Urban Design Principles for Knowledge Precincts

Since the 1990’s the global economy has been undergoing rapid change and unprecedented growth thanks to the impact of the internet, nanotechnologies and the dot com boom. (New Economy, N.D) The central driver of this global change has been knowledge and the way in which it has come to be produced, mobilised and internationally commercialised.

A key strategy employed by numerous developed countries around the world has been the creation of urban centres which attract and retain so-called knowledge workers. In these environments, workers become part of a ecosystem which seeks to cleverly integrate work life with social life and lay the foundation for information exchange and development. To do this effectively, a wide range of urban design tactics have been deployed to specific ends.

What urban design techniques are important in making these precincts successful?

The connection between intangible concepts such as knowledge and the hard physical parameters of an urban place are made real through the deliberate creation of knowledge precincts which “set out to circulate people, products and ideas quickly and efficiently. Yigitcanlar (2008) has observed that knowledge precincts need to consider the three main functions of knowledge - generation, transmission and commercialisation

Knowledge precincts are created to cater to the specific needs of ‘knowledge workers’ therefore the urban fabric of these hubs feature a number of characteristics that are said to assist in attracting and retaining such individuals. “Generally knowledge workers choose regions, cities, workplaces and suburbs which exhibit a diverse mix of people, uses and cultural and recreational experiences. The quality of the built environment is integral to these lifestyle choices” (Queensland Government, 2009). Knowledge workers “choose to interact and work in a variety of ways which can be described in four spectrums of interaction: planned to unplanned, formal to informal, internal to external and virtual to physical” (Queensland Government, 2009).

The urban environments that shape and contain knowledge hubs around the world are being asked to essentially achieve four key objectives:

  1. To firstly attract and then retain knowledge workers.

  2. To facilitate the exchange of ideas and the production of marketable knowledge through face to face contact.

  3. To make an important contribution to environmentally sound urban development and the creation of sustainable communities.

  4. To diffuse economic and social wealth into the nearby communities and beyond into the wider economy.

What urban design principles achieve these objectives?

  1. Knowledge workers choose regions, cities, workplaces and suburbs which exhibit a diverse mix of people, uses and cultural and recreational experiences. Knowledge worker hubs benefit from a diverse range of infrastructure and a variety of urban forms. “The public realm and the wider quasi-public sphere of ‘third places’ are both important to creative people, not just for their consumption and leisure needs but for the planned meetings and chance socialization which are both key parts of their productive work” (Yigitcanlar, 2016). Mixed use environments encourage this kind of interaction because they blend work and life activities within close proximity.

  2. “Knowledge nodes benefit from urban design qualities that facilitate face to face contact” (O’Hare, 2011). Face to face contact is facilitated through the creation of desirable and effective public space - put simply, urban environments that cater to the needs and choices of users. Walkability is key, Sheahan (2014) conducted a comparative study of knowledge hubs globally and evaluated their effectiveness in walkability. She found that hubs that featured design elements like mixed use - education, retail, entertainment, recreation and food - which were easily accessible on foot created more opportunities for human interaction and the creation of new ideas - “high quality public spaces and pedestrian networks in hospital precincts encourage people to walk around…these networks enable valuable connections to be made that can lead to collaboration and innovation” (Sheahan, 2015). These environments create what Gehl describes as the ‘life between buildings’ (Gehl, 2006)

  3. Knowledge precincts “can make a major contribution to urban sustainability by virtue of their locations, their interrelationships, and their coordination with transport infrastructure” (O’Hare, 2011). Transportation oriented developments are critical to the success of knowledge precinct.

  4. It is widely accepted however that knowledge hubs must be deliberately integrated into the surrounding communities not just situated nearby (O’Hare, 2011) As Yigitcanlar (2107) points out, some Queensland precincts with inner city features have artificial connections which are not authentically integrated, for example, ”the edges are blocked with busy roads or train tracks which make it hard to walk in and out and marks them less permeable.” Synergy can be created through integrated urban design whereby there is meaningful, accessible connections to the communities in which these precincts are situated.

Author: Stephen Burton


Image Credit: Drawing by Shraddha Gurjar

Gehl, J., & Koch, J. (2006). Life between buildings: Using public space (6th ed.). Copenhagen]: The Danish Architectural Press.

Gehl, J. (2010). Cities for people. Washington, DC: Island Press

O’Hare, Daniel. (2011). The development of knowledge nodes and health hubs as key structuring elements of the sustainable city region. Mirvac School of Sustainable Development

O’Hare, Daniel, Bajracharya, Bhishna, & Khanjanasthiti, Isara. (2012). Transforming the tourist city into a knowledge and healthy city: Reinventing Australia’s Gold Coast. Mirvac School of Sustainable Development, Mirvac School of Sustainable Development.

Queensland Government (2009). Smart Communities, Brisbane Australia

Sheahan, M (2014) Walk, Talk, Work. Sydney, National Association of Women in Construction

Yigitcanlar, Tan and Velibeyoglu, Koray and Martinez-Fernandez, Cristina (2008) Rising knowledge cities: the role of urban knowledge precincts. Journal of Knowledge Management, 12(5). pp. 8-20.

Yigitcanlar, T., and Martinez-Fernandez, C. (2007). Making space and place for knowledge production: knowledge precinct developments in Australia, In the proceedings of the State of Australian Cities 2007 National Conference, 28-30 Nov 2007, University of South Australia and Flinders University. Adelaide, Australia, pp. 831-840.

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