design thinking

process of discovery

At TOWNSCAPE design thinking is not preconceived formulas or waiting for inspiration; it is a human-centered process of discovery that involves going beyond an initial problem statement to arrive at an understanding of the root needs and issues that shape the problem. For example, the request for “streetscape design” (shorthand for sidewalks, pavers, trees and benches) for University Drive in College Station, Texas began with discovery of the varied dynamics that inhibited street life there, including excessive street width, high traffic speeds, spotty development patterns, broken pedestrian links and poor visual quality. TOWNSCAPE’s recommendations included narrower traffic lanes, treed medians, on-street parking and elimination of free right turns to calm traffic speeds. Infill development opportunities for pedestrian-friendly uses were identified, and district gateways designed to create the feel of a walkable precinct. In this context of broader thinking, wide continuous sidewalks, rhythmic pattern of street trees, high visibility crosswalks and furnishings could be part of a comprehensive solution that transforms the roadway from busy edge thoroughfare to people-friendly boulevard.

Similarly, design-based planning for growth opportunities fueled by a turnpike extension through Sachse, Texas had to look beyond obvious big-box and highway commercial opportunities to consider the town’s longer-term economic viability, regional competitiveness and quality of life. The resulting framework plan is built on a human-scaled, walkable development pattern that integrates identity, open space, a diverse use mix and a new town center as well as more short-term commercial opportunities.

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design for the fourth dimension

Designing and building communities that are worthy of our affection and reinvestment require attention to the details of layout and form. They embody the 3-dimensionality of placemaking with an eye to the 4th dimension of time and how they will age and mature. Communities should not be a collection of “developments”, but rather have the nuances and complexity to ensure that they continue to evolve into unique and desirable places to be. Such places can create the spark that ignites investment and creates value. The way to achieve this is to ensure that they are multi-generational, have flexible retail and commercial space which is well-integrated into the living community fabric, and are connected by several modes of transportation – autos, pedestrians, bicycles and transit (where possible). Well crafted form-based codes and environmentally responsive (green) standards are proving to be effective tools to implement these objectives. TOWNSCAPE has provided communities, economic development corporations, transit agencies and developers with specific planning and conceptual designs to create these special places.

visual thinking

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At TOWNSCAPE we draw—a lot. Not out of a sense of nostalgia, but because fast, freehand concept sketches are the quickest means to visualize a prototypical solution and generate useful feedback. Produced as a series of sequential views, these sketches can help choreograph the user experience, and become the basis for computer models and 3-D animations through successive levels of refinement. They are the immediate and direct connection between the designer and his client/audience, while capturing this exciting part of the creative process. At best, this exuberance is contagious, drawing clients and collaborators into the exploration of still more ideas.

For more information, read Jim's recent article in Landscape Architecture Magazine titled "Freehand Renaissance". The article highlights the need for visual thinking and quick freehand drawing skills to help jump-start a flow of ideas early in the creative process. A PDF of the article can be accessed by clicking the link below.