Town Square Design – Reinventing Urban Squares for the Future City

Town squares are traditionally areas of congregation and meeting. As places of trade and business, and to historically provide vital space for local markets, town squares have long held a vital role in bringing people and communities together in our urban areas.

As our consumer and buying habits changed throughout the 20th century, town squares found new roles, and their original uses were often diminished or made redundant by the high street revolution, the advent of the department store and new out of town shopping malls away from central locations. In many cases, town squares and outdoor community spaces fell into disrepair – neglected in favour of continued development elsewhere.

Today however, town square design is at the forefront of people’s minds – and developers are quickly realising the need to revitalise these historical and often neglected spaces. Alongside other city dressing and placemaking strategies, town and city squares are finding new roles, and in many cases they’re being rejuvenated to ensure they provide a useful and enjoyable municipal space to be enjoyed by everyone. Whether they provide a space to hold events, meetings, markets or other community projects, town square development is now having a measurable and discernable impact on people’s wellbeing in built-up areas across the world.

The public forecourt of the recently redeveloped Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg (below) is a good example of using clever design to make the most of these city centre locations, providing a focal point, orchestral and event space with steps built to in to create a purpose-built amphitheatre setting.

Indautxu Square in Bilbao is another great example of how a relatively large space can be redesigned thoughtfully with multi-use at the heart of its ethos. Pedestrianised, with new trees planted, a new playground created and overground car lanes and car parks moved underground, it is a striking example of what can be achieved in an urban area with the right design, architectural solutions and planting.

Repurposing and reinvention can also come out of smaller town and city square locations, such as the next example at General Gordon Square in Woolwich, London. As an old smokehole for steam trains running on the Underground in the early 1900s, it was a relatively forgotten square until it was repurposed as a park with green planting, water that is fully accessible and grass areas to hold functions and community events.


Town square design can come in lots of shapes and sizes, and use imaginative and forward-thinking approaches to make a place come alive again, whether that be through shared use, green planting or sensitive use and appreciation for historical elements or old buildings.

Canopies in town squares

One way to make the best use of unused courtyard or town square space is to install a pre-designed canopy. An architectural fabric canopy is easy to install, provides weatherproofing and shelter for a number of uses including outdoor seating, market areas and gathering points. They can also provide an attractive focal point for smaller spaces, such as our installation at Cheshire Oaks outlet which offered shoppers an easily recognisable meeting point and recreational area. Often, these solutions are easy to install, cause minimum disruption to existing operations and vastly improve the look and feel of built-up or urban spaces. Likewise, our work at Crown Square in Manchester provided an event space amongst a new development – enabling a wider use of the space and instantly transforming it into a useful area with which to develop outdoor seating at the same time as improving the aesthetics and feel of the space.

Read our blog for further ideas on how to reinvent the high street with city dressing and canopy installation.

As we redefine our use of town centres, squares and the urban environment, thoughtful planning and useful strategies to make these spaces live again are vital. If you’d like to talk through your town square design project, however small or large, do feel free to contact us to discuss your options. In the meantime, visit our City Dressing page to find out more about our work in this area and our approach to town regeneration and rejuvenation.

some of our clients

Network Rail Logo
zsl london zoo logo
The NEC Birmingham
Burohappold Engineering
MCC Logo Lords
Mace Logo
ISG Logo
Tate Logo