Enhancing Streetscapes

Sustainable Design > Enhancing Streetscapes

High quality streetscapes contribute enormously to our quality of life. They project an initial and lasting impression and help attract considerable commercial benefit to our towns and villages.

It is therefore well worth investing in our shop fronts and public realm (the space between buildings) for the benefit of locals and visitors alike.

Valuing historic shopfronts

streetscape1Original traditional Irish shopfronts add real interest to our streetscapes and to our designated conservation areas. At a time when Anytown High Streets are taking over the world, locally distinctive features like these are increasingly rare and should be cherished. Original interiors are a rare species and should be also be treasured.

Historic shopfronts are often subject to pressures for alteration or replacement, bowing to changing trends. However these distinctive frontages can provide the most memorable showcases for 21st century goods. Often defined by their understated simplicity and use of traditional materials, they originated as a workplace where a cobbler or weaver could avail of better natural light.

Derived from the classical architecture they usually consist of an entablature resting on pilasters or imitation flat columns. These may be smooth, ribbed or contain panels. Their heads may be plain, or decorated in doric, ionic or corinthian style. Ornate brackets sometimes top off the pilasters and are capped to throw off water.

The frieze is used as the fascia board and accommodates lettering. To top it all off the projecting cornice above protects the lettering from the weather.

Shopfronts through time

Some of the earliest, and most rare, shopfronts have small panes of glass set vertically into bowed windows. Others have leaded fanlights over doors.

In the mid nineteenth century bigger glass panes were introduced, which encouraged perpendicular shop front designs. These often have round-headed mullions, sometimes with tiny capitals and carved panels in the triangular sections, known as spandrels.

Decoratively cut, engraved or stained glass and elegantly curved glass date from 1880 onwards.

Late 19th century lettering included raised marbled ceramic, channelled lettering and trompe l’oeil. The latter two are often found behind glass. Hand painted advertisements and hanging signs representing trades add interest. Wooden shutters were used.

Art Nouveau
Faience and majolica (glazed tiles) appeared during this period. They have a fresh appearance and were used in fishmongers, dairies and butchers’ shops, where the tiles were decorated with wholesome pastoral scenes, softening the gory nature of the business.

Art Deco
These sharp, crisp shopfronts are characterised by the use of metal window frames, often coated with chrome in combination with shiny, black vitrolite.

Repair and maintenance

streetscape2If original elements have been inappropriately replaced, old photographs or similar untouched shopfronts nearby can help inform how they should be restored.

As with old buildings in general, the main enemy is water. If it does not dry off the surface quickly, it will eventually rot the woodwork.

Preventative action;

  • Clean painted shopfronts to remove dust or mud which might hold water against the paintwork.
  • Clean any crevices where dust might accumulate.
  • Sweep the pavement to stop dust being thrown up onto the shopfront.
  • Clean gutters to stop falling water at source.
  • Remove leaves, lichen or moss from the flashing over the shopfront.


Replacing shopfronts

If it is appropriate to insert a new shopfront the replacement should use existing openings or incorporate any features of architectural or historic interest.

The width should respect the plot width and not span beyond the width of one ‘house’. Where the adjoining property has been incorporated to form a large unit, it should not spread across the two units and the use of large expanses of glass should be avoided.

Accurate reinstatement using high quality materials may be the best approach however replacement does not preclude modern solutions. Indeed a well-designed contemporary proposal is usually preferable to an ill-proportioned imitation of a traditional shop front. Any proposal should respect the arrangement of existing openings in the external walls and relate well to upper storeys.

The most successful schemes keep the range of colours and finishes used to a minimum.

These should be framed in painted timber and divisions of glass can be provided by moulded mullions. Separate windows can be designed to achieve a bigger display.

Internal shutters should be used instead of external shutters, which create a forbidding atmosphere in the evening when a lively frontage should be presented. Strengthened safety glass offers a good alternative.

These are normally discouraged but where used they should be of the retractable type and spring from the lower edge of the fascia.

Fascia signage should be simple and hand painted with discreet lighting if necessary. If introducing hanging signs they should be small in scale, on a timber board with painted letters/symbols. Corporate signage may need to be adapted to fit with the character of the host building, especially when it is located within a conservation area.

Security systems
Alarm boxes should be discreetly located on the fascia and not on the walls above.

Universal access
Access for all should be considered at the very outset. Level access, and wide/automatic opening doors should be provided and a ramp and/or handrails if necessary. There is no reason why the quality of materials and design should be compromised.

Treating the space in between…
Pavements, street furniture, signage, lighting etc provide an important platform for the buildings fronting onto them and set the scene. Cluttered streets, a wide palette of materials and confusing signage should be avoided. All elements should be made to last in terms of both simple design and long lasting materials.

Again, universal access should be considered, which helps not only wheelchair users but also those using prams and making deliveries.

If your building is a listed/ protected structure or located in a conservation area it would be sensible to contact your local planning office, area architect and or conservation officer and consult any published planning policy or guidance. The east Border Region shopfronts scheme provides a useful source of information and range of case studies.