After a year of avoiding all things public, we are emerging from our quarantine and thinking once again what it means to be in a community of others. In the meantime, there has been a lot of prognosticating about the future of everything from sports arenas to restaurants, office buildings to the performing arts, and while we all agree that a lot may change, no one really knows how, why, when, or to what extent. What we do know is that we are thinking differently about what we want from the public square.
Many of us have experienced glimpses of what a possible future might look like, and ironically it looks a lot less like the future than it does the past. Within the history of civilization, city planning hasn’t always been a concerted effort to maximize the quality of life for its residents. It was largely a slapdash affair of building where you could, what you could, and hoping for the best.
But the one thing that has affected America, maybe more than any other aspect of modern life, is our addiction to the personal automobile, its subsequent encroachment on nearly every aspect of our culture, and its effect on how we think about the public square. In essence, we made room for mountains of cars and often neglected the people. It was as if both cities and suburban sprawl were dictated by how we would accommodate cars, but not people.
Our highway system, once the envy of the civilized world, and the arteries that made the suburbs possible, have become the very thing that has caused us to lose sight of a more natural scale for human existence. Just because it’s possible to travel 150 miles a day to and from work, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
There is a theory of new civic development that adheres to the concept of the 15-minute city. Communities, where most, if not all, of your necessities, are found within 15 minutes of where you live. A return to smaller neighborhoods with their own unique shops, restaurants, and services, replacing the massive superstores and centralized shopping centers with parking lots that dwarf humanity.
There was a time when city streets were more open to pedestrians, when the occasional horse and wagon, or even motorized vehicle, was meant to navigate the people, not the other way around. Stores opened up to the sidewalks and were not removed from them. The public square was where people congregated, rather than hiding in buildings far removed from the noise of the traffic. This was not really that long ago, but we lost something in our pursuit of innovation and technology. Maybe it’s time we reclaimed a bit of that history.
At DAS, we are always looking forward, trying to find new ways to connect buildings to people and vice versa. We are endlessly curious about how our lives are influenced and focused on our physical surroundings. Consequently, we are interested in discovering how the social fabric will be reflected in spaces we live, work, and play, or how they may, in fact, inform how we design things.
Good design is always a balancing act between form and function, aesthetic and practicality. Civilizations evolve over time, as do architectural and interior design, transportation and retail, commerce, and the arts, so we are excited to see where this all leads and to play a part in how it comes to life.
The past can inform the future in ways that are both surprising and exhilarating, and often we don’t have to dig as deep or look as far, as we might think. We start with the practical and then begin to dream about how to make it inspired, memorable, and lasting. We design with the understanding of today, but with the future in mind.