Talking with the Community, Instead of at it

Aside from helping us to earn a living through our work, our professional desire has been to communicate our ideas and passion for the quality of the public realm, both through quality built form and by discussion. We promote design that supports better stories in people’s lives. We investigate the world around us, and try to incorporate our learning into the designs we offer.

But to be honest our suspicion is that as designers we are talking AT the world around us, not conversing with it. If it were not so, design magazines and critical reviews would be filled with photos of the designs in use, crawled over and played with, and reaction from those who inhabit them.

Intention would be compared with the real review, your experience. Alas, design is often the intention, and it is not for the designer to divulge, except to the cognoscenti. You mentally come to us, and consume the design as we see it.

As a profession, our listening skills are suspect, and perhaps it’s time for us to admit it.

Years ago, on a particularly awkward and obtrusive office building at King and Allen in downtown Waterloo, Canada, someone had spraypainted “Be Reasonable” on one of the entry columns. As an architectural critique, it was bang on. The building was designed to ignore its context and impose itself without apology. That “post” in spray paint was for some months a gut reaction woven into the experience of the building itself.

While we don’t advocate literally writing on the finished designs themselves, in the form of graffiti,

we’d like to know more about your experience of design in the public realm

especially in the Grand River area of Southern Ontario Canada. We’d like this blog, and our related social media links, to serve that purpose.

  • How have designs contributed to your experiences and your community?

We would like to hear from you.

Designers   gather info,    think, play,    and    brainstorm ideas. They cajole and organise and communicate and get ideas built in some semblance of order, somehow. Done. Add it the resume. On to the next project.

Where’s the feedback?

The “conversation”, after the ideas are offered and built, somehow never happens. The part where the designer listens, discusses, and learns.

What went well, what did not?

what surprises? what intentions don’t come through?

What accidents of use and adaptation are the happy ones upon which to build new intentions?

What gives life to the offering?

What creates meaning and positive stories in people’s lives?

Designers learn more from our experience and discussion of other offerings, whether designed or not, than from feedback about our own. That’s surely a flaw, especially in the fields of architecture and urban design: a slow dance practiced in public, usually with public money and implications for use by us all. Maybe as a profession we haven’t really grappled with the trail of our efforts, of what we do.

  • All those projects, represented in all those glossy photos
  • carefully captured without a single person in view.
  • Without use,
  • timeless and without a history
  • as though the architecture is statement, and moment, rather than dialogue and life.

So if a building, or a place, a detail, or a space, is meant to be tried on, worn smooth and made comfortable, in a word USED, then architecture must be a relation between offering and experience. It’s not the offering itself.

That’s just the beginning of a better conversation, where the designer, and even the design, can participate in its use and experience.

Let’s take one of the designs we’ve been involved with,the Region of Waterloo Airport Terminal. We were the prime professional consultants for that project, in joint venture with ZAS Architects of Toronto, and worked with the Region of Waterloo project team to develop its architecture.

The terminal has been operating since 2004, and we have undertaken several renovations and additions so that it can accommodate growth in the passenger services operating from Region of Waterloo Airport (YKF!).

How has the design of the terminal affected you? What does its design do for our community? (Yes, we know its there, and can be used, but the question is specifically about how the building has been put together, how it has changed and evolved, and what it does or doesn’t do for you, and for the community.)

Give us your feedback and tell us a story about the airport terminal.

Or, on a different scale,the Ontario Places to Grow initiativeis designing Southern Ontario as an “Inner Ring” comprising Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe, a surrounding Greenbelt Zone, and an “Outer Ring” of growth and population, that includes the Grand River Watershed.  This is design on a large scale indeed, but design nonetheless.

Is this how we should manage growth and the sustainable future of our community? What do you think of this master, Toronto-centric design for Southern Ontario?

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