Engage people in the design of public spaces

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A recent article published by Arup caught our attention. Arup’s independent ownership structure makes it a visionary firm that allows to integrate conviction as well as the needs of clients into the decision-making process. Arup acknowledges its responsibility as a crucial influencer of many people’s lives through its projects. In fact, Arup states that:

Shaping a sustainable future – particularly through the urban environment – will be one of the greatest challenges in the 21st century.

Therefore Arup is investing in research, innovating and creating better solutions for its clients and the wider world. This has come across in a recent article published in Arup’s thought page on user engagement for the design of public spaces.

When asking “who”we are designing our spaces and our cities for, it becomes evident that involving people more fully in the design process would help create public spaces that better meet their needs.

If as designers we set our minds to ask, listen and observe how people behave and react in public spaces we can deliver long-lasting designs that users can relate to. Says Joana Mendo, Architect specialised in lighting design

According to Joana Mendo, planners should be asking people more often about the space they engage with to understand what they think about the condition of public spaces and have them commenting on the proposals they are working on. Moreover, it is important to know how to filter this information to effectively inform the design process. Mendo highlights, that community outreach and public engagement are nothing new, in fact in the medieval period, everyone in a city or region would have been involved in building and the thinking behind its grand cathedral. Back then, the specialists, the artists, the craftsmen were sourced locally. There was a sense of participation and ownership among populations that lasted for generations. However, in todays environment translating users’ participation into a good design has become a real challenge. To successfully integrate the public opinion into the design proposal Mendo suggests to think about the following questions:

  • Should we be engaging with communities in workshops, where we can present and discuss our designs?
  • Can we manage, in the length of a project to consider storytelling and people’s concerns and preferences?
  • Is there an alternative to the traditional public consultation debate?

It is in our hands as designers to make sure this participation informs our designs in an inventive way, building on social sustainability and planning long lasting places for cities. (Joana Mendo, 2015)


Original article published on Arup thoughts on the 2nd of March 2015 by Joana Mendo

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