February 20, 2016
Architecture as a Catalyst for Change
Recently I have been incredibly inspired and motivated by the workings of modern architects. It was something I always had an interest in, but it was only skin deep. My thoughts never went past “Wow, that building looks awesome!” or “I like how it’s all glass”. Until now.
I have been diving in head first into the world of architecture by consuming lots of different content. From pictures to documentaries to articles and books. I just couldn’t get enough information. From this research that I have been doing, I have discovered that architecture is so much more than just how a building looks. It’s how it’s used, how it’s energy efficient, how it’s low cost, how it’s sustainable, and how people interact within the building. These are the kinds of things that excite me about architecture.
Through several hours of thought, I realised that architecture is simply a way of physically interacting with good design. As a graphic designer, we often struggle with trying to get viewers to interact with our content. Because let’s be honest, a 2D advertisement on a piece of paper is only so compelling. That’s why video (combined with social media) is making such large strides right now. Consumers connect with video content much more than static images or pictures. Having that meaningful interaction is key to a happy consumer.
However, with architecture, people are always interacting with their design. Whether it’s a private home or a public library. People live, eat and breathe within this architectural space. Creating not just a small daily interaction, but an essential part of one’s life.
Here is where the change begins. I recently re-watched (for the fourth time) one of my favourite documentaries on Netflix called The Human Scale. In this film, it explains how 50% of the world's population lives in urban centres, and by 2050 that number will increase to 80%. How will our cities account for that? Most likely by building isolated suburban homes on the outskirts of the city or creating increasingly taller high rise buildings. This is an easy solution but it creates two major problems: Traffic and Human Interaction.
If you live in a city above 100,000 people, surely at some point you have been overly frustrated by traffic. I go to school in Toronto, Canada which is the fourth largest city in North America, and arguably, has some of the worst traffic. Toronto is an extremely diverse and ever expanding city and the roads simply can not keep up with the amount of cars flowing through them. There is almost always constant traffic on major freeways and rarely will you go through the city at a reasonable speed.
A popular solution to traffic problems in the past has been to create more roads. That way, the load of cars that used to be on one road, can now be on two roads. This is a fairly simple solution that almost never works. No one knows exactly why this never works as planned, but they do know that more roads = more traffic bottlenecks. We can’t keep building suburbs for people with cars, and expect our downtown expressways to hold up.
This is something that I never really considered until it was brought up to me in the documentary. The way humans interact with each other has changed drastically in the past 1000 years. We have went from living in clans, tribes, and extended family dwellings, to isolated suburban homes with a garden and a driveway. In many cases, there is almost zero interaction between neighbours. Lots of people tell me that they have no idea who their neighbours are, or that they don’t talk to their neighbours.
In my opinion, this is a huge problem. With no public areas, meeting spaces or community gatherings, how are we supposed to interact with other humans? Life in cities has become a work(alone), commute(alone), and live(alone) lifestyle. We are biologically social and curious creatures who throughout the last 1000 years have been separating ourselves slowly. On top of all of this, separating ourselves by living in single apartments or far away suburbs has been a detriment to mental and physical health. Never have I heard more people speak of how they are lonely, depressed, or anxious than in the past 10 years. Most of this is probably because they don’t have anyone to interact with, which can be directly attributed to their living situation. Humans were never meant to be alone.
So how can we change this?
Essentially, we need to throw away everything we have done in the past 100 years in terms of planning and architecture. We need to be creating cities and dwellings with people in mind. Not cars, or profit, or any other kind of non-essential factors. We need to do this by creating sustainable, community-driven dwellings that are close to public transit. And by closing off busy downtown streets to cars and allow pedestrian traffic to thrive. These are the kinds of changes that will allow us to accommodate this mass population growth, and create a better human experience while doing so.
In final, with 30% more people moving into urban centres in the next 40 years, we need to be smarter. I know we can be smarter.
Until next time,