Why Aura Planning

Buildings should make people happy

Buildings have an aura about them they generate a feeling. If that aura satisfies the buildings users, the building is a success. Burland Aura Planning offers a way to assess and define a buildings aura. For users, it gives them the language to explain their needs. For planners, developers, owners and architects, its a process for creating a built environment that offers a unique experience and user satisfaction.


When to use Burland Aura Planning

Whenever a building has to satisfy particular emotional needs for users, you should plan its aura. Common examples include:

A hospital that needs to lift the spirits of patients, visitors and staff

A school that needs to inspire students as well as help them focus

A stadium that has to fill spectators with wonder

Public housing that needs to turn local resistance to delight

– A family house that needs to be altered and capture the atmospheres it’s occupants aspire to.

Civil engineering projects that also require aesthetic appeal

Retail units conversion into accommodation that has to reinvigorate a run-down high street

Environmental projects that have to meet functional needs as well as environmental criteria

Is Burland Aura Planning for new projects or existing buildings?

Both. You can use the Burland Aura Planning process to design the aura of new buildings or refine the aura of existing ones.


A career in aura planning

James Burland spent much of his career at ARUP, the engineering firm famous for taking the most challenging architectural designs, such as the Sydney Opera House, and making them buildable. They achieved this through interdisciplinary design where everyone engineers, architects, owners, technical specialists and building contractors sat around the table and shared their insights. For several years he was head architect of Arup Associates, their multi-disciplinary practice, where he designed projects within a team of engineers and architects.  The Manchester 2000 Olympic Bid Stadium, after many iterations, was built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and designed to be converted for Premier Division Football. During its evolution, Arup’s Midlands campus building, a new college at Durham and the later phases of the buildings at Stockley Park, Heathrow were designed in parallel.


Learning from stadium design

The whole point of a stadium is to create an aura that will give spectators an extraordinary experience. Creating this aura remains the guiding principle foreveryone involved in a stadium project throughout its development.

Stadium designers know that people have many different experiences of a building. Theres the Prospect View as you see the stadium from a distance. The Threshold Moment as you enter. The Welcome Experience as you move through the building and sense how it receives you. Then there is the Powerful Reveal as you emerge into the open arena. Finally, there is the journey to your seat and the Seated Experience that allows you to enjoy the spectacle in comfort while in the company of other spectators.

Could this be a useful way of thinking about the design of any type of building? A home has the curb view and a threshold experience as you enter. It offers moments for entertaining and for individuality. Why not listen to the user so you can define these moments, discovering their preferences and passions along with their practical needs? You could then make this part of the working brief and keep it as the guiding principle, just as you do with a stadium.

The difference between Burland Aura Planning and a traditional architectural service is that aura is the starting point not an outcome reliant on the imagination of a closed design team.

Aura Planning – A language for defining aura

Keen to refine these thoughts on aura planning, James Burland went to Cambridge University to study for a master’s degree in interdisciplinary design. His thesis was on stadium atmosphere, but his focus broadened to establishing a process for planning aura, defining it so that aura can be made part of a buildings specification. James realised that this aura planning process was not only useful for stadiums: it could be applied to any built environment. So he developed Burland Aura Planning as a tool for any building and built environment.

The elements of Burland Aura Planning

The aura of a building depends on the experience of light, sound and air at four key momentsthe prospect, the threshold, the welcome and the ‘seat’ – spending time in similar, existing or imagined environments.

The Aura Discovery Process

The aim is to identify the feeling people really want as they engage with their immediate environment, then use it to direct the projects design. You are not trying to impose or predetermine an atmosphere you are trying to discover it from the preferences and needs of all those involved.

This interdisciplinary design approach means ideas emerge from the middle of the table rather than the mind of a single person. Although it is a structured process, it needs to invite exploratory conversations about how places and buildings are experienced.

The Aura Investment Process

The next step is ensuring these discovered and defined auras direct the projects design and are realised in the building.

During the planning process, project requirements are better understood and specialist help is acquired. This serves to refine the aura specification, ensuring it is achievable and tailored to the particular project. Even though the specification will evolve, the auras principles remain the driving force behind the projects development.

In this way, places, buildings and interiors emerge with a refined aura based on the continuing input of brief-makers, users and designers rather than the predictions of a closed design team. Aura is always planned it is never an afterthought and it is always the result of consultation and team work. The ultimate aim is to create a building with the different aura moments that will satisfy the emotional as well as practical needs of its users.

Existing buildings may need aura refinement as they have a new use or are not performing as desired. The same Aura Planning process used for a new-build can achieve a desired aura when adapting a building.


The world needs beautiful buildings that users love.

Societal benefits

Governments and planners need buildings that users like as popular buildings appeal to communities, so they get built. Buildings with a well-planned aura nurture mental and physical health, as people feel good using them. That reduces the burden on the NHS and other government services. Owners like buildings with a good aura because they are popular and easier to sell, rent and maintain.

Helping building users express their needs

For buildings to be accepted by communities, they need to meet user expectations. These expectations are emotive, personal and difficult to articulate. You need a way of finding out what those expectations are. People do have a sense of the aura they want from a built environment. They just don’t have a language to express it.

Overcoming the design is subjective objection

Currently, owners and planners have no way of defining the desired aura so that it can be fed into the design and technical spec or assessed in an existing building. As a result, a lot of bad design blights our built environment. Burland Aura Planning helps address this problem. It provides the language – and a process for identifying the aura requirement. It then offers a process for achieving the aura through involving all parties. Aura becomes part of the specification, that can be built to and then assessed.

Because it is a process, Burland Aura Planning is as applicable to refining the aura of existing buildings as it is to designing new ones. In fact, it can be used to plan the aura of any building or built environment.