Community Engagement Through Design
What defines a Community space? A gathering space; an urban farm or something in the lines of traditional open spaces where you allow a myriad of activities to flourish within the boundaries. These have, though, allowed some illicit activities to grow as well. There are many questions an Architect ponders when designing something as simple as a 100-sf urban farm, because space matters and what we do with it could be envisaged in numerous probabilities. We need to streamline these possibilities which best interacts with its context and function, however also ensuring the design will allow for any supplemental activities which cannot be forecast, could be given an opportunity to flourish. Such ideation tools are necessary when designing a public space.
Traditionally, most of the gardens were esoteric and catered to the rich section of the society. Some of these famous aboriginal gardens are the Mughal, English, Roman gardens designed with lavish spaces containing water bodies and eclectic flowers which were intended towards beautification of the garden. The evolution of the garden has been spectacular and is moving towards more functional use. This is due to the fact that cities are stifled with built environment and lacking open spaces which makes protecting and using them at their full capacity even more necessary within the urban fabric. Subsequently, physical public interaction is threatened with the advent of the internet, social media, and other entertainment services at home, deterring people from leaving their houses. There are also underlying threats to other civic spaces like theaters, markets, shopping malls, and many other such human-centric structures. Because of streaming services, people are not going to theaters; online shopping has become more efficient for people than going to markets to buy food or shopping malls for apparel. With such problems of the modern world, the architecture community has to develop unique solutions to attract the masses to their project.
One such public space reminiscing a vernacular English garden is Stourhead, England. It consists of a magnificent lake reflecting classical temples, mystical grottoes, and rare and exotic trees, offering an opportunity for people to explore within its vast land. It is such a picturesque park that certain magazines describe it as a ‘living work of art’. On the opposite spectrum, we have Central Park which is situated right in the heart of Manhattan constructed from scratch. All lakes and ponds within are artificially made, creating an exotic and sumptuous space to wander through handling a gamut of activities.
Creating a park in an urban setting is difficult to design. However, there have been some incredible examples which have revolutionized the urban public space experience. The Parc de la Villette, designed by Bernard Tschumi, did not design the park in a traditional mindset where landscape and nature are the predominant forces behind the design. Rather, he envisioned Parc de la Villette as a place of culture where natural and artificial are forced together into a state of constant reconfiguration and discovery. It was created on conditions of points, lines, and planes, where the points represented the follies allowing the guests to break its exploration represented by lines. The ‘planes’ represented the exchange of activities.
Another park, reviving an old railway track cutting though midtown Manhattan, illustrates how various derelict structures can be used to our advantage to activate the space for public use. The high line cutting through several structures has rejuvenated the area around it, which is now lined by art intertwined with residential and commercial buildings. It’s a unique experience as you walk through the archaic tracks converged by superimposition of indigenous flora separated by segments of viewing decks, an amphitheater, and sit-out spaces enhancing the whole idea of exploration and then breaking that feeling to only start again.
Well-designed public spaces could help a neighborhood in betterment of its people and could revive the environment around it. Synthesis was given an opportunity to design a community garden for the people of Hillside neighborhood, assisting them with community engagement in small scale farming. The project is site lined on two sides by townhouses, some of which are derelict whereas others inhabited. The other two sides are abutted by a main road and a small lane where the peak of the slope begins sloping evenly towards the Hillside road. The neighborhood is rich in churches and is lined by a few industrial factories but lacks common outdoor spaces for the community to gather, creating segregation between neighboring groups. Thus, designing a community garden that acts to achieve its primary goals, which is farming, but could be interjected by other activities and allows them to flourish through juxtaposition is what we strive to achieve. The site is scattered with two imaginary boundaries which helps to define visually quasi – private vs. pure public space. The raised beds are custom designed to cater to various age groups and consist of supplementary provisions for growing flowers or herbal shrubs. Such a dissection of the site helps various communities within the area to perform their activity within the community space and also allows for the common public to pass through and interact with such groups.