When visiting a new country, communal spaces would likely be your best bet to experience a city’s culture. Communal spaces have been the birthplace of mankind’s culture over the centuries. As Ivan Illich had quoted in his book, places where people can be “sociable and festive” are the essence of urbanity. Communal spaces are a shared element shared by the native people over an extended period. These spaces help people to come together to showcase their identities and learn about the diversities of various cultures. Any urban settlement would be deprived of its very soul without suitable public spaces.
Communal spaces can range from your friendly local bar to larger-scale examples such as the Colosseum. Essentially, they all serve the same purpose, although at varying scales. By virtue of our human nature, we are very social creatures. Due to this aspect of our collective personality, communal spaces have always existed intentionally or unintentionally formed. The earliest examples of community spaces date back almost 6000 years; the earliest examples of communal areas known are the Athenian Agora, The Roman Forum, The Medieval market, and the Renaissance Plaza.
The Athenian Agora serves as a good case study in communal spaces. The Agora served as a public square where politics, administration, religion, and commerce were poured into this area. The Agora was where the Greeks congregated in its temporary market stalls to discuss their quotidian life. It was surrounded by government buildings, temples, and stoas. The open space was where the Athenians conducted their very characteristic ostracisms. For an extended time, Agoras remained a hub for people from all walks of life to rub shoulders and compare their differences. This proved to be the heart of the cultural history of the Athenians.
In essence, communal spaces create deliberate opportunities for casual encounters among the native people. Perhaps even deliver positive experiences between friends and strangers. Although it may seem relatively straightforward, communal spaces have often been executed and failed spectacularly. In today’s day and age, more often than not, urban planning has developed a close tie with communal spaces. Communal spaces have been decentralized, elucidating they have been divided by virtue of their functionality, such as entertainment and leisure areas. Subsequently, public zones such as shopping arcades, departmental stores, and other regions have been formed, which take part responsibility for these communal spaces. Thereby, communal areas need to be designed keeping in mind the everchanging lifestyle of the urban population.
Communal spaces must be tailored to suit the scale and typology of the development they cater to. Multifunctionality is paramount while accommodating a broad spectrum of activity in its zone. Communal spaces are more than just jolly, go-happy areas. They serve a much larger purpose; they are the heart of democratic living. They are one last few places where people can encounter differences, to learn to understand and tolerate other people. Any urban fabric can be significantly enhanced by inserting a communal space that has been intricately designed to serve the locality. Without urban inserts, as mentioned earlier, we would be left with nothing but soulless urban fabric, which may shelter us but are detrimental to our psychological well-being and may likely have a myriad of untold problems.
Experts have long argued that Physical health is directly linked to mental health. Therefore, it is absolutely to have urban spaces that promote an active lifestyle. A recent study has confirmed this claim. Urban green areas profoundly impact mental ailments such as depression, anxiety, and stress levels. Thereby adding and improving existing communal areas to encourage green pockets could be incredibly beneficial to the collective mental health of the urban population. When designed as above cold, spaces also encourage public social and cultural interaction whilst allowing for better urban walkability.
Over the years, urban communal spaces have been implemented, but some still need to meet the standards. Following specific failsafe measures can ensure that the communal space is functioning as designed and has the effect on the public that was intended. Communal spaces should be designed keeping in mind the integration of location, uses, and scale of neighbouring buildings. These measures can be classified under the following headings: Physical (design and practical), Geographical (background), sensual (emotions a space invokes), and lastly, psychosocial( connection of space to mind and spirit). As Francis Tibbalds mentions in his seminal, Making People Friendly Towns (1992), communal spaces should have the ambience of a “rich, vibrant, mixed-use environment, that does not die at night or on the weekends and is visually attractive to residents and visitors alike.”
Communal spaces have an enormous impact on the psychology of people. While also standing as the cultural and social flag of the urban fabric. Communal space is an absolute necessity for any urban settlement. Failing which, as mentioned by Henry Shaftoe (2008), “we are likely to drift into an increasingly privatized society, with all its concomitant problems.” When all is said and done, designing communal spaces still begs the question we will ever be able to design for these intangible aspects with certain principles.
- Marcuse, P. (2014). The paradoxes of public space. Journal of Architecture and Urbanism, 38(1), 102-106. https://doi.org/10.3846/20297955.2014.891559
- Dickenson, C.P. (2015) Looking at public space – the Greek Agora in Hellenistic and Roman times, Groniek 198. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/17851885/Looking_at_public_space_the_Greek_agora_in_Hellenistic_and_Roman_times (Accessed: November 28, 2022).
- Gilbile, N. (2021) “COMMUNITY SPACES: UNDERSTANDING THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY SPACES IN URBAN AREAS.” Available at: http://puneresearch.com/media/data/issues/60cb92d56244e.pdf.
- Monfries, J. (2020) The Psychological Efects of Urban Design [Preprint]. Available at: https://doi.org/https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/topophilia/index.php/topophilia/article/download/27/17/48.
- Shaftoe, H. (2015) Convivial urban spaces: Creating effective public places. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Earthscan from Routledge.
- Five stunning outdoor spaces for all (no date) BBC Culture. BBC. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20200602-five-stunning-outdoor-spaces-for-all (Accessed: November 28, 2022).