Can sensitive urban planning and the use of “slow” architecture help slow down the fast-paced lifestyles in metro cities? The relationship between the pace of life and urban planning has been a key factor in measuring the quality of life in a city. While fast-paced metro cities are contributors to economic growth, they are also hubs of low-quality, job-oriented lifestyles, and living spaces. At this juncture, the liveability of a city drops.
The city gets plagued with overcrowding, unreasonably long traffic congestions, gridlocks, poor public health, inadequate sanitation facilities, and the lack of hygienic public transport. The growing accumulation of population in cities creates both possibilities and obstacles for potential sustainable growth scenarios. On the one hand, cities allow infrastructure economies of scale and promote the optimized delivery of social services such as education, health care, and effective government. Such effects, on the other hand, occur as a result of human adaptation to urban life.
Although determining clear causal relationships between physical space and wellbeing is difficult, physical space indeed contributes significantly in influencing how we interact with it. Thus it reveals how a person would perceive physical stimuli and helps in establishing a community’s sense of belonging to a place.
The need for Slow cities
In this fast-paced world of the 21st century, especially in cities, we need unhurried spaces, a place where we can stop, slow down, be present, and genuinely interact. The Prospect-Refuge theory by Jay Appleton (1975) says that humans have evolved to crave both prospect (opportunity) and refuge (safety). While the cities in India have become bases for ample opportunities today, they are just as lacking in the provision of safe and hygienic public spaces.
What is the Slow City movement?
The Slow City (Cittaslow) phenomenon is a new global movement in which small cities commit to expanding sustainably while maintaining their authenticity and celebrating their local culture and diversity. First organized in October 1999, Paolo Saturnini, a mayor in Chianti, a Tuscan hill town met with mayors of three other municipalities to define the characteristics of what would be citta lente—slow city.
The CittaSlow Movement aims to create places that deliberately reinforce their own identity while also facilitating a relaxed and pleasant way of life for their residents. They are towns where pedestrians can walk without being bothered by rushing traffic; towns with a variety of spaces where people can run into one another, relax, chat, and enjoy communal life.
How do urban design and soft architecture help make slow cities liveable?
Soft architecture is a system that enables the sensitive design of not only the structure but also of the more empathetic life space. This helps us reflect our cognition and affiliation to the cities and communities we inhabit. All human life is related to space, be it work, home, or public recreation and these spaces can be sensitively designed to optimize and enhance our experiences.
To increase the liveability of a place or a city, each component of the city can benefit from the “softening” of its architecture. This will, in turn, lead to a more holistic community space as a whole, creating a sustainable and enjoyable city.
Public Soft Architecture
Soft architecture is the design for interdependencies of program and use, cognition, connectivity, and the social realm. Public soft architecture, along with offering flexible activity spaces for local inhabitants, should also encourage the diversified growth of urban space, provide residents with more dialogue and contact space, and enhance interpersonal connections.
Such soft architecture creates an urban public domain where structures do not exist merely to express the technical qualities of public spaces but also meet the psychological needs of their inhabitants.
Residential Soft Architecture
The modern concrete blocks that have taken over our cities in the past few decades have created more gated communities and privatized colonies. These create a sense of isolation on the street and do not contribute to making social spaces. While the need for security is understandable, an effort to remain relevant to the scale of the adjacent streets would help create public domains that are safe, social, and places of belonging for a community.
Here, soft architecture plays a role in creating external and shared spaces that can cultivate the physical and spiritual wellbeing of the inhabitants of the structure.
Commercial Soft Architecture
Office spaces created with the narrow focus of being only workspaces make people feel introverted and closed. Office soft architecture, while fulfilling the office purpose, should pay attention to interactions between workers and customers, impact ordinary people’s everyday life, completely incorporate local areas and open spaces optimally, and offer public activity space to passers-by, office staff, nearby residents, and visitors.
Mixed/ Complex Soft Architecture
Mixed-use complexes have a farther reach into the everyday life of people due to the wide range of professions that it impacts. Such Complex buildings offer a more diverse and centralized urban existence due to the integration of different functions.
The characteristic impact of such soft architecture can be to delve into the urban life in cities, have a substantial attraction potential than public space architecture, serve as a larger public space and improve urban viability by affecting a wide range of the population.
‘Cities today are machines’ has been a theme for many decades, but its alternative, the ‘city as a living organism’, has been slow to achieve universal recognition. A machine that ruthlessly runs its populace to ruin is the cause for many chronic health problems today. A pandemic and the inadvertent collapse of our social structures have been caused due to the lack of effective systems that contribute to sustainable and healthy lifestyles. This is articulated by associate professor of architecture at Columbia University, David Benjamin, who says, “Pandemics are a spatial problem.”
The statement is a call for architects and designers to effectively engage with the problem at hand. Although, on a deeper level, Benjamin suggests that the pandemic affects everything; it spreads across the whole three-dimensional universe we live in, affecting and being affected by the relationship of one thing to another. It is a clear sign to modify and redesign the spaces we occupy as tailored for the people, and not the other way round. There is an evident need for sensitive planning and soft architecture so that our cities can become enjoyable, liveable, and sustainable places.
- Aamodt, Mette (2018). Slow Spaces, Slow Cities, Newcities [online]. Available at: https://newcities.org/the-big-picture-slow-space-slow-cities/ [Last Accessed: 25/04/2021]
- Kennicott, Philip (2020). Designing to Survive, The Washington Post Magazine [online]. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2020/07/13/pandemic-has-shown-us-what-future-architecture-could-be/
- Knox, Paul, (2005).Creating Ordinary Places: Slow Cities in a Fast World, Journal of Urban Design, Vol. 10. No.1, 1–11.College of Architecture and Urban Studies, Virginia Tech.
- Ramanujam, Priti (2006). Prospect-Refuge Theory Revisited: A Search For Safety In Dynamic Public Spaces With A Reference To Design, Masters Level. The University of Texas at Arlington.
- Zhenkun, G. Lingege, L. and Wen, O. (2017). Soft Architecture and Slow Cities, UIA 2017 Seoul World Architects Congress. Doctorate Level, School of Architecture and Urban Planning, Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture, China.