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Social infrastructure: the role of the architect is changing

Architects: designing communities, not just buildings.

Social infrastructure encapsulates the idea that the facilities and services of an urban or rural environment should complement the space they are built in. Facilities such as train stations, cash machines and car parks, should interact with green spaces such as parks, playgrounds and tree-lined pavements, to give a sense of cohesion and well-being as well as function.

As the architect, you are the one responsible for the concepts of these structures and developing them into visual representations and plans.

Here are a few areas architects are really making a difference:

  • Designing recreational facilities and spaces with a diverse community in mind
  • Planning the layout of shops, cafes and pubs to encourage social interactions
  • Street design for safety
  • Providing benches in green areas so people can sit outside
  • Including cycle tracks and footpaths that give access to facilities
  • Incorporating clean air strategies and measures to reduce traffic pollution near nurseries and schools

 

The role of architects

The role of the architect is evolving in response to the recognition that living and working spaces have a profound effect on the area.

This industry focus on “soft” or civic infrastructure is asking architects to look at each building design concept through the lens of social responsibility. Architects are being asked to:

  • Weave together communities and facilities through creative design
  • Design to complement the existing infrastructure
  • Develop an understanding of urban and development psychology
  • Take the time to see creative solutions to using space

 

Case study: London

The demand for architects to pay attention to social infrastructure is apparent nowhere more than London. In fact, RICS recommend just over half the light in a room should be from natural sources. Software that enables architects to carry out shadow analysis is used to make sure office or apartment blocks do not adversely affect their surroundings.

It’s not just personal well-being that architects must take into consideration. Staying with London, architects need to be aware of the eight protected views of St Paul’s Cathedral; visual corridors that have been protected by law since the 1930s.

Getting a head start

As communities become more diverse and space ever more a premium, the demand for architects to become actively engaged in social infrastructure will only increase. Here are some ideas to ponder:

  • How to use secondary level spaces for green areas to encourage socialising
  • Aesthetically pleasing design at entrances to be welcoming
  • Make space for mobility scooters, prams and bikes etc. at entrances
  • Let in light – not just for Londoners! – by connecting indoor areas with outdoor spaces

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