“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.” — Aristotle, Politics
As a kid, we always wonder and observe everything around us. Every place, thing, or thought tells us a story. A story that has many interesting vistas. Architects are just the improvised versions of these little beings. We see things that the normal eye cannot, we build and we visualize something that does not exist but will fit right in. Architects have the power to teleport a person from a state of mind to another through the medium of spaces. Architecture is not only the physical environment in which people live in but it is the culture that has developed for ages and has resulted in what is present today.
The Architecture of Change is a paradigm shift that embraces the transience in today’s culture and life in an age that worships change.
From our ancestral times, every space was created with an intention, every material was used for a reason but now it has become a whim. Nowadays it is just about selling styles. The focus has shifted only upon the visuals, the context, the texture, the feel is left beyond. (Benninger, n.d.) We realize the importance of a space when we most need it until then it is just a facility that is provided.
Taking into consideration today’s scenario everyone is confined to the four walls. The interaction with the outer environment has diminished which is indirectly impacting the state of mind of the public.
The pandemic has changed our perception making us realize the importance of open spaces. This condition is mainly observed in the urban areas where the ratio of the built and the unbuilt has already lost its balance. This won’t be the first time in history that cities and buildings will be reimagined in reaction to an increased understanding of the disease. Urban designers and city planners will now have to strategically plan spaces that will work post-pandemic. This leaves us with the question: will city dwellers now run for megacities or small towns? Social distance dictated by COVID-19 health emergencies affects access to public space and it creates a range of impacts on different levels.
Green spaces have always been referred to as the lungs of the city. The pandemic has made us realize the value of accessible open spaces that allow movement within dense urban areas. Physical isolation with lack of adequate open spaces is one of the major causes of discomposure and poor living conditions. As per the new normal, the language of community spaces has changed. Earlier it was free for all without any restrictions but for today we search out ways in which individuals could stay apart and yet make the most of the outside area.
As social distancing becomes our priority, we need to change our view towards the planning of such open public spaces. Will these changes be permanent or temporary? Public squares in urban areas have immense potential to bring people together, create opportunities to connect with friends and family, re-establish a dialogue with nature, provide a platform for people to engage with the city at large, and instill a sense of pride and belonging among the locals. Open spaces in cities can enhance people’s social life and the public square demonstrates this through a series of design interventions. Changes in urban design and city development can play a major role in this regard.
Architecture of Change
A new understanding and study are now needed to comprehend how these public spaces will work and observation is the best tool that will help us see how people behave when they are outside. It is often seen that people tend to observe how many people are there around them. Everyone has their definition of ‘too many’. William H. Whyte, an American urbanist and a sociologist who had studied human behaviour in urban settings, had argued that all public spaces have a “carrying capacity”—the maximum number of people that can be present in a given space without making us uncomfortable. (Anon., JAN 3, 2010)
We, as Architects, need to have a different and a changed perspective to this condition. We have to come together and develop solutions for modifying town streets and sidewalks so that they work higher for the restaurants, stores, and services that look out on opening after a long government-imposed lockdown. A public square can become an integral part of people’s lives which hosts a wide range of public events like concerts, political rallies, festival fairs and sees participation from all sections of the society making the square not just accessible to people but also desirable for all. It can influence the social, cultural, economic, and political aspects of the city and its people, and established itself as a successful model of reclaiming a square and giving it back to the people to whom it belongs. (Honey-Rosés, n.d.)
The COVID situation is likely changing our insight about the carrying capacity of public spaces. As urban planners, we need to focus on creating and building calming spaces, not only in response to this new demand, but because these urban escapes improve people’s health.
“Holly always believed that the greatest lesson the city has to offer us is the idea that we are all in it together, for better or for worse, and we have to make it work.” — Paul Goldberger, Architecture Magazine
Anon., JAN 3, 2010. Project for Public Spaces. [Online]
Available at: https://www.pps.org/article/wwhyte
Anon., n.d. Community Benefits of Green Areas & Parks. [Online]
Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140922075014-150737338-architecture-and-urban-planning/
Benninger, C., n.d. In: Letters to young Architect. Pune: India House Art Gallery.
Bond, B. M., n.d. BBC. [Online]
Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170605-the-psychology-behind-your-citys-design
Honey-Rosés, J., n.d. Public Spaces and Health in Post-Pandemic Cities. [Online]
Available at: https://www.isglobal.org/en/healthisglobal/-/custom-blog-portlet/los-espacios-publicos-y-la-salud-en-la-ciudad-pospandemia/8000927/12302
Søholt, H., n.d. GEHL. [Online]
Available at: https://gehlpeople.com/blog/public-space-and-public-life-are-more-important-than-ever/