Buildings that “Build” Relationships

I recently watched a TED Talk on Youtube titled Buildings that blend nature and city. This title is slightly, if not, very misleading. I saw it in the comment section as well but this video should be titled Buildings that Build Relationships, which I believe, and kind of cheesy, summarizes Jeanne Gang’s presentation better. Gang’s theme revolved around the hypothesis of whether or not building physical spaces can help build stronger relationships. By formatting a physical space to help interaction, it could potentially create new and stronger, longer lasting relationships. The challenge is to design something that can force new interactions under different building conditions.

As Gang presented in the video, the Center for Social Justice Leadership was created to simulate a three-way intersection. The intersection was equipped with a fireplace and kitchen to give it a welcoming feel and encouraged people to stay in the intersection. This type of structure can most often be seen in city grids, for example the roadways in Paris. Some of the roads converge to one single point in the city which creates a vibe/energy, attracting people to that area. One very notable example would be the layout that leads to the Arc de Triomphe. There are all kinds of arches throughout the world but this particular arch seems to be the most famous. It could be because of the scale and history of the arch itself but I also think it’s because of how the city encourages people to converge there. Gang used this concept on a smaller scale and created a miniature landmark within the building that attracted people successfully.

The intersection seems to be a popular technique on a 2D scale. To challenge her hypothesis even more,Gang tries out a concept to encourage interaction on the 3D scale. The Aqua Tower in Chicago has balconies that undulate and allow people above and below to see each other. She uses the example of meeting neighbors through your backyard.and because of this design it has encouraged people to collaborate such as building rooftop gardens.

I think the 2D version of building social interactions has been done and proved to be successful on several projects. I see the challenge of this concept to be creating social interactions in multistory buildings. Although Gang stated that the Aqua Tower is working, I still have doubts about how effective it is. Back in 2014, a man died from falling from one of the balconies, so from a safety standpoint and from a local perspective the building has already failed as it now has a negative connotation to the name. It keeps people off the very balconies that were supposed to encourage interaction.

I, however, love the idea about how buildings can create and nurture relationships. We have passed the point where buildings are made of stone and give off a cold vibe. We can now play around with all the materials, historical techniques, to start constructing infrastructure so that interaction is encouraged instead of discouraged. Nowadays (and I am guilty of this as well) we have cell phones, which were supposed to increase our interaction with others, but instead decreased interactions because we bury our faces in them even while we walk. So creating a space that discourages the use of phones and  encourages direct interaction will probably be a challenge of the ages.

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