The Bartlett School of Planning


Richard Timmerman

Research subject

Thesis title: Customisation and Urban Design: Evaluating the role of informal street user modifications in the distribution of static activities and perceptions of streetscape settings

Primary supervisor: Professor Stephen Marshall
Secondary supervisor: Dr Robin Hickman
Starting date: January 2014
Completion date: December 2018

Since the mid-twentieth century, the urban planning and design practices have battled to counter their association with the creation of dead urban spaces. This deadness is conveyed in their lack of pedestrian activities – conviviality, spatial interactions – and negative perceptions of such spaces. In a variety of ways, urban design theorists have suggested that the negative impressions of planning are connected to the system’s inability to acknowledge the opinions of those subjected to it. The process of producing public spaces often result in inflexible scenarios that fail to acknowledge constantly changing end-user requirements. In several narratives, planning processes are compared to the monotony of mass-production processes – a linear process that limits participation and variety in designs by their end-users.

Today, manufacturing processes offer mass-customisation as an approach towards diversifying end products, devolving design powers to customers who informally modify and optimise their products. Mass-customisation allows for end-user modifications throughout a product’s creation and post-construction. While collaborative design is embedded into many urban design processes, comparable flexibilities and successes observed in mass-customisation are not apparent.

Through the empirical study of three London retail high streets, with contrasting population demographics, the impacts of informally customised streetscape features on the distribution of static pedestrian activities are scrutinised. Evidence is tested against the opinions of a selection of pedestrians distributed in streetscape regions with varying intensities of customisation.

This research finds that an increased presence of customisation results in increased pedestrian activities, vitality, and positive spatial perceptions. It also finds that there is an optimal level of complexity associated with informal modifications, corresponding with past studies concerning the negative impacts of over complexity on human responses to spatial settings – a theoretical threshold. Therefore, moderate implementations of customisation are linked to the increased clustering of static activities and satisfaction across varied demographics and spatial settings.


Richard Timmerman completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Planning Design and Management at the UCL Bartlett School in 2005, and went on to gain both his Post Graduate Diploma and Masters in Town and Country Planning by 2007 from the same institution, where he specialised in Urban Design. During his Masters studies he developed an interest in the behavioural impact of urban design projects on their communities.

Following the completion of his Masters, Richard carried out a number of planning and surveying roles within leading London local authorities, where he reviewed the effectiveness of housing strategies and planning policies. Most recently, Richard carried out duties for the London Development Agency (LDA) and the Greater London Authority (GLA), where he assisted in the establishment and early functions of the Mayor of London’s Housing and Land directorate; during this time, his work diversified into database management, urban design, and cartography, where he significantly contributed towards the development and legacy of the London 2012 Olympics.

Returning to UCL to pursue a PhD in Planning Studies, Richard intends to further develop his academic interests in ways that explore and positively challenge the current methodologies of the planning and urban design practices – contributing to discussions that concern effective approaches towards the creation of successful and sustainable urban spaces.