Outside the Square

By Duncan Corrigall
Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarship

BHTS Corrigall Cover Image

‘Outside the Square’ is an international study of the effects of the European square typology on its surrounding neighbourhood. It advocates the typology’s implementation within Central Sydney by showing that the civic, social and commercial value of a square exceeds that of the built-upon area it replaces.

An investigation of precedents in Havana, London, New York, Paris, Siena, and Venice uncovered particular typological attributes that influence pedestrian behaviour and the activity levels of nearby shopfronts. The extent of active façades in a radius around each square are recorded alongside the number of seated and walking pedestrians to visualise the pedestrian densities within the squares and the activity levels in the areas around them. These mapping exercises are then compared with the particular typological arrangements of each square - the degree of enclosure, slope of the ground, any accentuating buildings, the arrangement of surrounding streets, and the nature of the join between street and square – as well as their different histories of development and their on-going management policies.

From this, the project identifies a series of repeatable attributes of public spaces that have wide-ranging influences on their surrounding neighbourhoods. Squares should be implemented in a series of incremental improvements, rather than a single period of intensive development. Once built, they need to be purposefully managed to encourage a sense of public ownership. A pronounced ground slope encourages cross-circulation through the open area to every section of the periphery. The street pattern is equally influential, funnelling pedestrian movement in particular patterns that support active shopfronts. Offset or hidden street entries terminate shopfronts at the periphery, while an open-air street that visibly continues past the limits of the square pulls pedestrians through to the neighbourhood. Pedestrian routes into the square can be controlled: if the entrance to the square is narrow relative to the street width then people remain on the street, whereas a wide square entrance pulls patrons immediately into the square at the expense of perpendicular streets enroute. A particular street type – the direct parallel – is found to have the highest level of active streetfronts of all street types associated with a square.

These principles have direct relevance to Sydney. The City of Sydney Council plan to demolish the block in front of the Town Hall has the potential to create a similarly exemplary public space if done properly. The final chapter of the report examines how the principles uncovered can be applied to this local context, arguing that mere demolition will not be enough. A series of incremental changes are identified that could establish a successful new square as well as improve the fundamentally flawed Sydney Square alongside it.