How Can Urban Design Better Serve Human Passive Engagement

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Building inclusive, healthy, functional, and productive cities is perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity today, and there are no easy solutions. A key part of the puzzle, though, lies right at the heart of the world’s urban areas: Its Public Spaces.

Public spaces range from parks, squares, plazas, green spaces and streets, the success of which is based on the activity and quality of human interaction they make possible. Design is now oriented towards the pedestrian and not the vehicles. For the project to be successful it is critical for these public spaces to capitalize on the building design and its functions. The built environment should allow and be able to support robust environment around it. It should accommodate multiple uses (MUD – Mixed-Use Development) and Multiple Users Public building are at their best when they not only are active community places in their own right, but when they form part of a larger civic district. One of the key issues that architecture today has to tackle is the creation of architecture that belongs.

The rate at which the cities are growing causes us to consider the kind of architecture being produced. With most Indian cities, aiming to the glorified image of the globalized city with places less structures that seem to represent a faraway future, the current development is alienating and monochromatic. Buildings in the suburbs represent clearly this void in the urban continuum. This being said, it is extremely important for structures to stay relevant in the contemporary environment, with the required standards of workability and comfort.

Community spaces play an important role in the success of a city and its inhabitants. They become the foundation to those living and visiting in the area to come together and communicate. They offer opportunities to embrace the history and culture of the area and bring the community together using this common bond. This thesis focuses on embracing the history and culture by bringing a community together through the design of desirable spaces by creating and sustaining an active public space, architecturally around its already built environment. It also focuses on MUDs in dense urban areas, to understand and clarify from the perspective of architects.

Can Urban Open Space Be Better Conserved?

In a search to break down the definition of MUDs, after surveying definitions from different organizations, the most coherent definition is from the ULI (Urban Land Institute) which defines MUDs as having three core qualities:

  1. Three or more significant revenue-producing uses (such as retail/entertainment, office, residential, hotel, and/or civic/cultural/recreation) that in well planned projects are mutually supporting.
  2. Significant physical and functional integration of project components (and thus a relatively close-knit and intensive use of land), including uninterrupted pedestrian connections.
  3. Development in conformance with a coherent plan (that frequently stipulates the type and scale of uses, permitted densities, and related items).

Other definitions from a general survey characterize MUDs to have the following: A mixed-use development is a real estate project with planned integration of some combination of retail, office, residential, hotel, recreation or other functions. It is pedestrian-oriented and contains elements of a live-work-play environment. It maximizes space usage, has amenities and architectural expression and tends to mitigate traffic and sprawl.

How Do We Approach Architecture For Community Integration?

Urban open spaces can be defined as any open piece of land that is undeveloped and is accessible to the public. Open spaces are area for park, green spaces, and other open areas. Urban open spaces may be privately owned.

Open spaces play a large role in design as they become the backbone to embracing the culture and history in the area. The open spaces will provide adequate room for community and public events, as well as for recreation and leisure. The multiuse space will embrace sustainability and will focus on the pedestrian rather than the usually dominating vehicles.

Community Center can be defined as public locations where members of community tend to gather for group activities, social support, public information and other purposes. They may be open for whole community or for a specialized group within the greater community.

Community center will help in programming calendars of events to keep the public involved with their city. Having amenities such as recreation spaces and meeting spaces, will create a multi space for any community and public need and to further its success.

Streets can be defined as a public road in a city, town or village, typically with houses and building on one or both sides. The surrounding streets will act as vehicular connectors to the pedestrian spaces.

Users and residents. This user group will consist of outsiders coming from surrounding cities or even further. They will be able to enjoy and take advantage of the retail, restaurant, parks and open spaces in the area, as well as participate in community events. They will be able to learn about the rich culture and history in the area through the use of community center and any public event taking place.

Business Professionals. This user group will consist of local employees in the area working at the surrounding retail, restaurant, commercial and office spaces. They will enjoy the open spaces in their off hours or breaks.

Tourist. This user group will consist of local residents both near as well as surrounding neighborhoods. They will be able to enjoy the open spaces and use the resources in area such as retail and food. Also they would be able to take advantage of the community center and the community events.

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How can architecture help create and sustain an active public realm supported by the built environment?

Good spaces need to stay active. More often than not, despite the efforts of architecture, public spaces in the suburban context tend to be deserted or non-existent, thanks to the vehicle oriented development. With the pedestrians as the focus of development, the nature of space produced is drastically different. This idea of returning power to the pedestrian is in line with the current view of sustainable development. The places needs to capitalize on the function and nature of the surrounding built environment to be able to work well in context. They in turn enrich the quality of built by allowing for spaces of leisure and recreation. This thesis thus investigates the essence of public plazas activated by the architecture that surround them. Through this thesis I would like to engage in the creation and sustenance of an active public space.

This design problem proposes to embody spaces with an ideal, an ideal that is based upon its role on community development. All these spaces are designed to instigate human interaction. It is envisioned as a social- political building with several separate spaces coming together as on building typology. The proposed project is a Mixed Use Integrated Development which seeks to, with the insertion of appropriate program and creation of meaningful spaces, uplift the served community and improve their quality of life. It is meant to be a space that they can call it their own.

Public spaces in context to the city

In the city, the way public spaces are treated becomes extremely important. The learning can be directly applied in articulating the nature of urban forum being created. This also holds relevance in the fact that cities are now being analyzed in terms of human interaction they make possible.

1. Tactical urbanism and public spaces

In the dynamic way of life that people in metropolises lead, most of the architecture that surrounds us is static. Cities worldwide are implementing the idea of temporary architectural interventions to rejuvenate public spaces, to keep in sync with the current scene and demand.

2. Design of contemporary workplace

Flexibility is also key to creating contemporary work environments which rely heavily on collaboration and discussions. Providing for innovation is thus important to stay relevant in today’s world built on communication and interaction. This research informs design project directly because of the huge component of office spaces being provided for. “It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.”

Public spaces in context of globalizing city

Public spaces are at the center of the discourse on creating healthy and sustainable cities. In order for cities to be vibrant and safe places, we need to think of them as system of interdependent parts and complex connections, as interactive and social spaces.

The emphasis should be in creation the “Third Place” (Oldenburg R., 1989), distinct from the two usual places – home (“first place”) and workplace (“second place”). Oldenburg identifies “third Place” as the public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact. In contrast to first place (home) and second place (work), third place allows people to put aside their concerns and simply enjoy the company and conversation around them. Third place “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”

Oldenburg explains that beer gardens, main streets, pubs, cafes, coffee houses, post office, and other third places are the heart of a community’s social vitality. Providing the foundation for a functioning democracy, these spaces promote social equity by leveling the status of guests, providing a setting for grassroots politics, creating habits of public association, and offering psychological support to individuals and communities. According to Oldenburg, “in the absence of informal public life, living becomes more expensive. Where the means and facilities for relaxation and leisure are not publicly shared, they become the object of private ownership and consumption.”

William H. Whyte, an advocate of “small space”, wrote that the social life in public spaces contributes fundamentally to the quality of life of individuals and society as a whole. He believed that we have amoral responsibility to create physical places that facilitates civic engagement and community interactions, as architects our role in this is double-fold. Providing sitting spaces in plazas is extremely important for encouraging human activity. The interplay of sun, wind, trees, and water is necessary for livening a space. Public art and performance spur a lively and robust social interaction.

Contrary to the view of architecture as permanent, the architecture that is now being discussed is fast and fleeting: pop-up shops, food carts, marketplaces, performance spaces. There is undeniable opportunity in the temporary: it is an apt response to a civilization in flux. And like many prevailing trends – collaborative consumption (sharing), community gardens, barter and trade – “temporary” is so retro that it’s become radical.

Tactical Urbanism and public spaces

The strategy of temporality, as explained by Robert Kronenburg, is that it “adapts to unpredictable demands, provides more for less, and encourages innovation.” No single master plan can anticipate the evolving and varied needs of an increasingly diverse population or achieve the resiliency, responsiveness and flexibility that shorter- term, experimental endeavors can. “Tactical urbanism” is all about injecting spontaneity into urban development through temporary inventions.

By providing for this, the project can remain contemporary and forever evolving to change and demand. It also helps infuse activities into a place during a particular time of the day. For instance, in a primary corporate set-up, a recreational zone or food market will work better after hours when the employees are free for the day. This also adds to the safety of the area as places tend to remain active till late into the night. “If you want to seed a place with activity, put out food.”

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