Community Design

I was reminded of a design concept at my structural engineering internship this past spring. I got the chance to go to a coordination meeting, with the Architect and Contractor, for a church renovation. During the meeting, the Architect mentioned that he lent the keys to the old building to the local fire department. He said they needed somewhere to have smoking training sessions for new firemen. This act of community involvement made me think about what I learned at the community build conference.
The Community Built Association Conference was held in the beautiful city of Charleston, South Carolina. I took a leap of faith giving up my spring break to attend a seven-day conference! Little did I know, I was not “giving up my break” I was embarking on an adventurous journey to learn about the relationship between community and architecture. We all know there are major overlaps between these topics. We seldom realize what we can unlock when we tap into the capacity of a community.
I am finally writing this post to share some of the knowledge I took away from that week.  I mention design firms a lot in this post but all of these concepts apply to individuals too. If you are trying to start a movement, create a public space or learn about design, you are in the right place. Here are some answers to the big questions surrounding community and design



Why care about the community when designing architecture?

When designing a new building you have to know who you are designing the inside for. The same principle is applied to the exterior of the building. Who is that being designed for? Not only the people using the building will interact with the outside of it. You have to know everyone who will come in contact with the indoor and outdoor spaces. A community can love or reject a new building. They can uplift the business inside or protest their property. Taking the proper steps to make a community feel welcome is crucial for acceptance.
At the CBA conference, I heard a quote from the Charleston AIA that stuck with me, “Architects should be translators, not visionaries”. This means that architects should not force their ideas on a community that does not want it. They should create representations of the culture through the built environment.

How can we help a community accept a new design?

GET THEM INVOLVED. If anything I learned from that week is that people want to be heard. Listening to the communities ideas about your project or idea is an important step in being accepted into the community. Holding meetings with people who live near your new development is one of the best ways to hear from people. Though not everyone has time to come to a meeting, and honestly not every firm has time to hold one. Another way I heard about is dotocracy. This idea was from a speaker from the nonprofit Enough pie in Charleston. (see below for an example)

How can we tap into a communities capacity?

There are so many ways to do this but I learned that contacting a local community center is the best. Community centers can range from real centers designed for events or centers where the community is like schools, churches, and restaurants.
Clemson and Charleston partnered to create many projects that enriched the northern part of the peninsula. Tapping into the resources in a community gives your project endless potential.

What is the impact of community involvement in public design?

Every time I go to Charleston I check on the gate I helped create.  Participating in a community project give a sense of ownership and responsibility to space. Community involvement helps ensure a design lasts because people care about their own work. This draws more attention to the design since people will go show others how they helped create the place.

Why should you get involved in your own community?

From CBA I had the opportunity to help a community I didn’t live in. There was passion from people who were from Charleston and who were from across the country.  Watching everyone come together for a common goal was life-changing. I cannot imagine if everyone was from the community how much more love would have been put into the project. Since then I have created a community mural in my town of travelers rest. That experience led to new connections and helped create a stronger community.

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