Character and context

Most existing urban areas have been subject to change over time, less so the new towns of Basildon and Harlow, although town centre regeneration programmes are beginning to rethink how these centres function. Existing urban centres comprise a mix of building types (style, form, height and materials) and spatial types such as streets, squares and parks in a variety of sizes. The links between buildings and spaces, combined with the scale of these relationships determine the urban character, even before architectural style is considered. In historic centres these differences may be quite subtle, highly unified urban areas are rare and most are generally quite diverse. Their evolution gives them the character they have today, sometimes positive, sometimes negative.
Negative character effects can occur when a development has been imposed that breaks too many of the urban design rules on the site. It is perfectly possible, for instance, to place a modern glass structure between buildings designed in a local traditional vernacular of brick and render if it mirrors the height, proportional arrangement and plot size of neighbouring sites. In such cases, engagement with the appropriate design and conservation officers at the Local Authority can yield positive solutions that balance both the old and new.
In existing urban centres and locations there will always be instances where individual buildings can be inventive and challenging provided, they are well designed. They may be intentionally designed to stand out amongst their neighbours through their shape, form or materiality to become a new landmark or they may incorporate materials in an innovative way. Used intelligently, landmarks have an important role in establishing and / or reinforcing identity, sense of legibility and drama for an area, but this always needs to be informed by a rigorous understanding of the surroundings, existing way-marking and the relative importance of the building. Whatever the circumstances and the design approach, the starting point is a review and analysis of the local built form context. Insert link to content appraisal


Page updated: 12/01/2021


Make the most of the Essex Design Guide, register today

As well as ensuring you are always in the know about future changes and updates to the Essex Design Guide, registering with us will enable to you to add and manage bookmarks throughout the site, so your most-used areas of the guide are always easy to find.

Register for updates

© 2021 Copyright Essex County Council. All rights reserved.