The way yesterday’s environments were designed is increasingly insufficient for the needs of today. As new ways of doing business and socializing emerge—often over long distances and time zones—the need for human connection is increasing. Conventional building programs have typically neglected to put the human experience first and as a result human spaces became an afterthought.
A need exists to address this gap between the physical space and the human experience. It requires an integrated way of thinking about how we holistically curate our environments and connected spaces inside and out. Technology has afforded us the convenience of ordering coffee, booking meetings, and conducting business and personal relationships online. However, we are still social beings and continue to crave those person-to-person connections.
From this perspective, the human experience is the right way to think about how to program places. Our team at Kasian starts with deep thinking about and building an understanding of human behavior. We look beyond the surface to reveal an authentic identity that can be leveraged throughout the life of a project. Environments that are designed primarily around the human experience empower transformation and change.
Whether making or adapting a building, district, campus, city, workspace, portfolio of properties, brand, or lifestyle, the human experience is central. Within our cities are everyday places—small and forgotten places—waiting to be discovered and transformed into human-oriented social places.
Art walks and laneway activations offer an opportunity for shared creation of art and culture and for local businesses to flourish. The spaces in between, where people mingle and socialize or look to unplug, are extremely fertile environments for fulfilling the human need for community.
The Software of Place
“Lifescape” is our company’s original way of curating experiences in our urban environment, which holistically integrates street-to-street experiences—inside and out—for new and existing spaces. Lifescape enhances ground-level experiences at the point of greatest human impact, catalyzing social interaction, providing places to linger and observe, and creating opportunities for casual exchange.
As we embrace this approach, the building’s “software” becomes highly important. Opportunities exist everywhere for people to meet and gather, to people-watch, to observe, and to feel engaged. Buildings and public areas are full of interstices with the potential to exhibit the rich tapestry of human life.
We use the human dimension as a starting point to create curated experiences for organizations and building tenants, using the hardware and software of place to deliver one-of-a-kind experiences that resonate with people. We strive to understand what drives behavior, enhances human interaction, and affects emotional connections to place.
Going for a Walk in Nashville
For 22 years, Nashville’s First Saturday Art Crawl has given locals a reason to head downtown on a Saturday night. Today, a handful of art crawls continue to attract Nashvillians to the many hubs of the city’s art scene.
The first weekend of the month remains the most popular for crawls, but an opportunity exists to enjoy art every weekend. People converse while moving from gallery to gallery. DIY Art Tours allow you to establish your own starting point while a program generates a customized round-trip walking route that shares information about each art stop. Artfully executed, these events blur the lines of art and entertainment while offering a glimpse into Nashville’s neighborhoods.
Nashville’s growing list of art crawls is an example of the growing movement of walking tours. Art walks are changing the way people relate to their cities and compel a sense of discovery about art in forgotten places. These walks criss-cross streets, laneways, building lobbies, and public plazas to remap the city’s public and private domains in interesting ways.
The rise of art walks and the popularity of featured menus and tastings at popular food spots have triggered an activation in unrealized spaces, with pop-ups, maker spaces, and creative placemaking. Art, businesses, and community all thrive in a setting that is organized around people coming downtown for an experience.
The recent explosion in laneway revitalizations not only provides public placemaking, but also increases available frontage for retailers. These become shared spaces for the public and patrons to enjoy. They reflect the spirit of local community enterprise, bringing together local businesses and community interest groups with stakeholders and private industry.
Can workplaces and learning institutions effectively position themselves for these changes? Are their environments designed to allow people to effectively participate in the broader opportunities that go beyond the boundaries of the organization? There are implications for physical space (soft space) as well as individualized models of participation in workplaces, institutions, and brands.
A Platform for More Than Parking
The Platform Parkade will be located in Calgary’s revitalized East Village. Over time, the building will evolve from a parking structure to include residential, commercial, or mixed-use areas.
Parking structures represent one of the most challenging, yet vastly unappreciated infrastructural building typologies in contemporary cities. But through innovative thinking and a collaborative design process, the Platform Parkade and Innovation Centre in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is intended to be a strong addition to the fabric of downtown Calgary.
Although a need for parking exists in the East Village today, planners say it might not be a priority in the future. The structure will initially provide 500 parking stalls across five levels and house a creative work space “for innovators” called Platform. But the parkade (i.e., parking facility) is being built to fully be converted into a residential, commercial, or mixed-use building in the future. The plan also includes a ground-floor café and outdoor sports court to spark more human activity.
Imagine being part of a connected community that provides building blocks for the individual as well as the organization. The work you do is supported by adaptable and integrated spaces that are highly identifiable. When you go to work, you won’t just go to work; you will be part of a neighbourhood of shared spaces. You will gain experiences in places where you want to linger, engage, or just people-watch. Part machine, part innovation factory, Platform will fulfill its utilitarian purpose, become a true contributor to Calgary’s life, and invigorate a renewed energy into the East Village.
A New Model for Learning
The Taylor Family Digital Library (TFDL) is North America’s most technologically advanced student library and was designed to change the way people learn and search for information. The High-Density Library was opened in 2010, so the university would have space in the new TFDL on the main campus for collaborative learning, multimedia, data visualization, and the use of primary sources.
Moving away from antiquated processes of the past, the facility became much more than a library; it became a catalyst for human activity at the heart of the University of Calgary. The design allows students to work anywhere, while still providing some structure and comfort, enabling students to self-direct their interaction and use of the spaces in a variety of expected and unexpected ways.
The TFDL also engages and creates connections with the surrounding buildings via the Taylor Quadrangle. As is often the case, the area around a building that requires attention is limited to the meter that makes up the sidewalk-to-curb line. Not so for the TFDL, where the building is an extension of the quadrangle. As a place, it is powerful and compelling—people come to explore and stay to enjoy. The Taylor Quadrangle features a stormwater pond, sculptural earthwork with seating, and an outdoor ceremonial space.
The Taylor Family Digital Library embodies the spirit and function of the library of the future, where technology and information in all forms converge to better serve the community. This energetic, welcoming facility and digital gathering place supports the pursuit for understanding, creativity, innovation, and knowledge.
Coming Back to the Experience
The way people learn, work, solve problems, and interact is rapidly changing and our institutions and environments must also evolve. It’s time to revisit the meaning of work as a connection to one’s core purpose. It’s about finding places to expand, learn, play, and interact. Our daily environments should be responsive to the human experience. Just like exploring a city helps us find new avenues and develop curiosity, we can design our environments to help build tacit knowledge, create multiple journeys and destinations, and inspire people to develop their passions.
WILL CRAIG is an architect and the global chair of Kasian’s Lifescape team, which operates in Vancouver, British Columbia; Toronto, Ontario; Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta; and Doha, Qatar. He is the chair of ULI Alberta and serves as a member of ULI’s Redevelopment and Reuse Product Council and the Canadian City Catalysts Council.