Our Street Project: Co-Designing Union Street, Dundee

Published on 24 May 2023

Insights into the collaborative creative process behind the Union Street Transformation Project.

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Our Street Project at Union Street, Dundee. Photo Credits: David P Scott

Gary and I are both part-time Lecturers in Interior & Environmental Design at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design. We also often collaborate together and undertake spatially-focused co-design projects when we have our other ‘designer’ hats on.

We are currently working with the team at UNESCO City of Design Dundee on the Union Street Transformation Project for Dundee City Council. Union Street, in Dundee city centre, was temporarily pedestrianised during the Covid-19 pandemic. There was a really positive response to this and it was clear there was desire to propose a more permanent design, and this is where our involvement with the project began.

The initial wave of work was called Our Street Project, and during the summer of 2022, Gary and I based ourselves in Our Street Studio, a former retail unit in Union Street. We used this as a base from which to engage with local businesses, residents, and other community members, and allow them to be at the centre of the development of the street. We initially captured their attention with Our Street Cart, which we pushed up and down the street to gift Building Blocks – an invitation to engage, and a memento of the project. Within the studio, we designed and implemented three tasks which would open up the design process, and allow people to drop-in and communicate their ambitions, knowledge and ideas for the street.

The first stop was the Think Tanks, where people were encouraged to join the co-design team through sharing a Polaroid snap of themselves on the wall. We then asked them to think big and share their initial aspirations for the street by writing in the adjacent bubble. Asking people to communicate their dream helped set the tone for the high ambitions for the project, and the sea of faces on the wall cemented the fact that the community have real power within the design process.

Next up was the Streetscape, a 1:50 elevational scale model of the street which presented the opportunity for people to share what we called ‘street intelligence’ – information about the street from the locals who know it best. On a series of coloured cards, or Streetscape Shapes, we asked people to record the challenges, opportunities, knowledge and initial sparks of ideas for the street. They then placed them on the model in the most relevant position, and by then end of the engagement process this showcased an abundance of invaluable insights that would lay the foundations for a robust design.

The final interactive element was the Community Collage. We presented people with a bank of images of exciting urban interventions that already exist around the globe as a way to help people think what might shape the design of Union Street. We asked people to write on the card why it inspired them, and they could also share design ideas through writing or doodling, before affixing them to the wall. As the number of cards grew, Gary and I sorted them into groups as a visual display of the of various ideas that were emerging.

After this intensive engagement period, we took some time to carefully document, analyse and map every single contribution to this stage of the co-design process. We could see clear themes emerging such as a desire for urban green space, an adaptable environment to host various different events and social set-ups, while also marking the street as a gateway between the waterfront and the city centre.

We then drew-up an initial conceptual design for the street which was shared within Our Street Studio with the community co-designers to gain their feedback before submitting as part of a funding application. The hope is that we can continue the engagement process by testing ideas physically on the street, while delving deeper with the designs for the various desired elements such as gateways, canopies, and adaptable events spaces.

The intention is that the innovative design will become a reality. By putting local people at the heart of the creative process, the design can have real longevity and can deliver the best experience for the people who live and work there. We believe a co-design approach for Union Street could really support the potential for the street for to be a hive of joyful activity, and a key focus for hospitality and independent retail that ripples through and stimulates the surrounding city centre.

Written by:

Linsey McIntosh

Designer / Co-Design Specialist

Lecturer in Interior & Environmental Design, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design

Gary Kennedy

Director / Co-Founder of kennedytwaddle

Lecturer in Interior & Environmental Design, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design