How Public Spaces are Reinvigorating Cities

Place de la Concorde, Paris

No longer just places where people gather, public spaces are reinvigorating cities. Four architects talk about designing the libraries, avenues and event sites of the future.

Bourse de Commerce, Paris

Tadao Ando, Tadao Ando Architect & Associates

Tadao Ando

“In all of my projects, I imagine the life of the building decades, centuries after construction,” says Tadao Ando. “Great buildings that have survived millennia do so because they were cherished by the people and retain the spirit of the past.” One of Japan’s leading contemporary architects, Ando is known for his minimalist concrete buildings that rethink the relationship between nature and people. The Pritzker Prize winner’s portfolio includes the Chichu Art Museum in Naoshima, which is suffused with natural light despite most of it being underground, and Paris’s 18th-century Bourse de Commerce, which he recently reimagined as an art museum. His work can now be seen in Australia for the first time at annual design festival MPavilion, after Ando was invited to design the host structure on Eastern Kulin Country, in Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Gardens. “The site is vitally important as my work is a dialogue between architecture and nature.”


Architecture should connect people with landscapes.

The design for MPavilion began with “a desire to find a scene of eternity”, says Ando. “Eternal, not in materials or structure but in the memory of a landscape that will live on in people’s hearts.” Built from concrete and comprised of two interlocking squares around a large circular canopy, the structure evokes Japan’s traditional walled gardens while engaging in a dialogue with Australia’s native landscape. “The living environment is profoundly connected with the climate in Australia so I imagined an open-air structure. It provides the same comfort you would find in the shade of a tree and the same hardship you might experience when it rains.”

Smart spaces can frame and mirror a changing world.

Horizontal openings run the length of the north and south walls of Ando’s pavilion, framing views of the park and downtown Melbourne. An internal reflecting pool mirrors the building’s canopy, the surrounding trees, sky and city skyline. “Within the circle and square, emptiness is given\ a form. This emptiness engenders dialogues between individuals, resonates with the environment, becomes one with the garden and blossoms into a microcosmos of infinite creativity.”

Philippe Chiambaretta, PCA-STREAM

Philippe Chiambaretta

As the man charged with redesigning the Champs-Élysées in Paris, French architect Philippe Chiambaretta understands th  importance of longevity – and adaptability. “We used to view architecture as something we build and then whatever happens, happens,” he says. “Now we need to look at the whole life cycle of a building and what it will become 50 years from now.”

Cities like Paris will have to evolve in the next 10 to 20 years.

“In the future we won’t demolish buildings, we will renovate them,” says Chiambaretta, who founded PCA-Stream, a multidisciplinary research and architecture agency that has a team of 75 people. “We’re going to be building over the city [of Paris] again.”

Even the Champs-Élysées has to adapt to a changing world.

Once considered the world’s most beautiful avenue, the Champs-Élysées has fallen out of favour with Parisians due to pollution and over-tourism. In devising a plan to “re-enchant” the precinct in a way that is sustainable and inclusive to all, Chiambaretta considered the environment. “People will increasingly look for a cool place to go in summer. There’s a 13.7-hectare park at the bottom of the Champs-Élysées. To reduce the temperature of the city, we need to redesign and replant this garden.” As well as planting 1000 trees, the architect intends to allow more pedestrian access, create a cultural walkway that links the Louvre to museums such as the Grand Palais and add restaurants and sporting facilities.

Champs-Élysées, Paris

Sustainable, adaptable architecture is the way forward.

“In the coming years, we will face a real estate crisis,” he says. “And with interest rates and construction costs going up, many office buildings may never be completed or find tenants. We must ask, ‘How can we adapt buildings for another use?’” It’s an issue the architect is already tackling with projects such as The Cloud – the transformation of four 20th-century buildings into one 38,400-square-metre business centre with internal courtyards, restaurants, a gym and green rooftop. Another of Chiambaretta’s projects, The Link, is the result of 15 years of research into sustainable architecture and “reinvents the code of an office tower”. Currently under construction, the high-rise has two wings connected by 30 platforms, each with a hanging garden. Designed with adaptable layouts and workspaces, it will use half the energy of current skyscrapers thanks to a double-skin façade (fitted with solar panels) that provides thermal insulation. And while The Link has no car park, there are 350 square metres of bicycle parking in the basement. “In every project we do, we consider that the use planned for a building today may not be the one that’s needed tomorrow. We make sure a building will be able to have  several lives and not become obsolete.”

Mark Loughnan, Hassell

Mark Loughnan

“The built environment is a big component of our impact on the natural environment,” says Mark Loughnan, a principal, board director and head of design for Hassell, an award-winning international multi-disciplinary design studio. “It also has a big impact on the way we live, feel and engage with ourselves and our communities.” With a portfolio that spans university campuses, major infrastructure and cultural institutions, one of the Melbourne-based architect’s most recent projects is WA Museum Boola Bardip (below), in cooperation with global architecture and design practice OMA.

WA Museum Boola Bardip

Collaboration is key to reflecting ancient culture in modern design.

“Traditional Owner culture is fundamentally sustainable and ties into ambitions of resilience and inclusion,” says Loughnan, who met with Whadjuk Elders when designing Boola Bardip and ensured that their connection to Country is invoked before you even reach the museum’s doors. In the square outside the entrance, a mist installation nods to traditional smoke ceremonies, while soundscapes feature crackling fire and the voices of Elders. Even with the Old Perth Gaol at its centre, the design has transformed what was a Sorry place into one where First Nations peoples gather.

Site-specific design means structures withstand the elements.

“For a building to last 50 to 100 years, the approach to materials, construction and how the building is integrated on the site is very important,” says Loughnan. At Boola Bardip, this meant the adaptive reuse of five historic buildings, having shaded verandahs to allow natural ventilation and using thermal mass to reduce the need for heating and air-conditioning. These time-honoured techniques stand alongside significant advances in material technology. For example, an interstitial layer of woven mesh was laminated into the double-glazed windows to reflect WA’s harsh sun while still being transparent. “People and Country are equal so projects need to be respectful of place.”

Natural materials make buildings more adaptable.

Designed in partnership with First Nations cultural design and research agency Djinjama, Hassell’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Facility (AMRF) First Building hopes to rewrite the standards for public spaces. “This project is landscape-led urbanism so it’s very connected to place,” says Loughnan. The building will begin its life as a manufacturing space and visitors’ centre showcasing the progress of Bradfield, a high-tech city to be built in Western Sydney as part of the 11,000-hectare Aerotropolis precinct around Western Sydney Airport. The site is home to the city’s longest freshwater stream and extensive regeneration work will be done and rainwater captured and stored for greywater use and irrigation. “We have this idea of a circular economy for the building. Its timber structure has modular components that are mechanically fixed together and can be disassembled, expanded or even relocated.”

Ingrid van der Heijden, Civic

Ingrid van der Heijden

“You cannot use virgin materials anymore,” says Ingrid van der Heijden, co-founder and partner at Civic, an Amsterdam-based global firm specialising in public architecture. She’s often asked to design “circular” buildings that are sustainable and can be adapted for other uses. The catch? Clients want to build them with new materials. “We tell them,

‘No, you have to start [being aware of your impact] now.’ As designers, we have an important task.” When asked to construct a public library for Tilburg, the Netherlands’ sixth-largest city, van der Heijden turned the project into a masterclass in adaptive reuse, transforming a 1932 locomotive shed into LocHal, a “library of the future”, and winning World Building of the Year at the 2019 World Architecture Festival.

Tilburg public library, the Netherlands

Libraries are no longer just places to borrow books. Beyond the book stacks, van der Heijden’s design speaks to the myriad ways people now acquire knowledge, by incorporating an auditorium, co working facilities and nine “labs” where visitors can learn new skills. “Instead of dividing the space like, ‘This is for the library; this is for the convention centre,’ we made it completely open.” Comprising a former warehouse with a footprint of 11,200 square metres, the library’s entrance hall contains reading tables, an exhibition area and a kiosk and folds up into “a landscape of staircases” that can be used as event seating for more than 1000 people. “It’s an old building and the glass façade is an important part of how you experience the space.”

Modern heating and cooling systems can be old-school, too.

While the abundant natural light reduces electricity usage, it did present a challenge in terms of climate control. Working with Braaksma & Roos Architectenbureau and Arup, the solution was to introduce five climate zones made to “heat people, not the building”, says van der Heijden. “The staircase landscape is heated like a car seat so that when the weather’s cooler, it warms your butt.” Some zones are completely climatised, others offer blankets and skylights open to release hot air during summer. “In the old days, people would sit around the kitchen stove to keep warm. This is not a new concept but in the time we live in, it’s seen as quite revolutionary.”

Honouring the past can inform the future.

Tilburg was built on two industries: trains and textiles. In homage to the latter, Petra Blaisse from interior architects Inside Outside created six enormous textile walls at LocHal. “They’re like flexible curtains that are motorised so we can close off spaces,” says van der Heijden. “Flexible spaces do not mean neutral spaces. It’s making sure they have an atmosphere with a character that attracts people and are constructed so you can adapt its use in the future.”

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Image credit: Image credit: Jimmy Delpire for PCA-Stream, Kinji Kanno (Tadao Ando portrait, courtesy of Tadao Ando Architect & Associates), Michael Haluwana, Stijn Bollaert

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