Lesson of the Day: ‘Building Public Places for a Covid World’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Building Public Places for a Covid World’

Featured Article: “Building Public Places for a Covid World” by James S. Russell

How can we reinvent the spaces in our communities to both advance wellness and knit communities together during the coronavirus pandemic? That is the question The New York Times asked several architects and other designers, inviting them to dream “outside the six-foot bubble that now guides our movements and interactions” to think about solving other local problems.

In this lesson, students look at some of the renderings, like the one pictured above, and learn about the goals for each. Then, they redesign specific places in their communities — beginning, perhaps, with their own streets or schools.

You’re going to be thinking like an architect in this lesson, and applying your ideas to the public spaces where you live. So, to start, make a list: What are all of the public spaces you visit often (or, perhaps, used to visit often before the pandemic shut down some of them)? That list may include schools, churches, shopping areas or stores, streets you regularly travel, governmental buildings, libraries and parks.

Next, which of these spaces is the most inviting to you? Most useful? Why? Choose one and list some of the qualities that make it work. Those qualities may include a seating area, the availability of food or entertainment, the systems inside or outside that make using it an efficient experience, the colors, the lighting or the interior or exterior design. What is pleasant and practical about this place?

You might also think about the least inviting of the places on your list, and detail what makes it impractical, unpleasant or uninviting.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. Which of these projects is most interesting or exciting to you? Why?

2. Are the streets near you mostly “tubes of speeding vehicles,” or are they pedestrian- and bike-friendly? What specific ideas in the “Taking It to the Streets” section might work where you live or attend school? Why?

3. How do the ideas in the “Architecture of Reconciliation” section seek to address problems with the justice system in general? What specific examples can you give?

4. How does Walter Hood’s landscape architecture firm use design art to “help people see something that’s no longer there”? How is his design for LaVilla, Fla., an example of that?

5. What specific guidelines has the MASS Design Group developed with public-health and industry partners to help organizations reopen their buildings safely during the pandemic? Which of these are you seeing now in your own community?

6. These days, libraries are community spaces that do much more than just lend books. What ideas in the “Places That Help Us Thrive” section does your library system already employ, and which might be ideas they could adopt?

7. The Landscapes to Knit Us Together” section considers parks. Are there any wonderful public parks near you? Any hiking or walking trails? What public “large connective landscapes” have people in your community used most during this pandemic? How do you think they have helped?

Redesign a public space in your community.

Now that you’ve read about a number of creative design projects for city streets, schools, parks, libraries and justice centers, think about a community area or institution you would like to redesign if you could.

If you are doing this exercise as a class, you might mutually adopt your school building or an outdoor area near it. If you are doing it alone, you might choose your own street, or a nearby shopping area, park or library.

Ask yourself:

  • What works about this place already? What doesn’t? Why?

  • Who uses this space? How can it be more responsive to all these different stakeholders and make them all feel welcome and valued?

  • How can it be redesigned to promote wellness in general, not just during the pandemic but for the future?

  • How can it be redesigned to better knit the local community together?

  • What ideas from this article might I borrow in rethinking my space?

If you have more time, you could visit this place and interview people there about the changes they would like to see. Or, you could do a bit of research on the type of space it is and find examples from all over the world that might inspire even more ideas.

Finally, redesign the space by writing a new vision and sketching your design for it. Then, if you are working as a class, present your ideas via a digital gallery walk. Which ideas from your classmates solve problems in an especially creative way? Which might you borrow for your own design?

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