28 August 2017

Inclusive Space

Union Square, New York. Inclusive space attract people and encourage all types of activity.

In light of recent events, particularly in public space, i feel compelled to address the issue of the design and use of public space and inclusive design.  It's not my intention to debate the about the groups identified that have been the center of much of the recent press coverage but rather to focus on the spaces people use to express their opinions, and how these spaces reflect the values of the society in which they exist.

I will state, for the record, however, that i'm a firm believer in democracy.  To me democracy is inclusive, welcome to all, without condition or prior approval.  The contrary to this are those actions, groups, beliefs, and spaces that exclude, setting standards or criteria which, must be met, for participation. People who gather for inclusion, in my view, cannot be classified as equal to those who gather for exclusion.  The groups we support and associate with as individuals, or as a society as a whole, reflect our values, our priorities, and our goals.

So how does all of this affect us as architects and designers?  All of the spaces we create reflect these very same things; the values of us, our clients, and the public we engage.  Whether specifically intended for public use or not, many of the projects we participate in affect the public in some way. Even if a public space is not included, everything we do exists in a context that includes building users, and non-users, who interact with our projects even if just as a passerby.  So, do our projects contribute to inclusion and limit exclusion?

Inclusive space, simply put, includes people.  Public space that is fairly distributed, with free access and movement within, is characteristic of inclusive space.  However, it doesn't have to be exclusively public space.  Private space that engages the public can also be inclusive.  Space that is accessible, invites people in, welcomes participation, allows for free expression and the exchange of ideas; are qualities worth striving for.  Inclusive spaces may consist of different areas for different levels of involvement, active or passive, for the spectator and for the active participant, but it provides the same level of access to all, without exclusion.

Conversely, exclusive space, well, excludes, separates, prohibits.  While private spaces may first come to mind, exclusive space may be either public or private.  Either way, exclusive space can be associated with barriers, both physical and social.  The term "exclusive" has the air of of prestige in our society, as in an exclusive club or event, where attendance is highly desirable but limited, typically only to those willing to pay an exorbitant fee or meeting a specific set of criteria.  Exclusive space may be the V.I.P. area at an entertainment venue or even a private neighborhood park.  Even the unfair distribution of public space can be considered exclusive city planning.  Of all the public parks initiated by Robert Moses very few are located in minority neighborhoods. As he designed the roadway system that would provide access to Jones Beach, and other State Parks, low bridges were added to prevent access by public bus.  This is clearly inequitable, allowing only those of certain abilities or wealth, access.  Even accessible space , if it limits movement within, and allows for the control of space by others, may be exclusive.

So, how do we work to insure the spaces we design are inclusive?  Start with a thoughtful approach, respect the scale and character of the community in which you're working and invite community organizations to participate in design charrette's during all phases of the project.  As you design include features that attract and engage the public, even for private projects.  Provide amenities that improve usefulness of the space by the public and encourage people to say a while and explore.  A recent study, investigating factors that encourage kindness between citizens, singled out art as a key contributing factor that inspires empathy, critical thinking, and healthy dialog. Including public art, as part of our projects, not only enriches the visual character of our communities but can increase our public engagement and is one way to create more inclusive spaces.

I urge everyone, architects, designers, and engaged citizens, to strive to make all spaces inclusive, and to advocate for more equitable public space.  This happens at all scales; from city planning, whose broad strokes can define a communities character before anyone has moved in; the design of public spaces that allows free access and movement; down to the design of site features, including furnishings, barriers, site lines, and lighting; along with public policy that governs the use of our public spaces.  Those spaces where we open dialog, express ourselves, and work for progress are necessary to maintain a healthy society which engages its citizens in a fair, equitable, and inclusive way.

23 August 2017

a [quote] for architecture [4]

"Architecture is becoming less about a single walled-off phallus on the horizon, and more about parks and public spaces which engage with the city."

- Alissa Walker

16 August 2017

a [quote] for architecture [3]

"To truly make good public space, you have to erase the distinctions between architecture, urbanism, landscape [and] media design." 

- Liz Diller

03 August 2017

a [quote] for architecture [2]

"I am interested in certain persistent problems and how architecture can be a medium we can use to speak about broader issues and actually make people think about them differently."

- Jeanne Gang