Architecture is all around us. Every single day, we experience the potent influence of the built environment. We become shaped by the spaces in which we exist, subconsciously being swayed by the emotional values of the surrounding environment. So, why is it that despite this clear power that architecture has to improve our social, emotional, and physical health, so many spaces still have negative impacts on our wellbeing? As architects, we can uplift communities by designing spaces that encourage healthy interactions, physical activity, and other actions which can cultivate positive mental health and bring communities closer together. All this can only be made possible if we acknowledge the role we play within communities as a result of our social responsibility.
Why Do Architects Have Social Responsibility?
All of us have some level of social responsibility, no matter what our career is, as we all belong to some form of a community. Not one person is entirely independent. Whether it is the food we eat, the clothes we wear, or the house we live in, there is always something that we can only have access to due to the services of others. Architects, in particular, play a significant role in this communal provision of services and thus have a great level of social responsibility. Not only do architects provide the shelters that are needed by so many people, but they also design the other environments that we spend most of our time in, such as schools or workplaces.
And whilst it is obvious that architects are responsible for providing us with the shelter necessary to meet our physical needs, the responsibility they possess to design spaces in ways that support us emotionally and socially can often be more overlooked.
We must, therefore, strive to be architects that design responsibly by considering the physical, social, and emotional needs of communities. This way, society can be fully uplifted by the built environment.
Positively Impactful Architecture Projects
To understand the role that architects play in tackling social issues, it can be helpful to look at existing projects which have had a positive impact on communities in need. In addition to the projects that we will explore in this article, there are countless examples of impactful architecture all around us. Every building, no matter whether it has been designed to solve a large-scale humanitarian crisis or simply house one family, is to some extent responsible for our wellbeing and therefore has an impact on society.
CatalyticAction’s Playgrounds for Refugee Children in Lebanon
The Syrian crisis was named the world’s largest refugee crisis by the UN in 2015, prompting the movement of 1.2 million refugees to Lebanon. Half of these were children. Noticing the need for more support of child refugees in humanitarian relief efforts, CatalyticAction designed a playground in one of the region’s schools. To ensure that the space met the needs of its users, the group involved children in every step of the design process, not only incorporating adequate physical structures into the design but also forming opportunities for the children to play a big part in shaping the space. Through this, the social wellbeing of the children could be supported, along with their physical and mental health being nurtured through the play facilitated by the design. The structure that sits in the playground can also be easily disassembled, allowing for efficient transportation and the possibility of repurposing or reassembling the structure in the future.
TVK Agency’s Place for Protest
The Place de la République in Paris is one of the city’s most important public spaces. For many years, the site has hosted a remarkable number of organized protests. So, when architecture firm TVK Agency was tasked with redesigning the space, they respectfully made it their responsibility to preserve the purpose of the site and continue to support the Parisians’ right to protest. In addition, they aimed to contribute to the social health of the city by encouraging the site to have other uses as well.
The architects altered the composition of the plaza to give room to the protestors whilst keeping the roads surrounding the site clear and unobstructed by political action, reducing the disturbance that the protests had on the everyday life of other people. Despite this, the site still very much accommodates protests, only in a more peaceful manner. The redesign of the plaza has been successful in this respect: there has only been one case of police intervention since 2013. Freedom remains at the heart of the space. No restrictions have been placed on activities in the plaza, and the space has been effectively placed into the hands of the people. The openness of the square reflects this unique characteristic, representing how architecture can and should give freedom to the people, empowering communities to use spaces in their own way to enhance every aspect of their lives.