A comparison of two urban spaces, one very successful and one less so.
Colin Rowe’s theoretical studies of urban design issues dealt with many issues, one of which was the relationship of tall buildings to public spaces. The role of the skyscraper can be seen as analogous to that of church spires in previous times: they provide a visual focus for the community and hence the design of public spaces around them must be considered in terms of how the public spaces and high-rise relate to each other.
A good example of this would be the two high-rises at Gunwharf Quarys in Portsmouth, Hampshire. The two towers, the Spinnaker Tower and Tower No. 1 also known as the Lipstick Tower were apparently inspired by the two main sources of power for driving ships: wind power and steam power. More to the point, there is clearly a thought-out relationship between the high-rises and the public spaces around them.
This is more than can be said for the centre of Woking in Surrey. At the Centre of the Town there is a square intended to be the social focus of the town. It contains entrances to the Library, the Civic Offices, the Peacocks Shopping Centre, the Town’s theatres and cinemas and the splendid red-brick Anglican church, ChristChurch. However, looming over the entire space is the presence of a concrete high-rise. The relationship of the high-rise and the square has not been thought out at all.
The centre of Woking is clearly undergoing a transformation. A sort of glass-circus feature is being constructed. It may improve the quality of the square but does not really address the issue of the relationship of the high-rise to the square.