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How do you create a civilised city?

How do you create a civilised city?

Chris Williamson

When Chris was asked to work with Andrew Weston for group projects at Leicester School of Architecture (for no other reason than they were next to each other alphabetically) he discovered that their skills dovetailed perfectly. Their shared ambition made for a perfect business partnership.

The Weston Williamson mission statement talks about Creating Civilised Cities so quite often I am asked what constitutes a civilised city. The big picture answer is that our work encourages people to use safe, efficient, convenient, well designed public transport rather than their cars and free the streets for pedestrians and cyclists.

There are other beneficial effects such as less noise and visual and air pollution whilst allowing more space for trees and planting, which also help regulate the environment. A civilised city is also one where there is greater respect for each other, more tolerance, less hatred. More pride in the city, less litter, more care and consideration.


I remember my grandmother always used to sweep the pavement in front of her house but that sense of civic pride seems to have died out with her generation. In cities like Paris however, it’s unthinkable to drop litter like we do in London. This is probably due to the distinct communities or “Arrondissements Municipal” which encourage a sense of identity and belonging. Designing for a civilised city discourages anti-social behaviour.

London has led the way over the last 10 years in an attempt to make our great city more civilised. By investing the congestion charge money in better public transport, TFL is encouraging people out of their cars and onto the train, the bus and the metro. WW+P is now exporting their expertise gained on many London infrastructure projects to other world cities such as Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne and Toronto. Learning from each one to create more civilised cities.

Some of the projects we are working on are huge city shaping projects like Melbourne Metro but others are just as influential whilst on a smaller scale. A whole series of small urban interventions by TFL to alter traffic roundabouts have been very successful. Locations such as Highbury Corner and Archway have been transformed and rejuvenated. By removing one side of each roundabout and introducing cycle lanes and pedestrian only access on one side, both locations feel more civilised and less oppressive.

We need more research based evidence to prove the value of these schemes. In other cities there is proven health and wellbeing benefits through expenditure on similar urban improvements. Asked which single improvement I would like to see in any city my answer is always simple. To always design every road junction so that the pavement continues across the road rather than the road cutting across the pavement.

Another aspect of WW+P's mission to create civilised cities is to develop a culture within each design studio, to nurture not only brilliant architects and designers, but also collaborative and considerate characters.

We want to be appreciated as much for the way that we work as for the work that we do. This means establishing a culture of respect and appreciation within each studio both between ourselves, our clients, consultants and the community.

Part of this is engagement with local schools to try to get them interested in business, in design, engineering and architecture. We invite local schools into our studio to explain what we do and engage with their work. In this way we are not only trying to develop civilised cities of the present but also model citizens of the future.

Chris Williamson

When Chris was asked to work with Andrew Weston for group projects at Leicester School of Architecture (for no other reason than they were next to each other alphabetically) he discovered that their skills dovetailed perfectly. Their shared ambition made for a perfect business partnership.

How can we help?

Please get in touch if you’d like to know more about us and how we work with our clients, consultants and colleagues.