamber actually cost. They cost what the industry is prepared to deliver them for and very few had at that time, been delivered. Time, quality and cost, that golden triangle of project trade-offs were no less present here. Speed though, was a crucial factor and not unproblematic in a project that was to be an exemplar first on so many levels.

Sustainability, some 18 years ago when the project really took shape, was a very unusual core client requirement. Today the Senedd remains ahead of its time. It is single glazed. Naturally ventilated, highly energy efficient and, as confirmed yesterday, the cooling equipment designed in for the chamber has never been used. The whole building functions as it was designed.

Both architects are generous to the other design disciplines acknowledging the engineering feat that keeps that floating roof, well, afloat. They are generous in their acknowledgment of the need for a whole design team to understand and play their role in the evolution of an idea, of what’s behind the brief; to address the constraints – the salt air, the road, the rescue of public realm, and the need to allow for increased security measures over time.

The importance of organised processes, the role every person plays in a design team, conducted and choreographed by the architect was continually emphasised by Ivan Harbour. It’s vital, he said, to understand that design processes involve a set of thoughts, actions and reactions as the team responds and the architect synthesizes and plays to all their strengths, rather than buckle under the challenge.

When quizzed, neither was sure if they might do anything differently. Both were clearly delighted at how the Senedd is being used by citizens, as part of the city. The emotional connection is tangible, says Harbour – it’s extraordinary. The sense of the Senedd being comfortable, well loved and well used, embracing the ebb and flow of people, still pulls him up short, makes even him let out a ‘wow’.

Are the materials a cliché? Welsh slate has roofed the UK, Harbour says, and it’s a spectacularly good flooring material of durability and beauty. That’s no cliché.

The Senedd is renowned for its sustainability, its transparency and its role as a turning point building. Lord Rogers is clear that people have made it a success – you’ve done it, he says. You’ve taken it over. There is more talk of maintenance, of learning from buildings and of essential spirit. And as we draw near to closing, Ivan Harbour shares a gem that has perhaps at times been unhelpfully distorted in the retelling of this story to date.

After the competition, he says, images were rendered for public consumption in the press. The project was largely well received, there were warm murmurings and talk of next steps. But, he says, the beginning of the betterment of the design started in earnest with the reaction of Disability Wales and the notion that the first Welsh parliament building for c600 years might not be available to all, changed the game. These were the first and biggest contributors, he says, to creating a building genuinely designed for everyone.


Event National Assembly for Wales’ Building for Democracy  Tuesday 1 March 2016, sponsored by the Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler AM.


Place-Making in the New Wales

Landscape Architect and DCFW Hatch member, Mark Lawton reviews the Landscape Institute Wales’ Conference which took place on Wednesday 13th January 2016 in Cardiff Bay

The conference was organised and hosted by Dr Ruth Williams, Policy Consultant for Landscape Institute Wales (LIW).  The catalyst for the event was the opening of the LIW’s bi-lingual exhibition, ‘Re-thinking the Urban Landscape’ in the Senedd and launched by Jenny Rathbone AM and Noel Farrer, President of the LI.

Showcasing some of the UK’s most powerful, contemporary landscape projects, including the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and the Olympic Park, alongside smaller community-led schemes, the inspiring exhibition highlights best practice, quality design and the importance of investing in landscape and green infrastructure in shaping our cities so they become better, healthier and safer places to live.

The conference aimed to highlight the role of landscape architects and to discuss the practical opportunities in implementing policy following the recent release of legislation in Wales, particularly the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015.  The event featured speakers from the Landscape Institute, Natural Resources Wales and Welsh Government with attendance from a wide range of professionals and organisations which made for some interesting debate.  A thought provoking presentation was given by Wendy Richards, formerly of the Design Commission for Wales (DCFW), twice LIW Chair and now Design Director at The Urbanists. Workshops were held by landscape professionals from Monmouthshire and Torfaen Councils and Chris Jones Regeneration.

Some of the main points raised by speakers were:

  • Higher densities for new housing is needed to reduce the pressure to build on agricultural land
  • Politicians should more strongly promote the need for quality in new development. Often architects and landscape architects are not involved in the design of residential areas, leading to unsustainable, car dependent communities that do not respond to their locale.
  • Landscape is not contained within a red line – new development should consider the bigger picture
  • Landscapes should be multifunctional and should be designed around their required uses e.g. biodiversity & floodwater retention
  • An ecosystem services approach means analysing and working with the complex resources within the landscape to balance their value against the demands that we place upon them in new development
  • Get the fundamentals of policy and design right and the rest will follow
  • Policy needs to be clear with indicators as to what the outcome should be

Many of the issues raised overlapped with themes discussed in the DCFW’s LandMarks events and publication, particularly the need for a multidisciplinary approach to positively shaping and managing the landscapes of Wales to add value and avoid the need for mitigation.

The event was inspiring, whilst also raising a number of challenges for the industry. I was particularly inspired by:

  • The Wellbeing and Future Generations Act 2015 – improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of Wales through a “sustainable development principle” which places requirements on public bodies which relate to seven well-being goals
  • The simple but effective concept of One House, One Tree – a policy proposal for house builders to have a minimum tree planting requirement in new development
  • The achievement of the High Line project in New York – two local residents took the lead in saving the structure and repurposing it as a high quality park whose environmental and economic benefits have driven wider regeneration of the city
  • Monmouthshire Green Infrastructure Supplementary Planning Guidance – The SPG is a first for Wales, and provides guidance for developers and planners and helps encourage better quality and consideration in planning applications.

Some challenges we must address as design professionals and decision/policy makers are:

  • Policy is necessary to guide new development. However, too much policy to wade through can be counter-productive. Guidance should be concise with clear aspirations
  • Design professionals are rarely given sufficient time by clients to design and consult – something which is encouraged by DCFW which promotes early consultation and pre-application discussion involving and integrated design team
  • Local authority boundaries are not physically legible within the landscape, so collaborative working and cross-boundary policies should be encouraged

The intention expressed is to explore more ways to strengthen the agenda of landscape design and better place-making in Wales, so watch this space!

The LIW, as the professional body for landscape designers and practitioners, set out its pre-election suggestions for the development of a ‘Landscape Vision for Wales’, a Cabinet position on place-making, and maximisation of the benefits for society from every development through place-making and green infrastructure. These are all initiatives which would be supported by the Design Commission for Wales and could be explored by the Hatch network.

The LI exhibition ‘Rethinking the Urban Landscape’ is at the Senedd, Cardiff Bay from 11th-29th January 2016.

Mark Lawton is a Landscape Architect with HLM and a member of DCFW’s Hatch network for fresh-thinking shapers of the built environment in Wales.


What Makes A Sustainable City?

DCFW Hatch member, James Stroud reflects on ICE Wales’ event which took place in Cardiff on 13th January 2016

Guilt weighed heavily upon me as, running late, I drove my petrol guzzling car hastily across the city, heading to What Makes a Sustainable City’, a lecture by Kirsten Hensen of KLH Sustainability, hosted by ICE Cymru and Sustain Wales.

Parking a few yards away from the venue in the pouring rain, I was reminded how lucky, in some ways, those of us who live in Cardiff, a relatively small city, are when it comes to how easy it is to just jump in your own car to get around. This is something that, given the growth expected in Cardiff over the coming years, is likely to become an unsustainable luxury.

Less than five minutes in to a well attended event, it was clear to me that the main draw was Kirsten, not the sandwiches, as she began a broad and interesting talk about her beliefs in the benefits of ‘Green Spaces’ and in particular their role in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and at the Favelas of Rio.

Hensen, who trained as a Civil Engineer, opened with some interesting facts – reporting that, in an age where sustainability should be at the forefront of all our minds, the construction industry is a key sector that needs change. The industry uses 400 million tonnes of material each year, with a staggering 13% of materials delivered to site going unused. We have known this for many years but the pace of change still seems glacial.

Hensen also endorsed early contractor involvement which, at the Olympic Park, provided, she said, significant savings, such as avoiding the need to export 2.5m tonnes of waste by reusing site-won materials for gabions, and adding value by reducing the need for importation of similar quantities, something with which I whole heartedly agree.

The lecture, however, quickly broadened out; “It’s about more than climate change,” Kirsten exclaimed. She spoke of the notion of ‘place–keeping’ rather than ‘place–making’, specifically in relation to the often socially challenging areas to which her projects had taken her. Speaking again of her role at the Olympic Park, staggeringly, Hensen said that for every tube stop on the Jubilee line between Westminster in central London and Stratford, an adult male loses one year of life expectancy. She stressed the need for community engagement, understanding and respecting the context, recognising that whilst not everyone wants to shop in a Westfield and live in a zero-carbon home, the former offers employment which alongside other measures to retain and enhance the existing culture will lead to social regeneration and ‘place-keeping’. Interestingly, Hensen told us how the residents of the Rio Favelas had been commissioned by the Rio Olympic committee to make 45,000 ‘athletes cushions’ following engagement with the entrepreneurial community. She spoke of the project involving the 40 Knowledge Hubs being created on the outskirts of the Favelas where people from the surrounding, more developed communities, can interact and together fill the skills gap that exists, leading to, hopefully, a better future and greater social integration.

Finally and particularly relevant, Hensen gave examples of the importance of the concept of ‘soft failure’, an interesting idea, citing the recent UK flooding as an example – if we are to admit that flooding is going to happen, she said, then why not embrace the idea of a soft failure, that is, plan our cities, town and villages with anticipation of such floods, meaning that we identify the low impact areas that could be flooded, spaces such as football pitches, parkland etc? This would be far less of a danger than flooding of people’s homes, schools and hospitals or aiming to stem immensely powerful water flow with inadequate barriers.

I didn’t mind being distracted from the sandwiches as Kirsten Hensen provided plenty of food for thought in a thoroughly interesting hour!

James Stroud is a Project Designer at Loyn & Co Architects and an active member of DCFW’s Hatch network for fresh-thinking shapers of the built environment in Wales.


What could designers of the built environment be doing in Wales to tackle flooding?

Lindsey Brown, urban designer at Sustrans and DCFW Hatch member considers flood risk and how our approach to street design can help.

To help us tackle flooding we need to use our urban designers better and change the way in which we view and approach street design.  Streets and roads should not be designed only as channels for movement, but as places in their own right.  Designed well, streets can be multi-functional, not only helping us to manage the flow of water at a local level, but to be attractive, social spaces that encourage interaction and activity.  Properly considered Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS) – rain gardens, permeable paving and other forms of attenuation – can slow water run-off, helping to reduce flood risk, assist traffic calming and create a more attractive street scene for visitors and residents to enjoy.

Sustrans Green Streets Lambeth

Green Streets, Lambeth: Sustrans community-led street design. Image courtesy of Sustrans

So how do we change the approach to street design here in Wales and create streets that can help us tackle flooding? The Active Travel Act (Wales) 2013, introduced in November 2013, is a world-first in terms of legislation, aiming to get more of us walking and cycling for everyday journeys.  Part of the approach is linked to building better infrastructure, including homezones and shared spaces.  Interventions such as these not only create more opportunities for walking and cycling, but also for urban green infrastructure like rain gardens, filter beds and tree planting.  They provide an opportunity to counter the very real problem of hard surface run-off, endemic to most urban areas.  Even better, the principles can be applied in both retrofit and new development scenarios.

Taking a holistic design approach alongside smaller urban interventions can work alongside larger flood prevention schemes.  SUDS can form part of a system that will not only help us to manage water better, but help create a sense of place and improve our wellbeing.

Lindsey Brown has an MA in Urban Design and is Area Manager (Cities) at Sustrans Cymru.  She is actively involved in DCFW’s Hatch network for fresh-thinking shapers of the built environment in Wales.

Comment External Link Press & Comment

Where have all the people gone?

Architects must do more to communicate the power and value of good design to people. And that means using them in photography, writes DCFW’s Amanda Spence in Architect’s Journal

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One-page design review essentials guide

Coming to Design Review soon? Download our easy reference one-page guide to the essentials of our design review service. Find out what to prepare and what to expect on the day.

Comment Press & Comment

Call for Entries: Delight in the Everyday

The Design Commission is pleased to collaborate with Ruthin Craft Centre on an exhibition which recognises quality in the everyday in Wales – the homes, public places, schools, work places, parks, shops and community buildings which we enjoy, and which form the background to everyday life. ‘Delight in the Everyday’ will celebrate the simple pleasures found in the unassuming buildings and places which eschew louder ambition and are entirely appropriate and delightful in their simplicity.

Gold Medal for Architecture Press & Comment

Architecture Scholarship 2014 – Enter now!

This scholarship has been established to promote architecture and design in Wales. The scholarship will be awarded to the most promising candidate to enable him/her to further his/her understanding of creative architecture. The scholarship is open to any person under 25 years at the
time of the Eisteddfod, who was born in Wales, or with one of their parents born in Wales, or who has lived or worked in Wales for the three years prior to 2 August 2014 or who is able to speak or write the Welsh language. The scholarship will be held for one year only and the successful candidate will receive £1,500 to further his/her career. Read More…

Gold Medal for Architecture Press & Comment

Call for Entries – Architecture in Wales

An exhibition of recent architecture is to be held at the National Eisteddfod of Wales,
Carmarthenshire 2014, supported by the Design Commission for Wales.
Exhibition entries are invited from architects, or group of architects, for buildings whose practical date of
completion was between 1 January 2011 and 14 March 2014. Read more >

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New Appointments – Design Review Panel Members

Are you an experienced professional, willing to contribute your skills and enthusiasm to making a difference to design quality for the future of the built environment in Wales? If so, we’d like to hear from you.

Full Description >
About the Design Commission for Wales>
Guide to the Design Review Service >

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Access by Design Article – Championing Good Design

Design commissions and non-departmental public bodies, which exist in each of the four countries making up the UK, were formed to raise standards of architectural design and promote best practice. Here, Professor Keith Bright, Advocate in Practice for the Design Commission for Wales, explains more about the Welsh Advocates programme, while representatives from the Scottish and English design commissions give an update on their work.

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Designing a Role for Women in Architecture by Carole-Anne Davies, Chief Executive of the Design Commission for Wales

On International Women’s Day (8 March 2013), Carole-Anne Davies, chief executive of the Design Commission for Wales, takes a look at obstacles facing women carving out a top-end career in design.

There are three reactions to career-stalling experiences be they under the glass ceiling or at the glass cliff face. 1. get angry and risk being perceived as neurotic 2. suppress the anger and suffer ulcers and insomnia 3. get a mentor.

This was some of the advice for professional women from Baroness Susan Greenfield, speaking yesterday (7 March) at one of Cardiff’s Pierhead Sessions to mark International Women’s Day hosted by the Presiding Officer, Rosemary Butler AM. The latter she says, allows you to channel the frustration into perspective, laughter and perhaps a little wine. According to Baroness Greenfield, we all need someone ‘who believes in you more than you believe in yourself’.

Greenfield was talking about women in science; about career paths, opportunities and experiences for brilliant women in any field. She galloped through neuroscience challenging notions of genetic dispensation in the way only a woman who ranks among a handful of uber-specialists worldwide can. With ease, expertise and eyelash extensions she reminded us of the woeful under representation of women in science, despite the numbers of qualifying women entering the profession.

I recalled reams of similar statistics on women in executive and leadership roles; in boardrooms; in history and, closer to my heart, in design. Wherever you look, the evidence is the same. The surveys and statistics point to equal or greater numbers of women in many fields qualifying at postgraduate or doctoral levels, while their numbers dwindle when it comes to career progression.

American research shows that women earn 57% of bachelors degrees and nearly half of first professional degrees awarded in the US. (Catalyst 2011b) They make up almost half the labour force (47.2% US Bureau Labour Statistics). At management level women occupy 51.5% and represent about 25% of chief executive roles.

But a different story plays out in elite leadership roles such as Fortune 500 companies among which women are at just 3%, holding only 15.7% of the board seats and 14.4% of executive officer positions. (Catalyst, 2011a, 2011c) In the US Congress, women occupy only 90 of the 535 seats, with women of colour at just 24 (Centre for American Women and Politics). At February 2013, the world average of women’s representation on national legislatures or parliaments was 20.4%. The US ranks 77th of 190 countries, the UK 57th (International Parliamentary Union 2011). There’s no room here for Lord Davies’ report for Westminster Women on Boards or its 2012 progress report ( and I daren’t even start on senior female military personnel.

This is the tip of the statistical iceberg and there are clouds full of research and evidence that women remain behind the curve in many careers. In a decade of the Design Commission’s work, with an all-female executive team, we’ve had precious few female designers present to us as the lead on major development schemes. We are fortunate among our team, board and expert panel to have several women who are leaders in the design field such as Lynne Sullivan OBE, and to have worked with several more including the likes of Irena Bauman of Bauman Lyons and Tina Saaby, Copenhagen’s city architect.

Yet it remains telling that despite the admirable work of the RIBA Architects for Change network, the Women in Architecture Awards, numerous campaigns and the work of two trail blazing female presidents of the Institute, not to mention last year’s RSAW mentoring initiative with the Welsh School of Architecture, women still leave architecture and design for many of the same reasons they leave science, the visual arts, politics and business – low or unequal pay, inflexible family unfriendly working hours, contractual insecurity, absence of returner programmes, greater job satisfaction elsewhere and work life balance.

Baroness Greenfield acknowledged work being done by private and public sectors in addressing opportunities for women and pointed to many success stories, yet still we play catch up. Chastening us all not to pull up the ladder for others, Greenfield also set out some very simple ways we can help redress the balance. Career structures can be more flexible, returner schemes, child and family friendly policies can be better designed. Teachers can be inspirational, the arts and humanities can be better integrated with science for greater intellectual richness and stimulus in curricula. All of these apply to steps that could be taken in design education and the professions.

Greenfield studied Greek philosophy and history before science, being more taken with explorations of why we go to war, fall in love, traverse continents or shape our individual and cultural identities, than by the reproductive cycle of the amoeba. She argues powerfully for such rich curricula integration in schools and the need to relate teaching science, maths, or design, to life experience, making them relevant to young students and demonstrating career potential.

Young designers, like young scientists, are easily deterred by the boring and irrelevant, by the sixth form design and technology project that mirrors all others in most schools, rather than those which test boundaries and stimulate creativity. If students encounter barriers to the relevance and possibilities of careers in design they are lost to the professions. The double whammy of failing to attract young talent with losing more mature talent to family breaks without returner opportunities, is the death knell for any profession. Young women must see themselves reflected to believe they too can become successful designers, scientists, politicians and professionals.

These pleas are not intended as detrimental to males or to overshadow wider matters of diversity. Greenfield is clear that despite widespread bias, gender is often trumped by the individual; by the astonishing capability, tenacity and ingenuity of the individual. And yet as she acknowledges such strengths in herself as a woman of mesmerising achievements, she comes back to perhaps the greatest barrier, that of confidence. She comes back to her lifelong mentors, Jane Mellanby and John Stein. These are the people who stem her anger, head off her insomnia and who believe in her more than she believes in herself. Perhaps more young designers would thrive with such anchors to call upon, and who might extend a ladder or two.

Carole-Anne Davies is Chief Executive of Design Commission for Wales, a Trustee of Amgueddfa Cymru and a mentor, most recently, with the Sport Wales Women in Leadership Programme.

Press & Comment Press Releases

Unique Challenges for School Design

By Wendy Richards, Development Director Design Commission for Wales

Educational performance, results and the way our young people behave seems to be a constant dialogue in the press as we seek the best for children and young people.

The strategic schools building programme emerging in Wales over the coming years will no doubt continue to make the news as necessarily difficult decisions are made about falling rolls, the state of the schools estate and the amalgamation of community facilities in local authorities across the country.

While money is tight there will be a move to prioritise and perhaps focus more on refurbishment and extension rather than expansive new build programmes.

At the Design Commission for Wales, we welcome investment in good quality buildings that support the education experience for pupils and which strengthen connections with surrounding communities and opportunities for extended use.

We aim to encourage a built environment which is inspirational and which is delivered in an open and inclusive manner, stimulating fresh thinking. The design process should be a catalyst for motivating the aspirations of the client and ultimately, those who will occupy and use the finished building.

In every success story, where well designed schools have assisted better performance and strengthened community links, a key characteristic is strong leadership and clarity of vision – from the top of the government through the local authority and the design team leadership is a key element in delivering a sound project, in a realistic timescale within a properly managed budget.

Over the last ten years or so there has been more than a step change in the technological communication tools that we use and the way which we socialise and communicate with each other.

The development of these tools is moving fast and in terms of our teaching environments, long corridors and rectilinear classrooms reflect an earlier age – how appropriate are they now with a focus on individual learning?

In 1969 and 1997 respectively, ‘The Observer’ (1969) and ‘The Guardian’ (1997) ran a national competition ‘The Schools That I’d Like’ inviting secondary school pupils to generate ideas for their schools. Children’s responses highlighted a desire for schools that moved away from ‘squareness’ (1969) and that were beautiful, comfortable and safe (1997).

Recent research *1 reveals that secondary students reflect on their school environment from a holistic point of view, rather than a ‘classroom-centric’ perspective. They are more aware of well designed social and circulation spaces, good quality toilet and dining facilities and an environment that makes them feel safe and secure.

Children clearly have views about the quality of their environment. While adults would like to tie those to educational attainment, the relationship between the quality and design of school buildings and children’s learning continues to be a complex one.

Delivering Special Educational Needs (SEN), with a focus on individual learning and coping with challenging behaviour, teaching communication skills and improving social relationships presents a design team with a more complex set of challenges.

New schools are not simply about delivering a standard product on time on budget. In Wales, do we really want schools that are just good enough or do we want those that are as good as they can be? The schools estate in Wales must be inspirational and must deliver well designed buildings and public spaces, responding to our distinct curriculum, serving the needs of the school and the local community. These schools need to be memorable and distinctive, well used and cherished by the people who use them and the communities in which they sit.

*1 (Edgerton, McKechnie & McEwen 2011)

The Design Commission for Wales hosted an invite-only seminar on 27 February to an audience of 40 guests including local authority professionals who are delivering the 21st Century Schools Programme. Key note speakers were representatives from Hampshire County Council and Haverstock Associates Architects who shared their experiences of delivering SEN schools.

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Statement from Cindy Harris, Head of Design Review, Design Commission for Wales, on the Cardiff International Sports Village Waterfront Scheme

Cindy Harris said: “The Commission welcomes all developments of good quality that can help drive economic growth, and we recognise the potential for a development on this site. However, while we welcome the ambition of the project, there are several fundamental issues with the current proposals which we feel must be addressed. These are set out in our full Design Review report which is publicly available and can be found on our website (

“The review was attended by two members of the architectural team and the relevant Local Planning Authority officer and the observations made during the review meeting and subsequent report are intended to assist the developers and architects behind the scheme to maximise its full potential and have a positive impact on the economy and public realm.

“We recognise the constraints that architects must work within, and we highlight issues outside of the scheme’s architecture, which are significant issues in their own right, such as the scheme’s energy and sustainability strategy, access and transport, the varying levels proposed and its relationship with the neighbouring Cardiff International Pool.

“If the developers wish to press ahead with their application without addressing these, then in our view the success of the scheme – its commercial viability, quality and value – is compromised.

“We would obviously welcome any further consultation on the project should the developers wish to make revisions to the proposals, otherwise we will follow with interest how Cardiff Council’s planning committee take the scheme forward.”

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Architectural Practice Behind Bridgend School Goes for Gold

The architectural practice that designed the Archbishop McGrath Catholic High School near Bridgend will be awarded the Gold Medal for Architecture, supported by the Design Commission for Wales, at the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

Cardiff-based HLM Architects will receive the medal at the National Eisteddfod 2012 in the Vale of Glamorgan on 4 August. The selectors praised the scheme for being “a clear statement of how good design can help build a fantastic school community.”

The Design Commission for Wales, supports the Gold Medal for Architecture in partnership with Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru, along with the Plaque of Merit and the Architecture Scholarship, which are awarded in association with the Royal Society of Architects in Wales.

The Commission, which champions good architecture, urban and landscape design, backs the Medal because it is unique to Wales and draws attention to the importance of architecture in the nation’s culture, honouring architects achieving the highest design standards.

The Gold Medal is awarded to architects responsible for buildings completed between 2009 and 2012 and recommended to the Eisteddfod as being of greatest merit.

HLM Architects beat off competition from almost 30 entries from 22 practices across the UK to be awarded the coveted title.

One of the judges, architect Rhian Thomas, Design Associate at the Design Research Unit of the Welsh School of Architecture, said of the scheme: “From the moment you are drawn into the grand entrance of the school, it is clear that social interaction and human integration have been carefully crafted to create a sense of togetherness in the school.

“The architecture offers opportunities for the students to express themselves, to be mindful of others and to learn in new and interesting ways.

“Quieter spaces are nestled around the central stairway, utilising space in a clever yet simplistic way. The remaining teaching areas break the mould of the archetypical corridor, creating learning clusters. Each classroom faces a shared zone, which allows children from different classes to learn and interact simultaneously.

“Finally, there are areas of contemplation allowing the students to slow down and reflect, something that’s far too often neglected in today’s continually fast moving society.”

In addition to the Gold Medal for Architecture, the Plaque of Merit will be awarded to Chepstow architects, Hall + Bednarczyk, for a home they designed in the Monmouthshire countryside.  The Plaque of Merit is awarded to smaller projects achieving high design quality.

Fellow judge, Dan Benham of Loyn & Co and vice-president of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales, said: “Hall + Bednarczyk  have created a home that stands proud as a statement of contemporary design, amongst a series of plain, pastiche dwellings that ignore the beautiful landscape in which they are set.

“This private residence has an exceptional vantage point offering 270 degree panoramic views over the Wye Valley and the Severn Estuary.

“The layout is simple and rational, while the gently curved stone walls wrap around the building echoing the surrounding agricultural landscape. The project is a marvellous example of home design, creating a spatial volume that is so often lost in the design of private houses.”

As part of the Eisteddfod celebrations, an Architecture Scholarship of £1,500 is being awarded to promising younger designers to enable them to further their understanding of creative architecture. Supported by the Design Commission for Wales, this year’s scholarship is being awarded jointly to Katherine Jones, 22 of Penarth, and Owain Williams, 23 of Treharris.

The selectors for the scholarship included artists Christine Bird-Jones and Dan Benham.  Dan Benham said: “Katherine’s understanding of the site from sky to underground was fascinating. She demonstrated a deep and incisive understanding of those who will engage with the building. Meanwhile, Owain’s expression of architecture ideas was incredible, with the beauty and clarity in every image presented a true testament to his architectural skill.”

Alan Francis, chair of the Design Commission for Wales, said: “The Gold Medal for Architecture is the only architecture award supported by the Commission, recognising as it does the importance of architecture in our culture and heritage, as well as to our future and linking it intrinsically to Wales’ most important cultural festival – the National Eisteddfod.

“The standard and number of entries this year was extremely high and HLM Architects were worthy winners for creating a centre of learning, which has people at the heart of its design. Special mention should also go to Hall + Bednarczyk for creating something of true design merit amidst planning complications and the necessary ecological restrictions, to which they responded admirably.

“We are naturally delighted to be nurturing future talent with the scholarship, open to architects aged 25 and under, which was jointly awarded to Katherine Jones and Owain Williams. It’s extremely refreshing to see that the next generation of architects are concerned with the role architecture plays in the lives of users and this is something we want to continue to encourage.”

The Design Commission for Wales, supporters of the Eisteddfod Gold Medal, Plaque of Merit and Architecture Scholarship, will host a reception on 6 August in partnership with the Royal Society of Architects in Wales, to recognise the quality of design in Wales and to celebrate the winners of the 2012 Gold Medal, Plaque of Merit and Scholarship.  This will be attended by John Griffiths AM, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development.

The reception will take place in a specially commissioned Pavilion, the result of a Royal Society of Architecture Wales (RSAW) and Design Circle design competition, situated on Y Maes at the Eisteddfod in close proximity to Y Lle Celf.  The National Eisteddfod Architecture Pavilion was designed by Cardiff-based practice, CoombsJones: Architects + Makers.

This year, for the first time the Design Commission, has invited Rhian Thomas to curate a small exhibition of work celebrating this year’s entries and winners, which will be housed in Y Lle Celf on Y Maes.

In supporting an exhibition drawn together by a guest curator the Commission aims to increase the profile of architecture at the Eisteddfod and help to communicate its richness and quality to the wider public.

Press & Comment Press Releases

Architecture Pavilion at National Eisteddfod to Celebrate Good Quality Design

The first ever Architecture Pavilion at the National Eisteddfod will be unveiled at this year’s event (from 4 – 11 August), in LLandow, Vale of Glamorgan.

The Pavilion was designed by Cardiff-based practice, Coombs Jones: Architects + Makers, following a design competition run by Royal Society of Architects in Wales (RSAW) and Design Circle.

The winning design, called ‘A Welsh Landscape’, drew its inspiration from key elements of the Welsh landscape, which were then developed in architectural form. It was built by Eco-Build Wales, who were supported by a range of local construction firms, individual supporters and other partners.

The Pavilion will be showcased at the National Eisteddfod in close proximity to Y Lle Celf, the visual arts centre on Y Maes this year. During the Eisteddfod it is hoped that thousands of visitors will visit the pavilion to enjoy the design and speak with architects about their work. The RSAW then plan to tour the project throughout Wales to help raise wider engagement with good quality design.

Steve Coombs, partner of CoombsJones Architects + Makers, said: “The pavilion aims to create an abstraction of a Welsh landscape and evoke the feelings of being in the wild areas of the Welsh countryside.

“Going beyond the boundaries of a simple pavilion, the proposal creates a wider territory for the visitor to experience. The experience of this landscape will be unlike anything elsewhere in the Eisteddfod Festival.

“This temporary and transitory festival, alternating between north and south Wales, brings together the essence of Welsh culture in an environment that says little about the Welsh landscape or the experience of living in the country. Instead, our pavilion is composed as a series of moments representing aspects of the Welsh landscape: hill, valley, forest, cave, and the man-made intervention within this environment.”

RSAW president, Andrew Sutton, said: “We spend the majority of our lives surrounded by the designed environment and it influences us like the weather. Our first architecture pavilion at this year’s Eisteddfod is both a reminder and an inspiration that good architecture can improve our world and enhance our lives.

“The judges were delighted with the design approach of Coombs Jones: Architects + Makers, considering it a gem which carries through the poetry of the design to the construction detail. Its timber construction surrounded by a grid of trees, is a beautiful interpretation of countryside around us. It will truly become part of the Welsh landscape.”

Robyn Tomos, National Eisteddfod for Wales, said: “The Architecture Pavilion will serve to further the festival’s aim of drawing the public’s attention to the importance of architecture in our nation’s culture.

“We are delighted all partners have come together to help extend greater public awareness about good quality design.”

The Design Commission for Wales, supporters of the Gold Medal, Plaque of Merit and Architecture Scholarship, will host a reception on 6 August in partnership with the Royal Society of Architects in Wales, to recognise the quality of design in Wales and to celebrate the winners of the 2012 Gold Medal, Plaque of Merit and Scholarship.  This will be attended by John Griffiths AM, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development.

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Chepstow Architects Behind Monmouthshire Home are Honoured at Eisteddfod

A Chepstow-based architectural practice, which was responsible for designing a private dwelling in Monmouthshire, will be awarded the Plaque of Merit, supported by the Design Commission for Wales, at the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

Hall + Bednarczyk will be given the award in a special ceremony on 4 August in recognition of design excellence and achievement.

The Design Commission for Wales supports the Plaque of Merit along with the coveted Gold Medal for Architecture and the Architecture Scholarship, which are awarded in association with the Royal Society of Architects in Wales.

The Commission, which champions good architecture, urban and landscape design, backs the Gold Medal for Architecture and the Plaque of Merit because they are unique to Wales and draw attention to the importance of architecture in the nation’s culture, honouring architects achieving the highest design standards.

The Plaque of Merit is awarded to new or refurbishment projects achieving high design quality in Wales, which were completed between 2009 and 2012 and which did not exceed £750,000.

Selector, Dan Benham of Loyn & Co and vice-president of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales, said: “Hall + Bednarczyk  have created a home that stands proud as a statement of contemporary design, amongst a series of plain, pastiche dwellings that ignore the beautiful landscape in which they are set.

“This private residence has an exceptional vantage point, offering 270 degree panoramic views over the Wye Valley and the Severn Estuary.

“The layout is simple and rational, while the gently curved stone walls wrap around the building echoing the surrounding agricultural landscape. The project is a marvellous example of home design, creating a spatial volume that is so often lost in the design of private houses.”

Meanwhile, Cardiff-based HLM Architects will be awarded the Gold Medal for Architecture for its design of Archbishop McGrath Catholic High School near Bridgend, which judges praised as being “a clear statement of how good design can help build a fantastic school community.”

The Gold Medal for Architecture draws attention to the importance of architecture in the nation’s culture and honours architects achieving the highest design standards. It is awarded to architects responsible for buildings completed between 2009 and 2012 and recommended to the Eisteddfod as being of greatest merit.

HLM Architects beat off competition from almost 30 entries from 22 practices across the UK to be awarded the coveted title.

Fellow selector, architect Rhian Thomas, Design Associate at the Design Research Unit of the Welsh School of Architecture, said of the scheme: “From the moment you are drawn into the grand entrance of the school, it is clear that social interaction and human integration has been carefully crafted to create a sense of togetherness in the school.

“The architecture offers opportunities for the students to express themselves, to be mindful of others and to learn in new and interesting ways.

“Quieter spaces are nestled around the central stairway, utilising space in a clever yet simplistic way. The remaining teaching areas break the mould of the archetypical corridor, creating learning clusters. Each classroom faces a shared zone, which allows children from different classes to learn and interact simultaneously.

“Finally, there are areas of contemplation allowing the students to slow down and reflect, something that’s far too often neglected in today’s continually fast moving society.”

As part of the Eisteddfod celebrations, an Architecture Scholarship of £1,500 is being awarded to promising younger designers to enable them to further their understanding of creative architecture. Supported by the Design Commission for Wales, this year’s scholarship is being awarded jointly to Katherine Jones, 22 of Penarth, and Owain Williams, 23 of Treharris.

The selectors for the scholarship included artist Christine Bird-Jones along with Dan Benham.  Dan Benham said: “Katherine’s understanding of the site from sky to underground was fascinating. She demonstrated a deep and incisive understanding of those who will engage with the building. Meanwhile, Owain’s expression of architecture ideas was incredible, with the beauty and clarity in every image presented a true testament to his architectural skill.”

Alan Francis, chair of the Design Commission for Wales, said: “The Gold Medal for Architecture is the only architecture award supported by the Commission, recognising as it does the importance of architecture in our culture and heritage, as well as to our future and linking it intrinsically to Wales’ most important cultural festival – the National Eisteddfod.

“The standard and number of entries this year was extremely high and HLM Architects were worthy winners for creating a centre of learning, which has people at the heart of its design. Special mention should also go to Hall + Bednarczyk for creating something of true design merit amidst planning complications and the necessary ecological restrictions, to which they responded admirably.

“We are naturally delighted to be nurturing future talent with the scholarship, open to architects aged 25 and under, which was jointly awarded to Katherine Jones and Owain Williams. It’s extremely refreshing to see that the next generation of architects are concerned with the role architecture plays in the lives of users and this is something we want to continue to encourage.”

The Design Commission for Wales, supporters of the Gold Medal, Plaque of Merit and Architecture Scholarship, will host a reception on 6 August in partnership with the Royal Society of Architects in Wales, to recognise the quality of design in Wales and to celebrate the winners of the 2012 Gold Medal, Plaque of Merit and Scholarship.  This will be attended by John Griffiths AM, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development.

The reception will take place in a specially commissioned Pavilion, the result of a Royal Society of Architecture Wales (RSAW) and Design Circle design competition, situated on Y Maes at the Eisteddfod in close proximity to Y Lle Celf.  The National Eisteddfod Architecture Pavilion was designed by Cardiff-based practice, CoombsJones: Architects + Makers.

This year, for the first time the Design Commission, has invited Rhian Thomas to curate a small exhibition of work celebrating this year’s entries and winners, which will be housed in Y Lle Celf on Y Maes.

In supporting an exhibition drawn together by a guest curator, the Commission aims to increase the profile of architecture at the Eisteddfod and help to communicate its richness and quality to the wider public.

Press & Comment Press Releases

Quote from Carole-Anne Davies, Chief Executive of the Design Commission for Wales, on Pantglas Hall

Carole-Anne Davies said: “We recognise the potential for a good quality development in the area, and we’d welcome a scheme that responds to national and local policy and which realises the full regeneration and tourism promise of the site to enhance the local economy.

“This scheme came to us back in February and as far as we are aware it is moving through the due process with the local planning authority, who we also understand are in correspondence with the developer about how they will meet Carmarthenshire’s requirements, both in relation to existing consents and the new aspects of the project being developed.

“When the scheme was presented to us, the proposals for a new hotel and dwellings near Pantglas Hall did not respond to the potential of the site and existing landscape and did not demonstrate a serious approach to sustainable practice, other than the minimum statutory requirements.

“Planning policy in Wales requires that developments should respond positively to their context, in this case an outstanding rolling parkland landscape, providing huge natural capital and local distinctiveness.

“Given the landscape setting, there is an opportunity here to realise its benefits, so it is vital that the development preserves and enhances the setting of the listed tower, through genuinely distinctive and innovative design.

“We made several comments in our report that should assist the developers to maximise the full potential to help regenerate the area and have a positive impact on the economy and public realm.

“The Commission would welcome further consultation on the project regarding any revisions that may be made to the existing proposals and have offered further consultation to both developer and the Local Planning Authority.”

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British Council Announces Call for Welsh Participation in Ambitious Venice 2012 Project

Venice Takeaway: Ideas to Change British Architecture

The British Council today announced that the British Pavilion at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale will be the culmination of an ambitious global research project designed to make an original and far-reaching contribution to the debate about architecture in the UK.

The project will be officially launched at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on Wednesday 18 January in partnership with the Design Commission for Wales.

The Pavilion will provide an injection of new ideas based on the collective research of architects, students, writers, critics and academics. The research will focus on what – and who – makes great architecture; considering issues such as construction, housing, planning, culture, education, procurement, architectural competitions and the role of the client.

On 10 January 2012 an open call for participation and proposals will be launched; and a series of discussions about the brief will be held across the UK aimed at involving a wide- range of contributors. In March the best proposals will be selected and around ten individuals or teams will travel to unearth case studies in locations around the world.

Each ‘Explorer’ will conduct interviews and uncover how, and why something works. Explorers will be tasked with bringing back material including film, photography, writing and drawing. The exhibition will tell their stories and make a series of proposals for changing British architecture.

Venice Takeaway will build on the UK’s history of looking to the rest of the world for inspiration and ideas. Trade voyages shaped the modern world; not only filling museums, botanical gardens and markets but also changing the way we think and introducing ideas that have become part of our culture. Today the flow of ideas is made possible by the travels of architects and by overseas students who come to the UK to study, and often stay to establish their own design studios or to work for British practices.

By discovering the best ideas from around the world it is hoped that the British Pavilion will make an original contribution to the debate about architecture in the UK and influence the future direction of policy and practice at a moment of flux.

Venice Takeaway is curated by Vicky Richardson, Director of Architecture, Design, Fashion at the British Council and Vanessa Norwood, Head of Exhibitions at the Architectural Association.

Vicky Richardson says: ‘We have many good designers in the UK, but the systems and structures surrounding architecture need change. Everyone who has travelled will recognise the feeling of envy when you see a good idea. The British Pavilion aims to gather the best of these and bring them back to the UK.’


Carole-Anne Davies, Chief Executive of the Design Commission for Wales who will chair the launch, says: “This is an extremely exciting project to be a part of as it marks an opportunity to gather best practice and fresh, creative ideas from around the world and share them in ways that have the potential to positively influence the way we think about architecture in this country. We urge anyone who wishes to play a key role in the future of architecture in Wales, and the UK as a whole, to put forward their research proposals and we look forward to sharing more details of the project at the January launch event for Wales.”

For enquiries from UK national & international media, contact: Alex Bratt
+44 (0) 207 389 4872

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Top Marks for Educational Resource Developed by the Design Commission

A class of 24 pupils in California, USA are making the most of an educational resource developed more than 5,000 miles away – in Wales!

The My Square Mile project was developed as a classroom tool for primary schools in Wales by the Design Commission for Wales, as a way to help children to explore their local area, taking a design-led look at their buildings, places and spaces.

However, such is its appeal that it has been adopted by a school in California, who have embraced the My Square Mile project and are now rolling it out with their pupils.

Primary school teacher, Mary Jimenez, (48), who teaches at Paloma Elementary School in Temecula, California, discovered the My Square Project when it was shown to her by her friend, artist Reshma Solbach.

She immediately emailed the Design Commission for Wales asking to be allowed to use the material. They sent her several copies of the book and CD resource and they’ve kept in touch, sharing updates on the project as Mary uses it with her school pupils, and writes about their progress on her blog.

Mary Jimenez said: “When I saw the My Square Mile project I just fell in love with the concept and simply knew I had to use it with my Second and Third Grade pupils, who are all aged 7-9 years old. I planned how I was going to approach it throughout the summer holidays and got going as soon as term started.

“I wrote to the Design Commission for Wales asking them to send me the toolkit and CD, and they kindly provided several copies. It was amazing showing this to my pupils and seeing them “oooh” and “aaah” over the Welsh buildings shown on the disc. They simply loved being transported to a beautiful place far away.

“The next step for us is to do a walking field trip around the perimeter of Paloma’s neighbourhood, stopping along the way to sketch as we go. I’m really excited by it – the tool kit has really helped to rejuvenate my year!”

My Square Mile was first piloted with 33 primary schools in Swansea in 2005. Since then, it has been rolled out to all areas of Wales, involving designer and artist placements in schools along with visits from local architects. It encourages pupils to explore the immediate area or ‘square mile’ around their schools, taking a look at the buildings, spaces, landscapes that make them up and exploring their responses to them within a design framework.

Carole-Anne Davies, chief executive of the Design Commission for Wales, said: “The local environment is a valuable education resource and, what’s more, it’s free, constantly available and easily accessible! It offers infinite possibilities for study covering numerous subjects across the curriculum including art, design and technology, ICT, geography, history, number and language.

“The My Square Mile project was developed to help young pupils to connect with their local environment, helping them to understand how it is shaped and managed, and assisting them to develop a sense of place. We know that the My Square Mile learning experience also helps children with the development of critical skills, confidence in presenting and talking about their work and it really helps them grasp complex ideas around what shapes our local environment.

“It has been hugely popular in Wales and we’ve had to produce more than we ever planned to make available. I am absolutely delighted that it has not only crossed borders but continents, and that it’s been so warmly embraced by our friends in the States is just great.

“The images of Welsh houses, streets and townscapes will be very different from those in Temecula, but the principles behind the project are the same. Moreover, it’s great to hear about the reaction of the Californian pupils on being shown an environment that contrasts with their own.”

The Design Commission for Wales is an independent body that champions high standards of design and architecture in the public and private sector in Wales. For more information, or to download a copy of My Square Mile, please visit the education page of

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Landmark Gallery of “National Importance to Wales” Strikes Gold

A contemporary art gallery in Llandudno has won the Gold Medal for Architecture, sponsored by the Design Commission for Wales, at the Wrexham & District 2011 National Eisteddfod of Wales.

In awarding the accolade on Saturday 30 July, the judges described the Mostyn Gallery as “a civic landmark of national importance to Wales”.

Ellis Williams Architects of Warrington were employed to add two new galleries to the existing ones in the Grade II listed building. Following the brief that the new additions should have “simplicity, subtlety and sophistication plus one or two surprises,” the judges found these qualities in abundance in the redesigned gallery

Mhairi McVicar, judge and lecturer at the Welsh School of Architecture, said: “We were impressed by the way natural light had been brought into the building and the gallery spaces link together seamlessly, not only providing the ideal environment for exhibits, but clearly a highly enjoyable and uplifting space for visitors.

“The Mostyn Gallery was selected as worthy of the Gold Medal for Architecture both for its highly ambitious and beautifully executed architectural response, but also for the subtlety demonstrated in working with a listed building, and the generosity of the urban response in highlighting the gallery as a civic landmark of national importance to Wales.”

The Gold Medal for Architecture, sponsored by the Design Commission for Wales, is given in conjunction with the Royal Society of Architects in Wales. It is the only award supported by the Design Commission for Wales, which attaches great importance to its aim of drawing attention to architecture as a vital element in the nation’s culture and to honour architects achieving the highest design standards.

The architecture judges also Highly Commended the new WISE building at the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth, which was also shortlisted for the Gold Medal for Architecture.

Fellow judge Simon Venables, who is also Director of Ainsley Gommon Architects and Vice President of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales, said: “The WISE building, designed by Pat Borer and David Lea, represents decades of dedicated development in sustainable practice, and we felt that this project should be recognised for its extraordinarily high quality. The careful choice of materials and constructive methods with low embodied energy has created an exemplary building.”

The judges awarded the National Eisteddfod of Wales’ Plaque of Merit for Architecture to the Environmental Resource Centre at Ebbw Vale, by Design Research Unit Wales.

Simon Venables added: “Here, on a very modest budget, facilities are provided for local school children and the community to explore the heritage and ecology of the former steelworks at Ebbw Vale. As well as promoting a systematic means of making use of regional materials, the design re-uses remnants of the steelworks, adapting the original concrete bases of the cooling ponds to support an abundant array of wildlife, demonstrating an ethos of cultural as well as environmental sustainability.”

The awarding of the Gold Medal for Architecture comes hot on the heels of a report, published by the Design Commission for Wales, which indicates that the quality of design for the built environment in Wales is steadily improving.

Alan Francis, chair of the Design Commission for Wales, said: “The Commission supports the award because it believes that architecture is an art form vital to our culture and our cultural heritage and that good architectural design strengthens Wales’ distinctiveness and the quality of its places. The Gold Medal for Architecture is the only award that recognises this and it is intrinsically linked to Wales’ most important cultural festival – The National Eisteddfod of Wales.

“We are delighted to see the Ellis Williams Architects’ scheme for Oriel Mostyn, Llandudno being awarded Gold. Without doubt, the dramatic intervention at Mostyn is a deserving winner of an award that recognises outstanding projects.

“We are also delighted with the number of entries this year and the standard across all types of scheme – domestic, cultural, education, or civic. The context for good design in Wales is stronger and the cultural relevance of architecture as a means of shaping Wales’ profile is strengthened by the Eisteddfod Gold Medal for Architecture.

“The diversity of design was also encouraging, and the quality and innovation demonstrated at the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education at CAT in Machynlleth, or the Environmental Resource Centre at Ebbw Vale, is as engaging as Mostyn is dramatic or Ty Hedfan is delightful.

“All the shortlisted schemes deserve recognition, and we are very pleased with the upward trend in both entries and standards for this award. It certainly seems to be in line with our recent findings, which indicate that the quality of design of the built environment in Wales is gradually improving.”

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Designed for Business? The Challenges Facing Wales’s High Streets

This week, it was announced that Mary Portas, Queen of Shops, has been appointed by the UK government to tackle the decline in our high streets. Carole-Anne Davies, CEO of the Design Commission for Wales (DCfW), takes a look at the role that design can play in helping to revitalise our failing towns centres.

“It was with more than a little casual interest that I followed the story about Mary Portas’s appointment by Downing Street to tackle our ailing high streets this week.

“The continuing challenges faced by our town centres is something that we’ve given a lot of attention to at the Design Commission for Wales. Last year, at conferences hosted both by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Cymru and the Institute of Welsh Affair, I spoke about the threats to our town centres and the role good architecture and urban design plays in helping to deliver and support ‘places for life’.

“And in the same month that the Financial Times reported on the ‘changing face of British high streets’ and the ‘doughnut effect’ caused by edge of town retail encircling traditional centres, DCfW decided to devise a series of events focusing on the value of design in helping to secure the future of our towns. The result of this is Ruthin Futures, a week-long event that starts on 23 May celebrating people, place and potential.

“As part of Ruthin Futures, DCfW will host the Designed for Business seminar, which grew from our analysis of the challenges and opportunities ahead for the towns and villages of Wales.

“Throughout this period, as I thought about the challenges facing our high streets, one image stuck in my mind as if played on continuous loop on a miniature cinema screen and that was the opening footage of the TV series, Mary Queen of Shops.

“Armed with edgy leather jacket, mega-jewellery, a sharp haircut and a profound understanding of design for the retail environment, Mary Portas set out to save our shops.

“Watching Portas rage against decline and despair at boarded-up frontage while she simultaneously transforms the fortunes of independent traders is enough to get the whole country on its feet. Or is it?

“Portas’s Twitter following is 73,571 with 14,586 backing the retail queen on Facebook. Via her website, the high street heroine is inviting comment from all comers and the column inches stretch for miles.

“I’m a big fan of Mary Portas. She has an undeniable track record and it’s great that she’s been engaged to take on the high street challenge. More power to her elbow. However, she’s going to need more than c88,000 people (not even half the population of Cardiff) tweeting, to make a difference. It’s vital that her review is informed by what’s already happening, what good practice is working and can be shared, and what action governments will back, pending the outcome of the review.

“Big box retail and internet purchasing have undoubtedly influenced the shift in retail and consumer behaviour. It’s been detrimental to the distinctiveness of our towns and villages, to traffic impact, and to efficient resource and energy consumption.

“While some figures in the FT report have since been questioned it did include an important quote from Liz Peace, of the British Property Federation who noted that “Given the structural nature of these changes there is no point harking back to the old high streets we all claimed to love. We need to be creative in looking for new roles and uses for these empty shops.” This highlights a need for more than nostalgia. The stable door is off its hinges and the horses long gone. We all need to own up to our piece of the problem and actively contribute to solutions.

“So what initiatives are out there and what’s it got to do with design? In Wales, some of the most challenging areas are among the smallest rural spots and market towns. When cities must constantly and aggressively pursue retail spend, imagine what it’s like for Pontypool, Rhyl, Porthcawl or Ruthin. Nevertheless some are already doing it themselves.

“Ruthin has built on town and county local authority relationships and an active grass-roots community. Retailers, the arts and faith communities, schools, hoteliers and the wider public have achieved much – from the re-design to RIBA award-winning standard of the Ruthin Craft Centre, to a reputation for local food, good markets and great hotels.

“In 2010, The Guardian reported that Ruthin was a “Gem of a town – an identity all of its own – with no Starbucks or McDonalds and nine places to have tea or coffee, the most prestigious being Annie’s which has 15 varieties of scone!” The Bro Rhuthun partnership has worked with local businesses to build a website, produce some very swish jute bags, and launch a town loyalty card in partnership with local retailers. All well ahead of Mary.

“We are at last seeing some key differentiators being used as unique selling points. The Welsh language, local produce and a distinctive brand, whether it’s Michael Sheen or Melin Tregwynt, is being more effectively exploited. Portas calls this ‘the point of difference’, aka the differentiation strategies familiar to big business which secure market resilience when price wars burn out. And good design is a key differentiator.

“Successive reports over the last decade have demonstrated the economic value of good design, not least the 2007 report commissioned by Places Matter! The North West Regional Design Review Panel – part of England’s North West Regional Development Agency.

“These demonstrated that good architecture and urban design had real economic impact, showing that good design could add up to 20% in rental and capital value and speed up lettings and sales. In 2009, the follow-up tested the findings in the context of economic downturn and the research held fast.

“In addition it revealed, as DCfW has consistently argued, that good design significantly mitigates the costly effects of poorly designed environments which are detrimental to social, environmental and economic success. Good design draws multiple benefits, achieving better rents and market attractiveness due to enhanced profile and image. Design bolsters civic pride and supports access to goods, services and amenities; it stimulates local supply, delivers energy and carbon efficiency, reduces pollution and strengthens ecological benefits. Design forms part of a skilled employment sector and sets career paths for talented creative people, capable of delivering innovation.

“So Mary, go for gold, but please remember we need a whole package. While flexible business rates, pop-ups and meanwhile uses are important in the mix, retailers and businesses working together, grass-roots effort and great design are all needed if we really are going to ‘bring back the bustle’.

Carole-Anne Davies is Chief executive of the Design Commission for Wales, which champions high standards of design and architecture in Wales.

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Getting Better by Design – by Cutting Stress, Pain and Time

Aggression in A&E is a growing problem, costing the NHS millions, but experts believe, design has a key role to play in reducing its impact. Here Kieren Morgan, Design Review Panellist for the Design Commission for Wales shares over 20 years’ experience in healthcare projects, explaining how good design influences behaviour and where it’s been used successfully.

“Recent reports show that violence and aggression towards NHS staff is costing at least £69million a year in absenteeism, reduced productivity and increased security and the NHS in England is turning to designers for help. However, while this collaboration may be new, the theory behind its benefits is not.

“Leading researchers in what is known as evidence-based design include Dr Roger Ulrich, whose studies date back to the early 1990s. Ulrich linked poor design to certain negative effects on patients such as increased feelings of anxiety, slow recovery rates, greater need for pain relieving drugs and, in certain situations, longer stays in hospital. Between 1999 and 2002, Dr Rosalia Lelchuk Staricoff and her team at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital carried out ‘A Study of the Effects of Visual and Performing Arts in Health Care’, attempting to scientifically evaluate its impact on the psychological, physiological and biological outcomes of treatment.

“Results showed that the integration of visual and performing arts significantly altered clinical outcomes, reduced the amount of drug consumption, shortened the length of stay in hospital, improved patient management and enhanced the quality of service which contributed towards increased job satisfaction. In Trauma and Orthopaedic wards, patients exposed to visual art and

live music during their post-operative period required less analgesia per day than patients who were not, and their admission period was cut by a full day.

“Elsewhere research has found that in mental healthcare, the use of harsh colours or abstract art increases anxiety levels which can result in negative or violent behaviour. The balance of the type of visual art used is therefore crucial – but it’s not just art that impacts on behaviour. Patients suffering from burns have been found to feel more comfortable when the colours of the treatment rooms are neutral or cool in tone, such as light blue. This is also linked to reduced need for analgesia.

“Views and sounds of nature have also been linked to calming patients, again reducing drug dependency and speeding recovery times. This means shorter stays in hospital and the knock- on effect is that it puts less strain on the health service. This is a technique known as positive distraction, with pleasant art, relaxing music or sounds, good daylight and views into landscaped areas helping deflect patients’ thoughts away from anxiety and aggression.

“In the USA, and increasingly the UK, patients receiving aggressive treatment such as radiotherapy can programme their own treatment environment. Smart technology can allow them to control the mood of the lighting, choose soothing background sounds or music, as well as selecting scenery, such as a seascape or cornfields via an interactive wall or ceiling. Effectively, they can create their own unique atmosphere.

“Treatment can often leave patients feeling vulnerable as they feel they have little control over what is happening to them. Allowing patients a certain degree of influence over their environment gives them back some control and dignity in what can be a traumatic and anxious treatment regime. It can also improve their receptiveness to drugs and treatment, reducing their stay in hospital.

“Waiting for hours to be seen in a crowded A&E when you are unwell, perhaps in shock and profoundly anxious can be a recipe for trouble. In such a high stress confusing environment a well-designed A&E department will enable staff to process patients more efficiently and effectively. Clear sight lines assist staff to identity potential problems and flash points whilst providing staff with ‘safe havens’ increases their sense of safety, making them feel more in control and able to cope better with workplace stress. This, in turn, helps reduce absenteeism, saving the NHS money, and helping to attract and retain qualified staff – a recurring problem for the NHS.

“Patients also benefit from a happy workforce, at ease and properly focussed on their jobs. This added benefit results in a positive effect on the quality of care provided, which all contributes to improved patient recovery times. From a patient perspective the A&E department is often crowded, poorly lit, enclosed and noisy. All these factors are known to increase anxiety levels, confusion, heart rate, stress and the potential for aggressive behaviour. A well designed department can mitigate many of these factors by introducing the calming

effect of natural light, views to landscape, soothing music or sounds, along with separate areas for children and young adolescents.

“One of the major challenges for designers and healthcare managers in Wales is translating this evidence into meaningful design tools that can be applied to future projects. North America is ahead of the game and has been applying evidence based design for many years. In the UK our approach is more often to treat healthcare buildings as simple construction projects rather than recognising that they are places which need to be carefully designed for the care and treatment of people who are ill or injured, using the best evidence available to understand their needs, anxiety and condition.

“Although there is much to do to embed what we know into everyday practice so that good design supports good service delivery, there are some positive signs emerging. The Welsh Assembly Government’s ‘Design for Life: Building for Wales’ programme has pushed forward the agenda for single patient rooms, leading to a better quality environment for patients. Both the recently completed Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan Hospital in Ebbw Vale and its sister hospital in Caerphilly due to be completed later this year are great examples of incorporating good views, landscaped areas and courtyard spaces to create positive distraction for patients. These hospitals indicate an increasing awareness from those who commission our healthcare projects that design can support staff in their jobs and help patients get better quicker.

“However, the problem remains in the awareness gap between design professionals and those who commission our hospitals. Too often the pressures of short term capital costs, rather than long term benefits and savings, take precedence. This is a false economy, given the ensuing long terms costs that result from failure to embed the lessons and evidence of the research. A building that is cognitive and shows an understanding of the importance of design in affecting behaviour will save money over a 20-30 year period by reducing the cost of expensive pain relieving drugs, analgesics, staff recruitment and absenteeism.

“Ultimately, long waiting times will always risk people getting agitated, and while we know good design has a huge impact, it’s also a matter for departmental management and for awareness among the wider public. We need to better direct people to the level of care they need to reduce numbers turning up to A&E no matter what their condition. The Welsh Assembly Government’s “‘Choose Well’ campaign provides colour coded advice for the most appropriate course of action, from dialling 999 to administering self-help – but it needs greater promotion. If people go to the right place, pressure on A&E is reduced along with agitation and aggression, and staff may more easily prioritise those who really do need A&E services.

“While design cannot cure people, it has more than a small part to play. By adopting a cognitive approach to the way we design and commission healthcare buildings, we can create a more efficient and calmer environment for staff to thrive in, saving the NHS money in the process, and, best of all, contributing to more effective care for patients.”

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Historic Market Town Takes its Future into its Own Hands

The people of Ruthin will have an opportunity to influence the future of their town during a week of events that will put Ruthin at the forefront of national debate about the role of Welsh Market Towns.

Ruthin Future Week runs from Monday 23rd May until Sunday 29th May with a sequence of events that aim to bring together politicians, professionals and the wider community to discuss the future of Ruthin, while celebrating its people, the place and its potential.

As traditional market towns struggle to keep their shops and facilities in the face of increasing competition from out-of town retail and the internet, as well as the impact of global recession, towns such as Ruthin need to see how they can reinvent themselves to make sure they don’t become sleepy ‘clone’ towns, but thrive and prosper.

Gavin Harris, chair of Bro Rhuthun Tourism Group & Ruthin Town Councillor, said: “Having already started the Ruthin Future process with a ‘masterplan’ involving designs by students from the Welsh School of Architecture last year, it’s time for the people of Ruthin to get involved by airing their views and sharing their ideas.

“It’s an exciting programme lasting seven days for voices to be heard, eyes to open and brains to engage with positive ideas about the future of Ruthin.”

The Design Commission for Wales (DCfW) is playing an integral part in the week’s event and is running an open debate called ‘Whose town is it anyway?’ on Wednesday 25 May and a seminar on Thursday May 26 entitled ‘Designed for Business’, where invited delegates will explore the power and value of design for the built environment and how it can help towns thrive.

Carole-Anne Davies, chief executive of the DCfW, said: “We’re really excited to be part of this wider programme of events about Ruthin’s future.

“The design of the built environment plays a hugely important role in the overall health and economic value of the town or city, by stimulating regeneration and tourism, encouraging investment and helping to keep it alive. We will be exploring some of these themes through our events, as Ruthin is such an interesting case study for the future of market towns.”

To find out more and register your interest in attending events please go to


• Monday 23rd: Ruthin Town Council is inviting residents to their first ordinary meeting of the civic year to find out about what the council do and to meet their Councillors and new town Mayor, Robert Owen-Ellis.

• Tuesday 24th: Bro Rhuthun Tourism and Marketing Group is hosting a Marketing and Networking evening for local businesses in the dramatic atrium of Ruthin Gaol. Offering advice and marketing insight will be PR guru, Alexandra Marr, who now represents some high profile Welsh businesses, having spent the last 10 years promoting Wales in New York for visit Britain.

• The focus will turn to the 21st Century Ruthin Craft Centre on Wednesday 25th as the second stage of the Ruthin ‘Masterplan’ prepared by the Design Research Unit Wales is unveiled in a new exhibition. This will be followed by ‘Whose town is it Anyway?’ where a panel of design and town planning professionals, together with local representatives, will engage with the audience in a ‘lively debate’.

The exhibition will then run for two weeks during which local children and young people will be invited to get involved in designing Ruthin and saying how they think it should look in the future.

• Thursday 26th at Ruthin Castle: The Design Commission for Wales has invited a mix of practitioners, business people, the public and decision makers to explore the importance of design in shaping places for people, helping towns thrive and contributing to the Welsh economy.

• Friday 27th will focus on the town’s independent retailers and traders who still attract shoppers who value service and prefer unique, high quality, good value items that you struggle to find along ‘High Street Britain’. With extra promotions through the town’s Bro Rhuthun

Loyalty card, the message will be “shop on foot, save on fuel, support your local businesses”, and with parking Free after Three, a late afternoon ‘pop to the shops’ won’t cost a penny.

• On Saturday 28th is the Ruthin mini-Photomarathon. The event is open to anybody with a digital camera and an interest in getting to know Ruthin more closely through photography. Starting at 10.00am participants will be asked to take six images based on six themes in six hours all within the easily walked Ruthin Town Centre, then after downloading and judging, the best will win prizes such as a digital camera and photography equipment gift vouchers.

Ruthin’s famous Produce Market, normally held on the second Saturday of the month at the Gaol, will be on St Peter’s square, just as last year’s design students had suggested. There won’t be a problem parking as all of Ruthin’s numerous car parks will be free ALL DAY thanks to Denbighshire County Council and Ruthin Town Council.

• Sunday 29th May is the chance for budding artists to get involved in Draw on Ruthin! From 10.00am until 4.00pm this free event will see participants escorted with sketchbook and pen around the town by local artists Ann Bridges and John Butland Morgan to record what they see and find, but with places limited to 20 and a free lunch included, keen sketchers will need to get their skates on and register for a place.

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Welsh Construction Companies and Organisations Sign up to UK’s First Green Building Charter

More than 40 leading organisations representing the construction sector in Wales have teamed up to sign the first green building charter of its kind in the UK.

They are committing themselves to support progress towards a built environment that contributes low or zero net carbon emissions as quickly as practically possible.

The 43 organisations and companies, whose combined influence on building projects and developments is hugely significant, joined a squad headed by the Sustainable Development Commission, the Design Commission for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government.

The home of Welsh Rugby provided the backdrop for the “coalition of the willing”, as they added their names to the landmark initiative. Members of the coalition include the Federation of Master Builders, the National House- Building Council, the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment and CBI Wales.

The initiative was launched at the Built Environment and Climate Change Summit at the Wales Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, by Environment, Sustainability and Housing Minister Jane Davidson and Jonathon Porritt, Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission.

The coalition will play a major role in the development of low/zero carbon buildings ahead of the UK Government’s target of achieving zero carbon new homes by 2016 and achieve a major step change in Wales by 2011. It will also work towards significantly increasing the energy efficiency of the existing building stock in Wales, contributing towards the Wales target of 3% annual reductions in emission reductions from 2011 onwards.

The Assembly Government have stated the aspiration that all new buildings built from 2011 must be zero carbon in relation to space heating, hot water and lighting. By implementing the Code for Sustainable Homes and BREEAM it will help the industry take a stepped approach towards the target of zero carbon.

Reductions of 3% each year would enable Wales to achieve an 80% reduction before 2050. One method of reducing Wales’s carbon footprint is via improving the energy efficiency of buildings, as the direct and indirect consumption of energy from buildings generates approximately 40% of all carbon emissions in the UK.

All new housing that has Assembly Government funding or is built on Welsh Assembly owned land must meet The Code for Sustainable Homes Level 3 (moving to Code level 4 as soon as practically possible) and all non domestic buildings must meet the BREEAM excellent standard.

The SDC and DCfW were asked by Jane Davidson AM, to create a “coalition of the willing” of key stakeholders from the private, public and voluntary sectors that will commit to taking a “can do” approach to tacking climate change through the built environment.

Ms Davidson said:
“Today is another Wales first in the battle against climate change demonstrating our ‘can do’ attitude. We all believe early action is needed, and the charter confirms Wales’s commitment to do all we can to tackle climate change and reduce our carbon footprint.

“The built environment is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases in Wales. The way in which we construct and use our homes and other buildings accounts for 40% of our total carbon emissions. It is vital that all our new buildings are energy efficient and as green as possible.

“This charter is a demonstration of the coalition of the willing, of how diverse groups from all over Wales are ready to use their voice and powers to help Wales reduce its carbon footprint.”

Jonathan Porritt, Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, said:
“It is very heartening to see that Wales has the foresight and ambition to accelerate progress towards a sustainable built environment. I hope that the collaborative, coordinated approach demonstrated today will enable it to make swift progress and be an exemplar for the rest of the UK.”

Carole-Anne Davies, Chief Executive, Design Commission for Wales said: “Wales has vast potential to realise a sustainable built environment which supports active communities and neighbourhoods. This is not something we can defer to others. Our economy and our environment will suffer if we do not act immediately and collectively. The declaration from members of the coalition sends a strong signal across public and private sectors alike, that we accept our responsibility to work towards a Wales where our homes, public and civic buildings and public realm, can and must be energy and resource efficient. ”

Peter Davies OBE, SDC Vice Chair and Commissioner for Wales said:
“Our approach in establishing the coalition of the willing was to develop the simple idea of ‘I will if you will’. SDC has set out the need to engage government, business and the community in any process that aims to achieve fundamental change, recognising that our aspirations for sustainable development will only be met through collaborative action.”

“The significant number of organisations signing the declaration today highlights that the construction sector in Wales is ready and willing to act on

the subject of sustainable construction. They now have the confidence that they will not be acting alone or against the grain.”

To take the agenda forward, a Wales Low/ Zero Carbon Hub will be established to coordinate action and formalise the process going forward. The Board of the Hub will incorporate key representative bodies from across the sector and will report through to the Minister and the Climate Change Commission for Wales. The Energy Saving Trust will also be leading a Wales Existing Homes Alliance to coordinate progress on increasing the energy efficiency of the existing building stock. There will be close working links with the UK Zero Carbon Hub and the UK Green Building Council.

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Sustainable Design and Construction

By Cindy Harris, Head of Design Review, Design Commission for Wales

Design and construction are essential parts of the same exercise – to create a building or streetscape or townscape. While different professions each have their own part to play, the best projects result from both partners working together from an early stage.

This is especially true when it comes to sustainable construction – measures which are necessary to ensure energy efficient, low carbon buildings need to be taken at the earliest possible stage of the design process for maximum impact and practical cost effectiveness.

Similarly, aspects of construction and ‘buildability’ will affect the design development and the particular materials and technologies specified. These early decisions will drive key aspects of the project and maximise the best sustainable solutions.

Over half the UK’s carbon emissions are generated by the construction and servicing of buildings, so the energy performance of new and existing buildings is crucial to meeting our national commitments and international obligations.

Energy efficient homes offer greater levels of comfort for the occupier and will be cheaper to run and maintain. The social importance of reducing fuel poverty, together with the need to protect the security of fuel supply in the future and to limit the impact of climate change, all combine to deliver a powerful argument in favour of reducing energy use in buildings. This in turn has a direct effect on bringing down carbon emissions.

At the level of the individual building, the designer, contractor and specialist consultants all need to join forces along with the client to deliver low carbon buildings.

All new housing in Wales now has to achieve Level 3 of the Code for Sustainable Homes as a minimum, together with a 31% reduction in CO2 levels compared with 2006. The means of achieving this should be set out in the Design and Access Statements accompanying new planning applications. Used properly they are a powerful tool and should not be reduced to a tick box exercise.

Designers and developers should observe the ‘energy hierarchy’ whereby the easiest and most cost effective carbon savings are made first, usually built into the fabric of the building.

These measures are often very simple and cost little to achieve when considered early. They include high levels of insulation to stop heat escaping in the winter and to keep buildings cool in the summer. Equally important is the elimination of uncontrolled ‘draughts’, together with controlled ventilation directed when and where it is needed.

The orientation of the building on the site, and the size and location of windows and other glazed areas should be arranged to take full advantage day light and of the sun’s energy – which is both free and renewable. A ‘passive solar’ approach to building design uses solar energy to pre-heat the building elements and incoming air, as well as introducing high levels of daylight into the building and reducing use of electric lights.

Once these basic steps have been incorporated, consideration can be given to appropriate renewable technologies which work well at the level of a single building, such as solar water heating, which should meet at least 50% of domestic hot water demand over the course of a year.

The choice of building materials also has a significant environmental impact. Ideally we should be choosing renewable materials, sustainably produced and genuinely locally sourced, with minimal processing and transportation. Low ‘embodied energy’ materials are preferred – this refers to the energy consumed (and CO2 emitted) during the production process and throughout the building’s life.

Increasingly we are seeing the use of ultra-low-impact building materials, such as timber poles, straw bales and unfired clay bricks, hemp and lime, to construct mainstream, modern, comfortable and energy-efficient houses that have a low ‘embodied energy’.

Of course, any process of construction is designed to change the environment, and is bound to cause some environmental degradation. Sometimes we have to weigh different impacts against each other – for instance choosing a very energy efficient window or organic paint, which needs to be transported over long distances. In the end, we may have to trade off certain impacts against products or processes that are even more damaging.

An environmentally sound building must also be people-friendly. This means a structure which is flexible and easily adaptable, so that it can respond to the changing demands on its function, layout and technical performance.

Too often the benefits of low carbon technologies are not realised in practice because users do not understand how they should operate. Owners and tenants should be encouraged to use them as they are designed – just as they use any other piece of equipment – their smart phone or car for instance. Most building technologies are very simply and their proper use means that the building performs as it should – put simply, it will ‘do what it says on the tin’.

Sustainability is one of those all-encompassing terms, and if a development is to be truly sustainable it should address the environmental aspects of construction on several levels.

At the global level, we should be aware of the impact of mining and processing materials in other parts of the world, both in terms of resource depletion and the health and wellbeing of local populations and ecosystems. CO2 pollution likewise has a global impact.

At the local level, we can help to lay the basis of sustainable communities by supporting mixed use developments with a good mix of daytime and evening uses and attractive, well used public spaces.

A reasonably high density of development, particularly in towns and cities, can trigger and help support the development of community infrastructure such as shops, schools, libraries and health centres, as well as good public transport.

Good guidance on street design and residential layout for local planning authorities is provided in the Manual for Streets. This important document reinterprets the function of residential streets, away from being mainly traffic routes and towards more sociable uses. Streets are designed to give pedestrians and cyclists greater priority and to ensure that vehicles travel at restricted speeds with a greater awareness of other road users.

With greater densities comes the increased responsibility on the developer and local planning authority, to ensure excellent quality in the buildings and public spaces – without this care, the schemes will become the slums of tomorrow with costly social and environmental consequences.

The creation of good public spaces serving the needs of the local community is about more than just a collection of architecture or low carbon buildings. Such places are memorable and distinctive, well used and cherished by the people who live or work in the area, and appreciated by those who are just passing through.

They will be easy to find and recognise, they will encourage people to linger and socialise by providing attractive and sheltered gathering spaces, and they will be well designed with appropriate planting and high quality materials. As assets for the community they will also be well looked after and maintained, and can help to foster a sense of pride and ownership. They will be loved and will last.

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Unique Architectural Project has Designs on Next Generation of Architects

A unique exhibition that looks at how today’s architectural practices are responding to the expectations of newer generations is being put on by three budding students at the forthcoming Cardiff Design Festival to celebrate World Architecture Day (4 October).

The project, called ‘What Architects Do’, involved the students compiling material and putting into their own words what architects do and why good design matters.

Organised by the Design Commission for Wales, the Welsh School of Architecture and the Design Circle, the project saw students Megan Rourke, 17, Simon Keeling, 17 and Josh Morris, 15, spend time at one of three south Wales-based architecture practices.

Dubbed ‘Design Champions’ by the project, each student spent time in a firm over the school holidays, producing ‘design diaries’ of films, photographs, sketches, and observations for the exhibition, that are also available online at

The students were put through their paces by architects Rob Firman (Austin-Smith: Lord), Michael Plageman (Davies Sutton Architects) and Dan Benham (Loyn and Co) and got involved in helping out in studio, meeting clients and donning hard hats on site to act as eye- witnesses on projects.

Carole-Anne Davies, chief executive of the Design Commission for Wales, said: “The scheme was an invaluable opportunity for these promising students to get to grips with architecture. It has shown them the complete spectrum of what architects do and, hopefully, inspired them to pursue a career in this field.

“By being part of the Cardiff Design Festival, the project will help to foster the next generation of architects and also help to raise awareness of the importance of good quality design among the general public.”

Sergio Pineda, tutor at the Welsh School of Architecture, said: “The architectural project is designed to encourage reflection on how today’s architectural practices are responding to the expectations of newer generations.

“The strategy behind the project was for was material to be compiled through the eyes of the young students and exhibited as a critical insight into the industry by its successors.”

Mhairi McVicar, chair of the Design Circle, said: “This has been a unique experience for the students, which has focussed on the people, processes and the atmosphere of architectural practices in Wales. We’re very much looking forward to seeing the work they’ve created at the Cardiff Design Festival. Their experience has not only been an insight for them, but a view to how the industry is perceived by future Welsh architects.”

An exhibition of the student’s findings will open at the Morgan Arcade in Cardiff on 4 October and will run through to 15 October as part of the Cardiff Design Festival. A public workshop in the Morgan Arcade on Saturday 8 October will provide opportunities to meet the Design Champions and their host architects in ‘Chat with the Champion’ and ‘Ask the Architect’ sessions, along with an ‘Architects-in-Action’ design competition between the participating architects.

The project is a major event in the Cardiff Design Festival, an annual celebration of the best in Welsh design across a range of disciplines. Throughout the Cardiff Design Festival (1-16 October) there will be a programme of talks, exhibitions and events, including the ‘What Architects Do’ public workshop, ‘The Best of Welsh Graduate Design’ and ‘Focus on Finishes with Boyce Rees Architects.’

Case Studies – Break out box

15-year old Josh Morris partnered with Michael Plageman, associate architect at Davies Sutton Architects

Josh Morris, who attends Llandaff Cathedral School, said: “I’ve found out that there is a lot more to architecture than just design. Michael has really shown me the process that they go through with each project, from researching materials to going out on site to oversee the building.

“My time at Davies Sutton Architects has been a really special opportunity. I feel I have gained an insight into architecture and learnt a variety of skills. I would definitely recommend doing something like this to other people my age.”

Michael Plageman said: “The experience was an excellent opportunity to get under the skin of the office. I tried to make the whole process as understandable as possible and show Josh how everything fits together.

“The prospects for students wishing to enter the profession are looking up. It was the commercial side of architecture that found it most difficult in the recession, but the niche sectors – for example, areas we specialise in such as historic buildings – rode it out quite smoothly, and other areas of the private sector are beginning to see an upturn in activity.”

Megan Rourke, 17, partnered with Rob Firman, director of performing arts projects at Austin-Smith: Lord

Megan Rourke, who attends Stanwell School in Penarth, said: “Before I started this work experience, I didn’t realise that you would have to pitch for business. It’s really competitive and a lot of research goes into coming up with the most innovative ideas to help win new contracts.

“I also learnt how some projects can take years to complete. Rob had been working on the Wales Millennium Centre for 10 years before it opened but, sometimes, he might only be working on a project for 10 weeks.”

Rob Firman said: “While we have little problem attracting young people to this profession, I often think some people’s perception of the industry is fundamentally flawed. People can often think of us as stuffy, office-bound and barrister like, but the reality is almost the opposite.

“That’s why this work experience has been so useful. The students have seen that it’s not all pretty pictures and colouring by numbers; it has given them a taste of the reality of architecture and a better idea of what they are, potentially, getting themselves into.

“It’s vital to train our successors. We take it very seriously and want to break down as many barriers as we can to an often misunderstood profession.”

17-year old Simon Keeling partnered with Dan Benham, project architect at Loyn & Co

Simon Keeling, who goes to Stanwell School in Penarth, said: “I’ve learnt how much patience and commitment goes into a project. There is so much attention to detail, from

planning which material is best to use, to thinking about sustainability, on top of working with a client to achieve something that both parties are happy with.

“I feel the whole experience has really developed my people skills as Dan had me phoning contractors and really getting involved in the projects. It has really made me passionate about pursuing a career in architecture, specifically of residential buildings, which Loyn & Co specialises in.”

Dan Benham said: “As well as teaching the students about the way the industry works, we were also able to learn a thing or two from them as well. It was useful to strip everything down and get back to the basics of architecture. We didn’t realise we used so much flowery language!

“It was great to have a fresh pair of eyes in the studio, and we were glad to have them contributing as they are often eager to push boundaries and bring a fresh way of thinking and questioning to the practice.”

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Welsh Wizardry

A new education building for the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales is an impressive physical embodiment of the values it champions, says Ellis Woodman (BD Online)

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Eco Homes Design Competition – the Winners

Two highly energy efficient homes that will produce more than 80% less carbon emissions than a standard new house have been chosen as the overall winners of the Welsh Passive House architectural competition.

Innovative designs, coupled with high levels of insulation and renewable energy, will dramatically reduce the need for supplementary heating, resulting in fuel bills that are at least two thirds cheaper than the average home.

The Design Commission for Wales were delighted to be a part of the judging panel including representatives from the Building Research Establishment and the Wales and West Housing Association who are the client for the project. The Commission has also advised on aspects of the wider ’Works’ scheme, from the masterplan, through to the hospital, Learning Campus, General Office refurbishment and Environmental Resource centre.

The winning 3 bed home – which has a wildflower meadow roof and 85% less carbon emissions than a standard new house – is designed by bere:architects of London and the 2 bed home, which utilizes hempcrete, paper and glass for insulation, is designed by HLM Architects, Cardiff.

The two houses will be built at The Works:Ebbw Vale – the former steelworks site – and form the nucleus of Future Homes, a demonstration centre for sustainable development and construction.

The competition, run by the Welsh Assembly Government and Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council in association with Building Research Establishment (BRE), attracted 26 entries from around the UK and tasked architects with designing a sustainable affordable home featuring innovative measures for energy efficiency and eco excellence.

The Welsh Passive House combines the principles of the highly efficient PassivHaus low carbon buildings standards pioneered in Germany and meet the Code for Sustainable Homes in Wales (CSH) level 5 requirements including waste disposal, use of local materials, water efficiency and use of renewable energy features..

The designs had to satisfy the CSH Level 5 standard, using local sustainable materials, incorporating innovative solutions for electricity reductions and construction costs.

Deputy Minister for Regeneration, Leighton Andrews, said the winning designs use a range of local Welsh products and are exemplars of low carbon energy efficiency.

“The innovative measures for energy efficiency used in these designs can be replicated in building developments throughout Wales and should cost no more than a standard home when economies of scale are taken into consideration.

“The new technologies together with the use of local products manufactured from recycled materials, open up a range of business, training and job opportunities for local people which supports our sustainable agenda.”

Both winning designs are highly energy efficient, substantially insulated to retain heat, have triple glazed windows, make the maximum use of natural light and sunshine and require only the minimal supplementary heating in winter.

Neither timber framed house needs a conventional space heating system but use a heat recovery ventilation system when the warmth is extracted from air within the house to heat incoming fresh air, which is then circulated.

Exterior highlights of the bere home include dry stone walling, larch cladding on the upper storey and a wildflower roof.

Evacuated glass tube solar panels provide 65% of the hot water throughout the year, which is supplemented by an energy efficient gas boiler. Electricity is supplemented by Photovoltaic panels, sheep’s wool is used for interior insulation while retractable external blinds provide shade in summer.

The HLM house is fitted with PV roof tiles to supplement electricity, hot water is provided by a wood pellet biomass boiler while rainwater is harvested for gardens and flushing toilets. Movement sensors control all fixed lighting

The HLM design also features dry stone walling and uses innovative local products ranging from cement replacement from Cenin in Bridgend to paper insulation from Excel Technology in the Rhymney Valley.

Jonathan Jones, HLM Regional Director, said: “Winning this competition, which is crucial to making sure homes across Wales become more sustainable, reflects our commitment to environmental design.

“Using local craftsmanship, supply and materials and leading edge environmental analysis and design tools we have created a truly vernacular house reflecting the heritage of both Wales and Ebbw Vale. By applying the principles of passive design with cutting edge environmental design tools, we have designed a low energy building at affordable cost.

“Our dedicated specialist team, HLM Environment, along with the invaluable support of Aecom, Vale Consultancy and EC Harris, have ensured the environmental impact of our project is minimal, in construction and in use. “

Justin Bere, Director of bere:architects said: “Our 3 bed house will be so energy efficient that most of its winter heat will come from the people living in the house so that only a tiny amount of supplementary heating will be required in the very coldest weather.

“ Wales has once again shown bold environmental leadership and it will reap the commercial and employment benefits that will undoubtedly come from creating the first Passivhaus skills base in the UK. I believe that Wales now has the opportunity to become the Passivhaus centre of the UK and our practice, bere

architects, looks forward to helping with this.”

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Changing Climate of Opinion is Welcomed

Building professionals are often criticised for putting profit before environmental impact, but the Design Commission for Wales senses a welcome change in the air following recent announcements from the Construction Industry Council, the UKGBC and from some home grown expertise.

At a recent conference of construction professionals, climate change was named as their top concern. ‘Trying harder’ was no longer seen as an option and a root and branch appraisal of design was needed to help mitigate the impact of the construction industry on climate change. The pressure is certainly on for the industry as the Welsh Assembly Government has already announced its aspiration to achieve zero carbon rated buildings from 2011, ahead of the 2016 target in England.

Carole Anne-Davies, Chief Executive, Design Commission for Wales, said, “The Design Commission for Wales has long been a champion of sustainable design and has always said innovation in this area would come from the professional design industries. Before you can build sustainably you have to design sustainability. Somehow in recent years we’ve arrived at a position of building high energy consuming, resource inefficient buildings, inadequately linked to public transport. Coupled with construction waste – it’s not a good position to be in.

“Key messages, which we’ve consistently highlighted for over half a decade, regarding good, resource efficient, sustainable design, are at last striking a few chords. It’s a huge opportunity for the construction business and suppliers and it’s encouraging to hear a more positive approach ahead of impending regulation. The skills of designers are crucial as well as the gearing up of the industry. We should be looking to our innovative designers and learning from them.

“The Commission is delighted that Welsh practice Gaunt Francis has been the first to build a house for a volume builder which meets Code Level 6 on the Code for Sustainable Homes. This is the highest level for zero carbon building on the Code and is the target for 2016.

“We have a practice here at home innovating in this way, with lessons to share for the domestic volume building market. It’s not a minute too soon. Test projects like this one will help provide the answers to the considerable challenges ahead and the Barratt Green House by Gaunt Francis is something the industry should be learning from. It’s a huge opportunity to celebrate good practice and share the knowledge and experience gained from the project. It’s also a signal of popular support as over 22,000 people voted for the design when it was publicised in the Daily Mail competition.

“The Design Commission works with design and development teams on all kinds of schemes in Wales and we can see indications that the tide is turning. In many areas there is a lot of work still to do. Nevertheless, the more we know about projects such as this and the more attention the industry gives to seizing these opportunities, the more progress we will make. We don’t have the time to wait and see – climate change is the challenge of all our age.”

“We understand how difficult things are at a time when the credit crunch is biting on the construction and house building industries but we also know that the effects of climate change aren’t going to go away while the market adjusts. As Paul King of the UK Green building Council said this week, we are also seeing unprecedented commitments to sustainability set out by both Gordon Brown and David Cameron and in Wales we have long been working to achieve low and zero carbon buildings and to meet high aspirations and commitments from the Welsh Assembly Government to annual carbon reductions of at least 3% as set out in One Wales. As a member of the UKGBC, the Commission shares the view that while economic conditions don’t make our task any easier in the short-term, the imperative for a sustainable built environment will not only remain, it will grow. There is an opportunity for industry to reflect and prepare for better times when sustainability will be the pre-requisite of doing business and undoubtedly a competitive advantage that will reward those businesses who have invested and prepared. We have too quickly forgotten the warning of the Stern report in terms of impact on GDP and have too often remained in “business as usual“ mode. This is a huge chance to learn, test and deliver market solutions for better, more resource efficient, places to live.”

Andrew Sutton, architect for the Green House, said, “Delivering the first Code 6 house with Barratt has given Gaunt Francis a significant understanding of what’s needed to mainstream high volume sustainability. It will also demonstrate that the design community has the necessary skills to deliver zero carbon. We’re keen to build on this practical demonstration and show that the Assembly’s aspiration for 2011 can be realised through good design. We also wish to assist in pushing forward the opportunities to put Wales at the head of a growing sustainable supply chain and construction skills upgrade.”

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Pembrokeshire Eco Village Aims to Inspire

A new residential and agricultural eco village planned for rural Pembrokeshire has been praised highly as a benchmark for environmental rural regeneration by the Design Commission for Wales.

The proposal, by Lammas Low Impact Initiatives Ltd, is for a new settlement of 9 eco-smallholdings, a campsite and a community hub building sited on 76 acres of mixed pasture and woodland next to the village of Glandwr, north Pembrokeshire. Using locally sourced materials and distinct building materials will make the project specifically Welsh, and conscious of affordable housing in the area, the self built houses are estimated to cost £60,000per house.

The planned designs which came before the Commission’s Design Review Panel in April, were welcomed for the most part by Panel members and commended in particular for their emphasis on low impact development.

Cindy Harris, Head of Design Review, Design Commission for Wales, said, “We found that the project was inspirational and we commended the committment and enthusiasm of the group as a whole. The scheme has the potential to become an exemplar of low impact development and whilst we would not wish to see it set a precedent for new development on greenfield sites in the countryside, Pembrokeshire’s rural exceptions planning policy allows low impact development of this sort under strict conditions, and this scheme is the first to come forward under this policy.”

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“Good Design is About Enjoying Places and Spaces”

Wendy Richards, the newly-appointed Development Director of the Design Commission for Wales, intends to hit the ground running. As an experienced urban designer and landscape architect, Wendy has been involved with delivering a diverse portfolio of high profile design projects, ranging from a major urban park development in Hong Kong’s New Territories to the acclaimed Riverfront Theatre in Newport as part of a team at Austin-Smith: Lord.

Wendy has spent the last three years working with Newport City Council and Newport Unlimited as their principal urban designer and has worked within the private and public sectors over a number of years, as well as being a voluntary member of the Design Commission’s own Design Review Panel. Her passion for the work of the Design Commission along with a long-held belief that good design and sustainability can only truly work if incorporated at the very outset of a development made Wendy an ideal candidate for this new role at the Commission.

Now in position, she believes Wales has a unique opportunity to take a strong lead in innovative good design in Europe through its use of sustainable design principles. The Welsh Assembly has put the necessary policies in place, but it is now up to planners and developers, with the assistance of the Design Commission, to make sure these principles are delivered on a pan-Wales basis.

Wendy says, “The Senedd in Cardiff Bay is a fantastic building which leads by example. It is iconic yet sustainable in its design and masks a great deal of ingenuity in its subtlety. Buildings like the Senedd may come along only once in a lifetime, but there are many smaller-scale projects which can deliver the same sustainability credentials if sound design principles are incorporated at the earliest stages of development planning. Good design is not necessarily about architectural style it is about responding to the local context and making successful spaces and places for people.”

“A well – designed building or place is usually one a team of people has enjoyed creating and responds to its location and users contributing to the sense of place of a town or city. As we move towards an agenda of building places to be carbon neutral in Wales by 2011, developers should push their design teams to maximise innovation and sustainability initiatives. The Design Commission for Wales can help developers to do this through its design review process. It is then imperative that good sustainable policy principles are incorporated within local planning policies to hit this target and in doing so lead the UK.”

Wendy also believes Wales needs to find a number of champions who can carry the baton for good design and improve the places in which we all live. Wendy feels that those champions are already there within local communities, the private and public sector; they just need to be teased out into the limelight. Part of her role in the Commission will be to find these potential champions to raise awareness about good design and provide them with the necessary training where needed, to push forward the design agenda to help create better places for us all to live in.

Wendy adds, “In general, I would like to think that people are becoming more aware of good design, we should be demanding more sustainable homes from house builders, until we do they will not provide them – to the purchaser this would mean more energy efficiency and lower bills, at the same time, making better places by responding to the local character and context of an area.

Part of my role at the Commission is to continue to develop this link with people and organisations, building on the work already done on ‘My Square Mile’, our education programme, delivering training about good design principles and encouraging local authorities and developers to use the Commissions’ free Design Review service. People need to understand the legacy which they are creating, to deliver places which Wales and its people can be justly proud of.”

Alan Francis, Chair of the Commission adds “We are delighted to welcome Wendy to this new role which develops a strong senior management team with the Chief Executive and the Development Director for the Commission, enabling us to expand the service we already provide in support of great spaces and places across Wales”

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Design Commission Welcomes Rejection of Abergavenny Development but Urges Local Planners to Cooperate More Effectively on any Future Plans

DCFW has welcomed the decision by developer Henry Boot not to appeal the refusal of planning for the proposed redevelopment of the Abergavenny cattle market. In light of the decision, the Commission now urges the Local Planning Authority and the main landowner Monmouthshire County Council, to fundamentally review its strategy for the redevelopment of this important site close to the heart of this historic market town.

Carole-Anne Davies, Chief Executive, Design Commission for Wales, said, “I am pleased this deeply flawed proposal will not now be built and the decision to refuse stands.

“If it were based on sound and sustainable design principles, this site has enormous potential for redevelopment. It has the potential to create a vibrant new quarter that will enhance the quality of life for existing residents of the town; create new opportunities for local business and provide much needed new homes.

“We ask the local authority to now take advantage of this opportunity to work with the developer to secure a first class mixed use scheme that meets good urban design standards and includes an appropriate retail element supported by appropriate transport and parking provision.”

According to the Design Commission, any new proposals for development should be based on well established urban design principles. These should include:

  • A rich mix of uses including homes, workplaces, shops and cultural facilities
  • A well conceived public realm offering clear, legible pedestrian and vehicle circulation well integrated with the existing network of streets and public spaces
  • Buildings of a scale and character appropriate to their setting that incorporate best practice in low carbon, environmentally responsible design, meeting the requirements of policy in Wales.

Carole-Anne Davies, added, ”I want to make it clear the Design Commission is not opposed in principle to the inclusion of supermarkets in town centre redevelopment proposals, but it cannot support proposals that are dominated by large retail sheds and extensive surface car parking. Such dominance was a major characteristic of the original proposal.
“The recent history of proposals for this site is highly unsatisfactory. The planning authority seems uninterested in realising the best long-term value from this site for the town and its community. To date there has been no evidence of a clear vision for the town’s development and little appetite to engage in meaningful discussions with either the local community or the Commission.

“We hope Monmouthshire will not now engage in further protracted and closed discussions with a developer to produce a modified scheme which might be accepted, but only reluctantly, by the planning committee.

“This is a golden opportunity to start afresh. A positive first step would be to engage in a broad, open but expeditious process to establish a strategic vision for the site. The Design Commission would welcome the opportunity to play a key role in helping facilitating this.”

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My Square Mile – New Resource Pack for Welsh Schools

Schools throughout Wales are set to benefit from a free new educational resource pack, focusing on raising awareness of good design and the wider built environment, thanks to The Design Commission for Wales. The resource pack will be launched by Jane Davidson, Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing, on Thursday, October 11th at 11.30am at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea. Entitled “My Square Mile”, the pack encourages pupils to explore their local environment in order to develop a sense of place and a feeling of belonging.

The initiative was piloted in 33 primary schools in Swansea and subsequently offered to a number of schools in Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. Such has been its success in stimulating pupils to investigate and evaluate their locality that the project resources are now being made available free of charge to all schools in Wales.

The resource pack, which contains a book and a comprehensive CD, shares the innovative work of the pilot schools, and acts as a framework and stimulus for other schools to develop their own projects.

Carole-Anne Davies, chief executive of the Design Commission for Wales, said, “The “My Square Mile” initiative has proved a huge success in schools in Swansea and

West Wales. It has given pupils the opportunity to get out and about and explore their local neighbourhood. It has also given them a better understanding of design and architecture.

“The resource pack provides a framework for study and offers suggestions for teachers on the introduction of themes and topics, relevant to the national curriculum, such as sustainability and citizenship. There is huge flexibility within the project which can involve a variety of subjects across the curriculum, including art, design and technology, geography, history, numbers and language.

“Different schools have adopted different approaches and have involved pupils of different age groups in the projects. There have been many wonderful surprises along the way and it has been rewarding to see how the pupils have engaged in the work and have responded so positively to its challenges.

“I’d like to thank our partners in this initiative, especially the Arts Education Teams in Swansea, Carmarthen and Ceredigion local authorities, and Eileen Adams, project author and commissioner. Our thanks also go to the schools who’ve participated so enthusiastically in the project. I am also grateful to the Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing for her support and funding for this educational and inspirational initiative.”

Jane Davidson, Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing, added, “This innovative project is an excellent opportunity for pupils across Wales to learn more about their square mile, through exploring the relationship between buildings, spaces and people. By looking closely at the surroundings we hope young people can begin to understand how the environment is shaped and managed.

“The pilot projects to date have proved that interest is most definitely there and succeeded in offering pupils a chance to celebrate local distinctiveness and local identity. I hope teachers across Wales now take advantage of this valuable resource to foster greater interest in design and sustainability amongst their pupils.”