Architecture in today’s context is always looked at from the point of physical manifestation of enclosed and open spaces, aesthetics, circulation, good lighting, access, services, etc., but what is missing is the focus on the people, the end-users, their needs as social beings.
As the famous quote by Aristotle suggests, “But a state exists for the sake of a good life, and not for the sake of life only.” A good life can be achieved not by just having good designs and good buildings, but also by keeping the design human-centric. It must consider the needs of the end-user, including physical and emotional health, and the connection to others and nature (Ryn & Allen, 013)
‘What is essential is invisible to the eye.’ -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
It is not the physical growth of a city that marks its success, but it is the mingling of the physical with the intangible essence that daily interactions between people bring into the environment, that makes it successful.
Open spaces in villages
A very good example of this is the Agraharams or temple town of Kalpathy in Palakkad. It is a unique complex of linearly laid houses on both sides of a narrow street with a temple at the centre. This settlement dates back to around 1425 (Kerala Agraharams, n.d.).The built and unbuilt spaces don’t stand out separately here but merge to become a part of people’s daily lives.
The narrow street, with people sitting on Thinnai (shaded verandah) and having a conversation with the neighbour living opposite to them, children playing on the street that serves more like an extension to the house, women going about their daily activities in the backyard while chit-chatting with the lady next door and vendors selling snack on the roadside keeps this place lively throughout. The houses are divided by walls but the street, low compound walls, the backyard, the snack corner, all these give a sense of safety, belonging, and togetherness of a closely-knit community, and translates the attachment they have towards their neighbourhood, something we rarely experience in the societies we live in today.
Human beings are social species that rely on cooperation to survive and thrive (Editorial, 2018)Their day-to-day interactions instill in them the need to love, value, and protect. It promotes a sense of concern for others, which makes the neighbourhood liveable and safe.
Open spaces in gated communities
The last two decades of fast and dynamic development have changed the relationship between built and unbuilt. Open spaces have fallen victim to this change. Today’s buildings, like satellite townships, large malls, skyscrapers, luxury apartments have only caused disconnect among people and have taken away the opportunity of natural socialization. The possibility of meeting your next-door neighbour itself has become infrequent. With built spaces increasing and open spaces decreasing, people are truly losing out their natural tendency to connect.
For example, the townships like Magarpatta, in Pune have everything integrated into their design but still, it misses the target of providing sensible, healthy, and holistic public spaces that fulfil people’s psychological needs. Providing a park, an open ground, a walkway, or even a multi-purpose hall doesn’t work if people are not attracted to it. In most cases, societies provide amenities in the form of swimming pools, gardens, public walkways, etc, but these spaces fail because of non-flexible and non-empathetic planning.
Spaces shouldn’t be forced in but it has to fit the needs and merge with the daily activities of people using it. When we look at gated towns and societies from the larger context, they are also cut off from the open spaces like markets, parks, recreational spaces provided in the urban fabric of the city.
Need for open spaces
In this fast-paced life where we are in a constant run to achieve our next big goal, we seldom think of our health or meaningful interactions. This makes public spaces an even more essential component for the health and wellbeing of people. The continuous movement of people and small pockets of gathering spaces or pause points at short distances also makes a city lively and safe at all times.
‘Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody only because and only when, they are created by everybody.’ – Jane Jacobs
Considering opinions and involving the community in the initial stage of the design process would be a good thought in the right direction to start building user-sensitive spaces.
Instead of haphazard construction schemes to fill up the requirements of growing urban needs, thought must be put into how these places can be made into thriving hotspots. Small additions like a tea stall near the gate, or an open vegetable market within the centre, a shack selling evening snacks, these small additions could help people get comfortable with the changing environment and at the same time meet and greet their neighbours often.
When we look at apartments, adding open spaces in the form of terrace gardens, or flexible pause points on each floor can connect people and encourage natural socialization. What has to be kept in mind is that the essence of a space doesn’t lie in just the physical expression of buildings, but what happens in between them.
“Life in buildings and between buildings seems in nearly all situations to rank as more essential and more relevant than the spaces and buildings themselves.” (Gehl 2001)
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