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The architectural firm Snohetta has followed a similar principle in Times Square, introducing long sculpted granite benches to emphasise that the iconic space, once clogged with cars, is now a haven for pedestrians.

Ten Strategies for Transforming Cities and Public Spaces through Placemaking

Enriching public spaces will not banish loneliness from cities, but it could help by making residents feel more engaged and comfortable with their surroundings. How do you build a society where people treat each other kindly in that kind of setting? That is more likely to happen when people feel good.


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One thing that is guaranteed to make people feel negative about living in a city is a constant sense of being lost or disorientated. At the Conscious Cities conference, Kate Jeffery , a behavioural neuroscientist at University College London who studies navigation in rats and other animals, made the point that to feel connected to a place you need to know how things relate to each other spatially.

In other words, you need a sense of direction. A sense of direction is equally important inside buildings.

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One of the most notoriously disorientating buildings is the Seattle Central Library , which has won multiple awards for its architecture. One of the issues with the library is the huge one-way escalators that sweep visitors from the ground floor into the upper reaches with no obvious means of descent. That really confuses people. They represent a kind of mass rebellion against the prescribed routes of architects and planners. She is getting at a point that architects, neuroscientists and psychologists all seem to agree on: that successful design is not so much about how our buildings can shape us, as Churchill had it, but about making people feel they have some control over their environment.

Welcome to the new era of neuro-architecture. Future Menu. What is BBC Future? Follow the Food. Future Now. The hidden ways that architecture affects how you feel. The stairs are enclosed by concrete walls interrupted by openings that contain metal mesh panels. The mesh surfaces allow light and air to reach the stairwell, which is just a few inches away from adjacent buildings on three sides. On the ground floor, a full-height window facing the street displays the interior of the showroom space.

The entrance to the showroom is set back from the pavement below a cantilevered corner of the building. The first floor accommodates an open-plan space that can be used by the local community. Originally, the gas station was to be part of his utopian, and ultimately unbuilt, Broadacre City, a sprawling mix of urban and rural that would offer everyone an acre of their own, while relying heavily on automobiles. Wright was correct in identifying the importance of social hubs, but mistaken in believing a transitory service station would be effective in that role, even if you added an observation lounge.

Similarly, his space-saving idea of overhead pumps soon came into conflict with health and safety. As with many utopian visions, there were seeds of good ideas in his, but reality proved more resistant to the wider attempts to transform society. So closely and consistently does it follow his larger work, with its use of symmetry, glass, light, monochrome and geometry, that it does not feel like a minor work.

Back to the drawing board

Improvisation can succeed where intention fails. Today, small structures by major architects aim for the iconic, whether in terms of exterior image or what they contain. It is evident too in opulent ski chalets, woodland retreats, and so on. Perhaps this has always been the case. We may cast aspersions on viewing platforms that pay more attention to being seen often via Instagram than seeing from them, but that was always part of the attraction of royal belvederes, for instance.

This is not to say that architects abandoned the functional: Many designs seem rational solutions to problems and models that could conceivably be emulated. Indeed, many have tried to create mass-produced pre-fab small buildings.

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Needs certainly change, which raises challenges as well as opportunities. The move away from fossil fuels may spell the eventual end of the gas station. It may also herald the arrival of electric charging stations. As advances render certain technologies inefficient or redundant, we risk losing the structures built around them. A project was launched to reinvent them creatively, since it seems that people are less likely to vandalize a work of art than a superlative work of industrial design.

In Russia, urban kiosks have been under threat from periodic, and changeable, waves of government attention focusing on planning permission, changes in tobacco and alcohol licensing, and the idea of self-built structures as visual pollution.

Ten Strategies for Transforming Cities and Public Spaces through Placemaking

One solution is for architecture to adapt. With plummeting sales of newspapers, newsstands have been turning into coffee shops.


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A petrol station in White City, London, has been turned into an art gallery. If the structures have attained any kind of iconic status, their continued existence is easier to justify. Police boxes were once so ubiquitous in London that Dr. Now, rendered obsolete for their original purpose, they are simultaneously a tourist beacon and often a vending kiosk.

Others are a harder sell.