Bringing Creativity into Place Making

Bringing Creativity into Place Making

01.05.2018 | Jonathan Burroughs

Thoughtful, creative people tell us that the nature of a place and who uses it affects their spirit, energy and creativity. Whatever their age, whether they are artists, scientists, ‘creatives’ or indeed business people trying to realise specific objectives, we believe this to be true. If we want to plan for these people we therefore need to think about the culture and feel of a place that will be helpful to them. If a place helps individuals, teams and groups explore and realise their own particular objectives openly, imaginatively and creatively, at times working with others, we’re winning.

So in this blog I examine what we are working with as we attempt to bring creativity into a place.

People of different sexes, backgrounds and disciplines coming together can be particularly productive and happy if we get the mix right. So we really need to think laterally about who we want in a place. If people find helpful diversity in the people they meet, ideally through happenstance as well as on an organised basis, it can broaden their thinking and stretch their horizons in a powerful way. This, then, becomes our first building block when thinking about place making with creativity in mind. What mix of people would really make this place hum, beyond those we are initially thinking of looking after? And hum like you’d just want to be there as long as you possibly can be if you’re in one of the communities the place is designed to serve and are really passionate about what you do?

Where do we go from the Base Camp of what a place is today to what we have in mind for it then? How do we start to scale up to new levels of ‘value add’, bring in the right people and drive productivity in our work?

Now the fun starts because creative thinking comes into play. How might these particular people truly get value from the place? What if this were here, what if this actually happened? How can we engage with the people we have in mind to help define the goal even further and start to explore strategies that might help to realise success?

Taking this approach helps us start to set objectives for a place that is bespoke to the stakeholders involved, and the circumstances. Which is what we need.


The foundation for this part of the exercise is understanding the needs of the people and communities we want to serve.

We need to create places that are more vibrant, contain more people with diverse yet potentially relevant ideas, and more people that want to do something purposeful and creative using their own particular knowledge and skills. Typically, we need some curation as well as a good build environment and the right people in it, so that people find it easier to come together. This is part of what we define as the soft infrastructure, which needs to be delivered alongside the hard infrastructure. Programmes, events, etc.

Design needs to be informed, purposeful and innovative to meet those needs. It also needs to be resilient to change - pleasing not just today but capable of adaptability over time. We must believe that design has the ability to transform and to uplift us – which in turn can contribute towards better creative thinking. We need to envision a better future and create plans to deliver this.

We need to think about place in terms of where the brightest young people want to be today, what turns them on and helps them vote with their feet to come to that place. We need to know where they want to go to do what. Typically, we find them really interested in what they are working on and how and not so much for who. Whilst we used to separate work life and play, their lines tend to be much more blurred, with opportunities to break out into specific things from time to time – which is how they like it.

The most valuable currency for people today is time. This means that we need to create environments that provide a mix of activity and make it easy for people to do the various things they want to do in a day. How do we make a place easy to stay in? At a general level enlivening it with arts and innovation helps, particularly if other fundamentals on location and community already exist.

Innovation districts with art built into them

It is hard to mix the two, ie a place where artists can afford to be and get the right energy, alongside business, however we might think it will be cool and helpful. This needs to be given its own blog paper into the future. Typically, it can be easy to focus on one alone and maybe give the other a passing reference. In tomorrow’s world where we aspire to delivering better places, harder work is necessary in this area – where we believe results can be worth the extra effort.

Some thoughts on design and place making

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works” – Steve Jobs

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next largest context – A chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan” – Eero Saarinen

“If you do it right, it will last forever” – Massimo Vignelli

And Finally …

Remember that the design and layout of your space, the way you encourage use of it and who comes into use it, really can make or break entrepreneurial creativity.