Designing for tomorrow: the intersection of interior design, technology and placemaking

Designing for tomorrow: the intersection of interior design, technology and placemaking

Spaces are where we live, work, play, and interact.

From workspaces to cafes, community centres to parks – spaces in all shapes and sizes, can be powerful facilitators of communication, collaboration, and connection.

To transform a space into a place for interaction, developers must look to placemaking as part of the development process for new and regenerated mixed-use spaces.

This two-part article series explores how the intersection of placemaking, interior design, and technology transforms spaces into empowering places of connection for communities.

What is placemaking?

An interactive, and multi-faceted process, “placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community,” defines Project for Public Spaces.

Instead of an architect or design practice consulting solely with developers, investors, and government-led bodies on a project, placemaking invites a mixed group of stakeholders, including the users of a space, or the local community, to participate in the design process.

When communities are involved in the placemaking process, they feel a deeper sense of belonging to that space leading to that place being utilised, and creating opportunities for interaction between community members.

The result, says Project for Public Spaces, is “the creation of quality public spaces that contribute to people’s health, happiness, and well-being.”

Placemaking typically focusses on “working between buildings, in spaces that can deliver impact and value by elevating the public realm and making it relate more directly to existing audiences and with attracting new audiences,” says Colin Greene of Cooper Carry.

However, placemaking processes can be applied to interior projects, or the design of mixed-use spaces, to make them work for the users of those spaces.

Understanding a space, and its community

The starting point for placemaking is research.

By gaining a deep understanding of a site’s historical and cultural significance, and the identities that make up its communities, placemakers can drive a project forward to ensure that the end result is much more purposeful for the community who live or work there.

This may involve accessing archives and records, visiting the site, speaking to members of communities, and observing their activities while using those spaces.

Technology can facilitate some of these processes.

For instance, online surveys can gather data from space users, while video communication software can be used to conduct conversations and interviews with community members.

This is an important stage of placemaking – as without a thorough investigation of a site’s context, its proposal may not fit into its existing context, and receive backlash as a result.

For example, after Battersea Power Station was purchased by a consortium of Malaysian investment companies in 2012, a decade-long process took place to restore the building, iconically tied to Britain’s industrial past, into a luxury mixed-use development complete with a shopping mall, museum, residential apartments, and workspaces.

Placemaking processes during its decade-long reconstruction phase focussed on the theme of innovation, linking the proposal back to its original context, and the new site intending to inspire innovation.

The success of Battersea Power Station lies in how it combines living, working, and playing in one space – attracting visitors and contributing to the area’s economic development.

In 2023, over 11.2 million people visited Battersea Power Station.

However, the development has involved a controversial displacement of the community who were largely priced out of the area.

It’s led to criticism over the developer’s intentions and application of placemaking.

Human-centred design

Placemakers walk a fine line between dictating the outcome of the future use of space and handing the reigns to stakeholders to direct the project themselves.

The Glass-House Community Led Design organisation warn that “diving straight into a discussion about a particular scheme, and being confined by its redline boundaries, can mean that people find it difficult to contextualise how that scheme fits into the surrounding neighbourhood, or into the complex socio-economic landscape which it is located.”

It instead recommends broadly setting the context of place, and informing stakeholders about the impact of design on people’s lives, before inviting them to participate in the design process.

Sophia de Sousa, Chief Executive at The Glass-House Community Led Design says that design engagement “should be about meaningfully engaging people in a design journey, empowering diverse people and organisations to explore and experience the creative process of design, to meaningfully contribute to decision-making about how we shape the places around them and at the same time, create social value opportunities by creating spaces for connection, collaboration, and empowerment.”

The design stage may include facilitating conversations and explorations through creative methods such as co-design processes or socially engaged practice. This strengthens stakeholders’ sense of belonging to a place they’re already connected. As an example, in 2019, London-based artist Morag Myerscough was commissioned to re-establish the historic role of Mercat Cross in Aberdeen as “a meeting point and place of exchange” for its community. A space was created for ‘performances from the local Aberdeen spoken word, comedy, and music scenes.’ It led to the creation of Love at First Sight – a large-scale colourful structure that encircled the Mercat Cross, symbolising the people’s “outpouring of love for the city.” The typology of the site transformed back into a place for exchange and connection between Aberdeen residents in a contemporary and provocative way.

The power of tech

There’s something to be said about creating places of exchange and interaction.

But this isn’t confined to the physical space.

In fact, technology can make placemaking more widely accessible, more convenient, and even more appropriate for stakeholders to gather in a virtual space rather than the physical.

We’ll discuss this further in the second article in this two-part series on placemaking.

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