From user-centred to society-centered

photography by: Saitej Pisupati

In partnership with UKAA

Project context

We worked remotely during the entire project due to Covid-19.

London- Uk

Milan – Italy

Our journey


The Urban Village High Street – Repurposing the high street as retail and residential space

The high street is a source of livelihoods that have been deeply impacted by the rise of digital commerce and change in consumer behaviors.

We see businesses moving online and stores becoming empty spaces.

The building sector, supported by new regulations, sees the opportunity to repurpose these empty spaces into residential units.

Field research

From the beginning, we realized the complexity of this project because the high street is composed of a lot of elements: shops, buildings, transportation, people, employees, regulations, culture, etc. We wanted to explore their role in the high street.

Unfortunately, we were in lockdown during the research phase, so we had to get creative when it came to field research.

– Conducting Digital explorations on Google Maps

– Watched documentaries about urban planning

– Virtual walking guides on Youtube

High street’s elements


When we could go out, we visited our cities and took videos to document the area.

We also included some research about our own countries: Italy and India.

Scenario planning

Once we gathered enough information about all the elements of the high street, we started exploring different future scenarios of what a high street could look like.

We used the Scenario Development Process to develop  a “most likely” scenario of the future:

  1. Focal question
  2. Find critical uncertainties (PESTEL)
  3. Measure the level of impact and uncertainty
  4. Scenario stories (Moodboard)
  5. Implications and options

Design strategy

We experimented a new approach that would help us design for a future scenario.


We started by designing individual buildings that would leverage on the positive metrics, and replace the one’s missing.

We would then merge each block by choosing the best elements from each to create one model that would  fit all scenarios.


Lastly project our building into the future and study the impact of having such buildings around London. 

User research

We interviewed tourists, business owners and landlords to understand their point of view on high streets.

Social distancing measures stopped us from having physical interviews, so we used other media to reach people such as Instagram and LinkedIn.


To understand the Build to Rent process we conducted an online workshop with 2 architects and one interior designer.

The workshop was composed of different exercises, that would increase in difficulty, to see how they would solve problems and understand their designing process.

Key findings from our research

High street

Build to Rent Model

Each high street has their own identity and no two high streets are alike


Build to rent has one identity and it doesn’t configure to the area

The high streets are shaped by the community and houses are seen as a threat


The users of these Build to Rent facilities reflect a specific social class which often has difficulty integrating with the local community because it often does not reflect their own.

“User” journey of the high street

How might we…

Living on a high street is not like living in any other place:

How can we facilitate the accommodation of future tenants on a high street?

The community knows what is best for it’s high street:

How can we make property developers know this information?

Project concept

We created Native:  a citizen-centered urban planning program. It’s scope is to enhance the tenet’s living experience, while preserving the identity of each high street.

#1. A platform that collects the data from the community and the property developers.

#2.  A new strategy to include the high street identity into the building model.

Native brings people together from the community and encourages them to have a collective voice to promote the identity of their high street.

The high street information will be available to architects and property developers when deciding the features of their next residential building.

The property developers can upload the content of future projects on the high street. In this way, the community can view the concept directly on their page, avoiding the lengthy process of asking permission from the council to view the papers.

Because the building was built through the community’s data we, can use the same information to communicate to future tenets’ how it will be like living there.

We can leverage the data to match the needs of future tenants with the identity of the high street.

We can do this by asking some questions related to their habits, interests, noise tolerance, etc.



Because the information is already available, we are shortening the designing time for property developers while providing in-depth information on the area.


We are giving the community the chance to be heard and engage them in the designing process.

Longer stay

Tenets usually leave the building because of a lack of connection with the area. By providing them the tool to find their right neighborhood, they feel at home and stay longer.

2 months
Student project
Royal College of Art 2021