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Christopher Howells 11078549 U33703: City Design and Skills


Contents and Introduction


Historical Contexts

3-5 SWOB Green Network and Movement Blocks and Plots Buildings 6 -7

Design Actions

8 References

Introduction In this report I shall be looking at Wood Farm in east Oxford. A SWOB analysis will be completed looking at each morphological layer of the site. I will be looking at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Barriers of the area and coming up with a variety of design actions to suggest ways in which the built environment can be improved. From top left, clockwise: directions to the local shops with Foresters Tower in background, the playing field, Wood Farm street sign, Foresters Tower visible , entrance to Magdalen Woods, No Ball Games Allowed sign on one of the grassed areas. Page 1

Historical Context The Wood Farm site sits to the east of Oxford within the Oxford Ring Road. The site was originally owned by the White Family and made up part of their farm. However, house building started in the 1950’s. Firstly, in 1951, 116 ‘easiform’ houses were constructed on Pauling, Titus, Wood Farm and Masons Road to the north of the site. This was followed by houses to the south, namely on Chillingworth Cresent and Nuffield Road. The first building on the site was a number of local shops on Atkyns Road for which the planning application was submitted in 1956. Foresters Tower was proposed in application and approved in 1960.

Carfax Tower - central Oxford Ring Road Main Roads Shopping Nodes Hospitals Wood Farm Site Boundary

In the local area there are a number of hospitals (John Radcliffe, Churchill, NOC and Warneford) that provide employment for around 11,000 people. The nearest local shopping node is Headington to the north and St Clement and Cowley are towards the west. Oxford Town Centre, marked by Carfax Tower, is 3.75 km away.



2013 The Wood Farm Site

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Strengths G-S1 - The numerous mature trees on the playing field and along verges are a positive addition. G-S2 - There is a play area on the playing field that provides local children with football, basketball and general play facilities. Weaknesses G-W1 - The landscape is flat and uninspiring. G-W2 - Greenery is to often found by being Space Left Over after Planning. Opportunities G-O1 - The large amount of green space provides a lot of potential to provide meaningful and well designed spaces for relaxation and a setting for well designed buildings. G-O2 - Magdalen Wood, which is on the south side of the site, could be better linked to the existing green networks. Also the approach and entrance could be aesthetically enhanced and maximized.

From top left, clockwise: view along Nuffield Road, the entrance to Magdalen Woods, view across the playing field outside of Foresters Tower.

Green Network


Barriers G-B1 - Grass verges are often small and unable to hold shrubs or trees. G-B2 - Changes to existing greenery may be a contentious issue.

Strengths M-S1 - The site is served by two direct bus links to the city centre the numbers 4 and 10 - which run along the mainroad to the north of the site, Wood Farm Road. M-S2 - There is access to Magdelen Wood on the South West corner of the site which provides a route through the woods to a nature reserve. Weaknesses M-W1 - Many of the roads feel to wide for their purpose. They are devoid of cars and are much wider than an average residential road. They feel daunting, spatially, to cross. M-W2 - There are a number of dead ends and no through roads for instance the parking/ garaged area by Foresters Tower and Pether Road that gives access to a block of flats by Foresters Tower.

From top left, clockwise: the wide streets (Nuffield Road), a footpath across the playing field, pedestrian only access through blocks of flats.

Roads Pedestrians Pedestrians/ Bicycles

Movement Page 3

Opportunities M-O1 - There are a number of footpaths across the site and pedestrian only areas that could be developed and maximized. M-O2 - The width of the roads could be used to provide flexibility in parking arrangements and cycle provisions. Barriers M-B1 - The routs through and between blocks are hard to find lack distinctness from the surrounding plots.

Above: Beveridge House, demonstating fencing and plot boundaries. (Googlemaps, 2013)

Block Size


To illustrate the point of just how long the Wood Farm site is as a block, compared to the landscape around it, I have placed an average block below it. It is nearly three times longer than an average neighbouring block.

Strengths BP-S1 - There is a lot of variety plot sizes on the site. This does make it interesting, so, the spirit of interest should be championed but in a more positive user friendly way. BP-S2 - The site can be seen as a very large block. A strength of this is that the open space of the playing field, which makes up around half of the block, is a positive addition to the area in its entirety.

Weaknesses BP-W1 - There is much unused space on the site and on many blocks which is characterized by the acronym - Space Left Over After Planning (S.L.O.A.P). It looks messy and unthoughtful. BP-W2 - There is a lack of definition between public and private spaces on many plots. Opportunities BP-O1 - The site can currently be seen as a large block. This creates a wonderful opportunity to sculpt it into a landscape that is legible and permeable.

Top: Beveridge House, one of the largest plots on the site. (Picture courtesy of Mathew Sunderland) Below: A row of terreced houses, each one a small plot, typical in much of Wood Farm and surrounding much of the site.

Barriers BP-B1 - There is a sporadic use of fencing on plot boundaries that creates segregation and corners to what are already ill placed plots.

Plots Page 4

Below: Video, Please Click

Active Frontage

Strengths BG-S1 - Foresters Tower was seen as a distinctive feature to the area. While many didn’t like the aesthetic look of it, they suggested that it just needed a lick of paint! BG-S2 - The shops were by far the most active area of the site and a valuable meeting point for local residents. Weaknesses BG-W1 - There are many examples where a buildings form and orientation related badly to the plot and the public space of the road. There was a lot of uncertainty as to fronts and back to many buildings. Opportunities BG-O1 - Foresters Tower is seen as a visual landmark and could be an opertunity to keep a distinctive and prominent feature for the area. BG-O2 - The shopping area is greatly needed in the area and is well used. It presents an opertunity as an function that could help promote activity in other areas of the site.

Active Frontage Partially Active Frontage Inactive Frontage

From below, clockwise: the garages and Foresters Tower, a residents opinion of Foresters Tower, Inactive Parking spaces, partially active frontages, active shop frontages, video of Forester Tower

Buildings Inactive Frontage Above: Video, Please Click Page 5


Partially Active Frontage

Barriers BG-B1 - Architecturally the buildings are dated and exhibit ill thought out design both in themselves and in relation to the outside. BG-B2 - There are many, many inactive edges on the site which are characterized by long sections of plain brick walls.

Design Actions Green Network

SWOT criteria addressed

The design must have an interesting green landscape at its heart. Mature trees must be exploited as well as the links to Magdalen Woods. This will allow the site to be part an integrated Green Network that can stretch over and through the site, turning stand alone SLOAP ‘pockets’ of green into a part of a network.

G-S1, G-W1, G-W2, G-O1, G-O2, G-B1.

The children’s play area is well used and liked in the area. This must be part of the design. The space of the playing field should be capitalized for the playing of field sports such as football.



There are much needed bus links into the city centre that stop around the site. Any design must make provision to keep these links.

M-S1. Above: An example of an interesting path through a parkscape (Oxford University, 2013) Below: An example of a ‘home zone’ in Plymouth (Lecture Notes, 2013).

Road widths are very wide and inappropriate for a residential area. They need to be made in-keeping with the areas uses to aid crossing comfortably and to stop them feeling daunting, spatially.


The entrance to Magdalen Woods needs to be made prominent and integrated into the site and the area to maximize its presence and use.


The site has a number of dead ends and cul-de-sac type ‘parking areas’. There is no vehicle permeability across the site bar a small back entrance behind the shops to make deliveries possible. While the design should not ‘promote’ the car, it could promote / aid the amount of permeability across the site and increase the potential for better use of the sites space while not giving over undue space to vehicles.


The site has a number of pedestrian footpaths across the site. These are predominantly over the playing field. Those that are through the housing on the site are hard to distinguish and not prominent. Legibility should be increased while retaining the pedestrian feel through the site, possibly with the use of home zones/ shared space.

M-O1, M-O2, M-B1.

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Design Actions Blocks and Plots

SWOT criteria addressed

The site can be treated as one big block due to the lack of roads penetrating it. In relation to the surrounding area it is three to four times the average neighbouring blocks dimensions. Increasing permeability across the site will reduce its size and make it more flexible with its uses.



There are a number of large plots on the site. This is distinct compared to most of the surrounding plots outside of the site. They are also rather sporadic in relation to each other causing problems between a plots buildings and each other. Marking boundaries suffer as well as the distinction between public and private space. Perimeter plots on blocks would allow plots to relate to each other better.

BP-W1, BP-W2, BP-B1.


PERMEABILITY Above: Permeability and impermeability (Gehl, J. 2010) Left: The perimeter Block - Fronts facing public space, backs facing private space. (Howells, C. 2013) Below: Interview with a resident: “What do you think of the Tower?”


Foresters Tower is seen as a landmark. There is room to keep or develop the idea of a iconic landmark building in the area. Many residents enjoyed the height of the building and used it for orientation.



The local shops need to be a prominent feature of the design. Presently, the space in front of the shops is busy with residents talking and sitting. A well designed communal area could help develop this vibrancy and activity in the area.

BG–S2, BG-O2.

Buildings on plots were very badly orientated to the public realm. A more legible design of buildings with proper use of active fronts being towards the public road, with backs towards each other graduating to more privacy, would help develop orientation around a building. This would also help stop the occurrence of inactive edges.

BG-W1, BG-B1, BG-B2.

Buildings also need to maximise their plots of land to stop dead areas of land arising which normally add to an uncertainty between public and private spaces.

BG-W1, BG-B2.

Above: Video, Please Click

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References Azevedo, L. N. De. (2013) Referencing Lecture Notes on Moodle - Streets and Open Space. From U37703. Oxford Brookes University. Available from: Brookes Moodle. [Accessed on: 20th Feb 2013] Bentley, I et al. (1985) Responsive Environments - A Manual for Designers. Architectural Press: London Gehl, J. (2010) Cities for People. Island Press. Jenkins, S. (Date Unknown) Headington Council Estates. Online at: [Accessed: 20th Feb 2013] Oxford Council. (2013) Planning Application Search. Online at: [Accessed: 18th Feb 2013] All photos by Chris Howells, except: Page 2: Digimaps Googlemaps Page 4 Beveridge House, courtesy of Mathew Sunderland.

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Christopher howells interactive pdf  

video produced as a coursework in the module City Design and Skills 2013