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Why Architecture Should Matter to All of Us

22/06/2016 14:43 | Updated 22 June 2016

This month London is holding its Festival of Architecture, an annual event that celebrates the city as a global hub of architectural experimentation, practice and debate.

This year's theme is 'Community' as the Festival aims to highlight that architecture is relevant to everyone and we all have a role to play in shaping the spaces we live in.

Many people may think, "Why does architecture matter? It doesn't really affect me".

But it impacts on all of us.

The design of our public spaces and the buildings we live and work in, affects our social relationships and emotional wellbeing. For example, the Brutalist concrete structures of the 1950s and 60s, at the time, did little to uplift our spirits. Post-war tower blocks failed to recreate the cohesion of the communities whose houses they replaced.

Design and function are interlinked and have to work together. I believe it's crucial for people who use or work in a space to have their say. The design becomes better informed, and ultimately it is these same people, who will be using the space when the work is done and benefitting from the investments in regeneration and place making.

Fred Kent, founder of US-based Project for Public Spaces, summarises it well when he says "it takes a place to create a community and a community to create a place."

Amongst their projects are many good examples such as the Campus Martius Park in central Detroit. The community was central to developing a vision for this concrete traffic island, one that would tie it into a larger scheme of revitalisation for the city.

Local people wanted it to be somewhere they could meet, relax and enjoy time with their families. While it still serves as an island for the road system, it has become Campus Martius (named after a public space in ancient Rome) that offers a place for people to hear concerts, watch films outdoors, enjoy the flower gardens and meet at the park café.

New office buildings, retail space and residential units in many of the city's old buildings have followed because the park has made this area a vibrant and attractive place to be. It offers the community what it wanted and needed and that has been the key to its success.

This is why it was crucial for us to listen to the community when we were asked to develop a cultural centre in Sylhet, Bangladesh.

A new road offered access opportunities to the site for people from many of the surrounding villages. We considered how we could create a community a hub where they could meet, shop and children could attend school.

As well as needing to work as a shared space for local people, we took into consideration the religious practices of the Bengali culture for the design. We also had to consider the materials we used, the indigenous technologies and skills available to build it.

At every stage, the community was key to our plans and influenced our designs.

As an architect, I have experienced many instances when, through consultation with the public, issues that affect people in their everyday use of a particular area or building have been raised which hadn't been thought of beforehand. The public's input improved the design process, making the proposals better for everyone in the long term.

London's Festival is an opportunity to be part of the conversation about the planning and design of our communities. There are practical opportunities to input into projects, such as the West London Link Design and Hammersmith BID competition.

It invites residents and schools, as well as architects and designers, to share their ideas of how to improve Hammersmith town centre, as part of feasability plans for alternatives to the Hammersmith Flyover.

The architecture of this, and every area, has social consequences. So go on, have your say. Your voice will be welcomed.

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