The architecture of social interaction


The architecture of social interaction

Denise Scott Brown once said, “Architecture can’t force people to connect; it can only plan the crossing points, remove the barriers and make the meeting places useful and attractive. Although it cannot control the outcome, architecture has the potential to set the stage for chance encounters and social interactions, thereby promoting community building and influencing the fabric of our social culture. The following explores how architecture can enhance the social capital of its environment through thoughtful design strategies and programming, creating fertile ground for social interaction between different groups of people.

Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.  Image © Steve HallHerstedlund Community Center by Dorte Mandrup.  Image © Adam MørkKu.Be Center by MVRDV and ADEPT.  Image © Ossip van Duivenbodezwei + more Intergenerational housing by trans_city TC.  Image © Hertha Hurnaus, Leonahard Hizensauer+ 6

Social capital refers to the relationships established between social groups in heterogeneous societies, through shared values, trust and reciprocity. Substantial social capital means increased cooperation between citizens, less friction and a keen awareness of common ground and intertwined destinies. Architecture can help build social capital, and many design strategies can generate fertile ground for social interaction and various unplanned activities. For a variety of reasons, from promoting social cohesion and promoting social justice, to addressing loneliness and mental health, architecture that encourages social interaction is a topic of great interest. In light of architecture’s (re) recognition of its potential to nurture community building, it is worth considering different ideas and projects that could help define a design method focused on creating social interactions. .

Programming for social intensity

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Sometimes the potential of architecture to bring people together lies more in the programming of the building than in the spatial form itself. In this case, the space is a container for any function that suits the collective; therefore, the careful assembly of activities is the engine of social interaction. The Absalon community center in Copenhagen is one example. The old church has been transformed into a living room for its district by ArcgencY architects. During a single regular weekday, the central nave of the church is the setting for a large number of activities, from yoga classes to ping-pong, film screenings, theatrical performances, events. music, while also serving coffee and a good meal. room. Sharing a meal around long tables, with nearly 200 of your neighbors, from all walks of life, is undoubtedly an element of cohesion within the community. The wide range of activities creates a dynamic place, complemented by its informal setting.

Difficult spatial expectations

Ku.Be Center by MVRDV and ADEPT.  Image © Ossip van Duivenbode
Ku.Be Center by MVRDV and ADEPT. Image © Ossip van Duivenbode

What better way to provoke the imagination and pave the way for dialogue than the unexpected? With specifications that required neither more nor less than the design of a building that unites and improves quality of life, MVRDV and ADEPT have developed a new type of building centered on movement. The Ku.Be House of Culture in Motion combines theater, sports and learning spaces in an architectural promenade, where activities inform each other and where a wide range of visual and physical connections are made between the different functions. . The spatial typology of the building and the design strategies employed here create fertile ground for interaction, fostering bonds between people who would not otherwise connect.

Designing the middle ground

zwei + more Intergenerational housing by trans_city TC.  Image © Hertha Hurnaus, Leonahard Hizensauer
zwei + more Intergenerational housing by trans_city TC. Image © Hertha Hurnaus, Leonahard Hizensauer

The potential for social interaction is not restricted to community centers and public facilities. Intergenerational housing projects are starting to emerge across Europe and involve people of different ages living together, sharing their skills and time. The mutually beneficial arrangement responds to the heightened sense of loneliness of the older generation, as well as the lack of affordable housing for the younger ones. Intergenerational life promotes learning and can make a vital contribution to bridging the gap between different social groups. Pilot programs for housing for seniors and young people have been developed in Finland and Sweden, and several new housing projects like zwei + plus intergenerational housing in Wien, Austria, have also embraced the idea.

Re-imagine civic assets as social connectors

Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.  Image © Steve Hall
Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. Image © Steve Hall

In an interview with Vladimir Belogolovsky, Jeanne Gang, founder of Studio Gang Architects, explained her vision of the architect as a builder of relationships: “I see architecture as a system; how you set up various opportunities for people to relate to each other and be empowered. What are the opportunities for people to interact? How can buildings create new relationships? »It is with this in mind that the Studio Gang research project, Reinventing civic commons, proposes different strategies to increase the potential for social interaction of existing buildings and public facilities, thus creating more resilient communities. Proposals range from expanding the function of libraries to host gatherings and support digital development, to adapting parks into more activity-oriented spaces with more diverse topographies, or making police stations more user-friendly. , allowing a much more positive interaction, thus building confidence. The research is part of a larger effort to reimagine civic assets in American cities, in order to foster engagement, equity and economic development. The initiative is a remarkable example of working with the existing built environment and local communities to solve specific social problems.

from Reimagining The Civic Commons ,.  Image © Studio Gang
from Reimagining The Civic Commons ,. Image © Studio Gang

Allow unplanned activities

Herstedlund Community Center by Dorte Mandrup.  Image © Adam Mørk
Herstedlund Community Center by Dorte Mandrup. Image © Adam Mørk

As many architects have already said, architecture must also leave room for the unexpected, for activities and spontaneous encounters. The Herstedlund Community Center designed by Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter is a user-focused community center commissioned for a new residential area in Albertslund, Denmark. The project integrates unscheduled spaces, while creating surprising connections between the different functions of the building. The design allows people of all ages and with diverse interests to use the building simultaneously while providing users with the flexibility to reprogram the building according to their needs.

The social field and its challenges are vast, as are the architectural means by which the profession can contribute to the creation of a more cohesive society. By designing spatial relationships and programmatic arrangements that elicit fortuitous encounters, encourage communication, interaction, and strengthen communities, architects take a more active position in providing the framework for social dialogue.

This article is part of the ArchDaily topic: How are we going to live together. Each month, we explore a topic in depth through articles, interviews, news and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics here. As always, at ArchDaily, we welcome contributions from our readers; if you would like to submit an article or a project to us, please contact us.

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