Foreign design code: how rules work on European streets

22 September 2014

The design code in European cities consists of rules that are clear and at the same time “invisible” to people, which creates a comfortable and non-aggressive environment on the streets. Such an environment does not prohibit and force, but rather directs and guides.

Moscow adopted a design code relatively recently, but some European cities have been using it for many centuries. In London, for example, according to the architectural magazine Project Baltia who devoted an entire issue to design code, such rules have been operating even as long as since 1666, when the British capital started to rebuild after the famous fire. However, modern standards, in addition to uniformity and aesthetic appearance of the city, also pursue the important task of accessibility and usability of the city and its infrastructure.

“Ground” Navigation

Any modern city street is primarily a place of an increased concentration of pedestrians, motorists and cyclists. All of them must somehow interact with each other and clearly understand what space they occupy. European experience of organizing the urban environment shows that, oddly enough, it is not necessary to prohibit road users by building fences, installing barriers, and hanging “no entry” signs. By design means you can direct, and explain, and ask politely. This sometimes has more results than strictly prohibiting things.

Берлинская брусчатка

For example, in paving Berlin sidewalks up to five kinds of paving stones can be used. It would seem a small thing, but different surface textures nicely zone spaces, helping people to orientate themselves. Seamless paving stones are meant for bikes, fine and smooth for pedestrians, and more coarse stones to separate one area from another. And around trees gravel is used, signifying that there is no need to walk there so as not to injure the tree roots. Different surface texture is also a tactile regulation that helps visually impaired people to navigate.

In such a situation it is not absolutely necessary to build a fence. It can be simply shown where whose territory is.


In small towns, where traffic is low, the use of different types of paving stones helps to create a truly “common” space. In the Dutch city of Middelburg, in some of the streets there is no division of sidewalks and roadways as we are used to. The surface is uniform in height and not demarcated by borders. However, the color of the pavement is different: gray stripe in the middle and orange at the edges. This division suggests that the street is meant for pedestrians and cars. That is, cars can drive there, but the right of way is reserved for pedestrians.

Another feature of paving stones is to show where and for whom there are passages. In the same city of Middelburg, one can easily pass through the old residential quarter and never get lost in the courtyards. But you cannot drive through. This can be seen at the entrance to the alley, where there is a narrow tiled path. Their goal is to show that a passage is there, but only for pedestrians. It should be admitted that such visual markers significantly reduce the number of motorists getting stuck in dead end courtyards. In Moscow, such pedestrian pathways will lead inward into the quarter under construction in Krasnaya Presnya.

 Пражская брусчатка

But the most famous sidewalk paving stones are, of course, in Prague. The city center is entirely paved with small marble and granite stones. Thus, the whole street turns into a mosaic canvas on which different colors can be spread out for not only pedestrian crossings and patterns, but also inscriptions to help navigate.

Велодорожки за преградой

A modern city is a place that is impossible to imagine without cyclists. Because it is debatable what category of road users they belong to, there is no consensus on where to place bikeways. The general rule is that cyclists should be separated from cars by parallel parking or other barriers.

Велодорожки за преградой

Велодорожки за преградой

However, lately in Germany bikeways are offset behind the parking line, separating them exclusively from automotive areas by a painted line on the pavement. German authorities believe that this way motorists will perceive bicycles as a full-fledged mode of transport and stop knocking them down at crossings.

 Велодорожка без преграды в Берлине

Social Control

It is known that many European cities, in spite of all the security, have a reputation for high levels of crime.

One of the functions of design code is to make places safer. This is best achieved by good lighting and convenient facilities, and as a result people like to spend time outdoors.

For example, street cafes in the warmer months usually just set up tables on the square. There are no enclosed verandas in this case — the cafe blends with the life of the streets, attracting visitors during the day and at night. This means the space around them is made safe.

However, not only cafes can initiate an influx of people. Properly made ​​and placed benches deal with this function just as well. In German cities they know that benches are in demand where there is something to see. Let this view be at least a bus stop or a sports ground, but people always need something to watch. Therefore benches are not placed along the road but at an angle, so that a view of the street opens up. As a result, the surrounding territory is automatically controlled.

Уличное кафе в Мюнхене

In addition, benches are in demand when they are protected from the sun and rain. The easiest way is to build a circular seat around an existing tree. This technique not only protects people from weather, but also helps the tree whose roots are not trampled by passers-by. These types of resting places can be found under tree canopies in Berlin, Munich, Strasbourg and many other cities.

Лавочка вокруг дерева

Simple Tools for the Best Results

A design code successfully solves a variety of issues by using simple and unobtrusive tools. For example, if the level of the roadway near a tram stop is raised just a little, as is done in Vienna, there will be fewer victims of accidents. Dedicated lanes and a convenient network of bicycle paths is the key to reducing the number of cars. It is enough, as in Hamburg, to attach bags for dog excrement to tree trunks, and the streets will be much cleaner. And if special boxes for old clothes are put along the road, people will be happy to leave things in them for the homeless.

One of the most important accessories in the streets of any city is the waste bin, without which it would be impossible to talk about comfort. In Germany, for example, most of the dumpsters in courtyards are separated for different types of waste. And they are closed with a tight lid to avoid smells. In the Netherlands, they have gone even further with this matter. Many city waste bins there are underground, which are taken out above only with a tightly sealed container. And in Rotterdam they came up with a waste bin for cyclists — a kind of net in which garbage can be thrown on the move.

Урна для велосипедистов в Роттердаме

However, regarding waste bins, London surpassed all. For the 2012 Olympics, the British capital surprised residents and guests with the most expensive in the world waste bin. In fact, the main function of this structure is just a pretext: standing in the middle of the street are cabinets that cost 47,000 dollars, each distributing Wi-Fi, showing stock quotes and market news, and playing advertising on LCD monitors. And at the same time accepting trash. However, only paper and cardboard. The most interesting thing is that this marvel waste bin was paid off in just a year — funded by advertising.

Самая дорогая в мире лондонская урна

Away with “Visual Noise”

European authorities did not ignore the rules of advertising and signage design. Regulations governing information on the street exist in many cities. In Berlin, as it is in the historical district of Moscow now, signs must be made of individual letters, without a base. And they should hang only between the first and second floor. In addition, the architect must get the color, location and design of advertising constructions approved at the building stage of the project. And London rules, which are available on the website of the British Government, are given an entire breakdown for advertising and signage. For different types there are different rules.

Design code is officially fixed “rules of good form” that help people feel welcome in the street. And this means they will care more about their city.

Erken Kagarov, art director of Artemy Lebedev Studio:

“The urban environment is a very difficult thing in its structure. It includes many elements: buildings, people, signs, shop windows. When they interrupt each other, there is chaos. There is sound noise — when cars honk under windows or a neighbor yells at two o’clock in the morning. And there is visual noise. This is a chaotic arrangement of elements, their incoherence in color, shape, and style. When the noise is strong, it is uncomfortable to be on the street.

We visit European cities and think, wow, how nice it is here. Sometimes we conclude that our people are cultureless and tasteless, and over there people are more cultured. In fact, people everywhere are about the same. But in Europe, there are strict restrictions on design.”




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