We know that beautiful public spaces are critical to the development of cities and towns. They are hubs for culture, art, socializing, and tourism, often embodying the spirit of the community and strengthening its resiliency.
A successful public space can take many forms. It can be a park with meandering trails, a beautiful water feature like a fountain or an immersive and engaging land art installation. However, regardless of its design, the most crucial aspect is the experience or impression it leaves on the public.
Over the past two years, I’ve taken note of my favourite designs and transformations, often wondering how Winnipeg could implement elements of these designs into the city’s urban fabric. This is not to say that we haven’t been doing that—I just want more of it!
So, let’s discover how cities all over the world have transformed spaces for people.
Bokeh, Kildonan Park Duck Pond by Nadi Group
Unlike many landscape design/architectural projects, Nadi designed Bokeh specifically for a winter landscape. Teaming up with prolific Winnipeg artist Taskashi Iwasaki, we created three unique light sculptures to circle the duck pond.
The overarching goal of the project was to make Kildonan Park a destination in the wintertime.
Nadi and Takashi designed the light installation to produce a bokeh light effect over the frozen duck pond, similar to when a camera's lens blurs points of colour and light to produce a polychromatic image.
Given that they expected park-goers to experience the installation primarily during Winnipeg’s dark winter months, they used bright colours to create a vibrant and animated environment to skate and feel happy within.
Please Be Seated by Paul Cocksedge
My colleague Kristen Struthers wrote a fantastic article on the importance of ‘sittable’ places. She cites Edwin Heathcote’s article, Public benches: the seat of civilization for the Financial Times, writing, “a bench is “a place to be private in public, a small space in the melee of the metropolis where it is acceptable to do nothing, to consume nothing, to just be”.”
Paul Cocksedge large-scale installation for London’s Finsbury Avenue Square captures the essence of Heathcote’s definition, transforming the space into a welcoming and calming environment.
According to the London Design Festival, Cocksedge designed the bench to feature “curves for people to sit on and walk under, further enhancing London’s largest pedestrianised neighbourhood.” Truly a model for a successful people-first place!
Superkilen by SUPERFLEX, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and Topotek1
Superkilen is an urban park project located in one of Copenhagen’s most diverse neighbourhoods. One of my favourite aspects of this park is the colourful landscape. However, as I investigated further, I realized how cultural significant this park was.
According to its website, “SUPERFLEX developed the concept for Superkilen using what they defined as ‘extreme participation’ as a strategy to engage residents around the park.” As residents in Superkilen come from over 50 countries, they asked them “to nominate specific urban objects encountered in either their country of national origin or in their travels abroad, including benches, bins, trees, playgrounds, manhole covers and signage.”
SUPERFLEX acquired 100 different objects from more than 50 different countries for the park, including Palestine, Spain, Thailand, the United States and Jamaica. Amazing!
The High Line by James Comer Field Operations
New York, the United States
One of my biggest regrets, after visiting New York City, was that I didn’t walk along the High Line, a 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail.
Created on a former New York Central Railroad spur, the High Line opened in 2009 and inspired by the “intimate choreography of movement, with alternating vistas and experiences.”
The High Line is an example of the power of innovative adaptive reuse. Spaces we once considered unusable or undesirable can have a second life as new and fresh public spaces in our cities.
Umbrella Sky Project by Sextafeira
Landscape architect Meaghan Hunter has previously written about the transformative power of tactical urbanism as an alternative approach to the project delivery process. “It utilizes low cost, scalable interventions that can enact change without delay, and these pioneer projects act as catalysts for long-term change.”
Tactical urbanism provides an excellent opportunity to transform spaces that are often underutilized. However, in the case of the Umbrella Sky Project in Agueda, the umbrellas act as a buffer from the sun during the hot summer months of July, August and September.
The Umbrella Sky Project started in 2011 to provide visitors to the city of Águeda's famous annual Ágitagueda Art Festival shade from the sun. The creators strung rooftop cables with many parasols to form a “unique geometric pattern overhead” to “help cool the roadways” while providing different coloured shadows on the ground.
I included a range of designs from small-scale to large-scale transformations. What I want to convey is that regardless of the scale of the project, we can implement changes that recycle, reuse and repurpose a variety of different areas into engaging public spaces. This feels especially poignant in areas that are considered ugly or unworkable.
So, what public space design inspires you?