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Rwanda: Context-Sensitive Indicators of Good Urban Design
Posted Date 2016/02/17 04:10

Urban design, as the process of designing and shaping cities, towns and villages, deals with a scale higher than the architectural design in the sense that it deals with a larger groups of buildings, streets and public spaces.


It often times stretches to whole neighborhoods, districts, and cities. Now, with Urban design's mega goal of making urban areas more functional, attractive, and sustainable, it is important to have cities be informed by context-based guidelines in addition to the many things to consider when designing cities.


This article only gives a suggested of selected ones.

Emphasis on place is an important indicator; pushing the understanding of 'space' to another level where by the focus is not the physical location of spaces in a city but the connections; looking at them as places people feel connected to, which consequently requires that the design of the same be sensitive to issues of human scale, culture and the specific needs of the end user community as far as use, location, design and scale is concerned.


Indeed, the concept of place-making is absolutely essential in creating good urban design in which space becomes place.

Urban design also ought to consider the past history of a city, which becomes the paramount foundation on which it is built. Once the understanding of 'where we are coming from is there, it becomes easier to define 'where we want to go' and possibly 'how we can get there'.


Through this path, the rich experience ensures that the resulting urban design has a definition and holds a character of the place.

Connection to the landscape is important as well. In Rwanda for example, the land of a thousand hills offers both opportunities and challenges to design.


The hills in Rwanda for instance, beyond their geomorphology, are historically the sites of shared spaces 'akarubanda', which is a powerful representation of the socio-cultural values of Rwandans.


ASA (Active Social Architecture) firm in Kigali, the designers of a health centre in Kintobo, Nyabihu District had this to say about the project location "The conspicuous position holds a strong symbolic value: in Rwanda every hill is not only a topographical entity, but a social space, therefore it conveys the idea that a health centre is an important building in the landscape and at the same time it tries to conceive the illness as something that touches and concerns the entire community".


The Focus of urban design needs to shift from car to people. For many years, planners and designers seem to focus on the roads, highways and the car, placing them in prime spaces of the city, hence highlighting their importance above the individual person.

Road and highways without consideration of pedestrian life only cut through neighbourhood and cities disconnecting adjacent areas.


However, in the process to fight back the concrete and asphalt jungle attacking cities, some cities like Nairobi and Kigali have taken bold decision create pedestrian streets, which slow down traffic in the former and car free zones that completely keep off cars giving priority to pedestrians in the latter.


Mixite is also another effective indicator for good urban design. The injection of multiple uses in a small area keep "eyes on the street", as Jane Jacobs would say, keeping streets safer as people use them for different things throughout the day.


Mixed-use designs also bring in a wider variety of people, keep places interesting, and continue to thrive as vibrant spots of the city. Vibrancy is an instrumental ingredient for social cohesion.


In a city, what attract people the most are other people, the better if these people are from all walks of life, with varied social and economical backgrounds. This improves the vibrancy unlike designing for a particular socio-economic class, which only creates a socio-economic disparity worth avoiding.


Urban space pace becomes a scene for marginalization when it cannot offer equitable viability. The term 'Inclusiveness' is a new vocabulary recent urban studies in the region, which advocates for design that caters for the needs of all city dwellers regards of social and economic class.


Budget is definitely another critical consideration in urban design. It is one thing coming up with a checklist of interesting ideas about a city, but on the other hand, it is important to mind about the affordability of the ideas been fronted.


The moment urban designs become extravagant, they risk to stay in city cupboards alittle longer than projected if not forever. Urban deign therefore ought to be economically viable.


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