Architect's hands: how can we design better streets | Evelina Ozola | TEDxRiga

Architect's hands: how can we design better streets | Evelina Ozola | TEDxRiga



for a very long time we have believed that the hand of an architect should look like this it is known that architects are smart and sophisticated they always wear black and they know better than anyone else how our city should function they build models and they look at them from above an architect's hand is like the hand of a god this particular hand belongs to like Corbusier and in this iconic photo he is presenting a model of grandmas on a utopian modernist vision for Paris that luckily was never built but the impact of his ideas was enormous in fact urban planners today are trying to fix with this guy with his hand from above did the city's modernist City Planning produced spaces designed specifically for cars a city were different functions like shops offices and housing are strictly separated a city were the traditional street along with all street life is made up Solis contrary to the kerbs yen I deeply care about streets and I wish that the streets of our cities offered a more balanced space for mobility and for social life I also believe that the hand of an architect can look like this and he or she can be working inside of the model directly on the street for the past five years I've had the opportunity to work in several urban design projects in public spaces I've used my own hands to build these things I spent many hours on the site and while there I made some interesting observations it all started with the project in basta accounts park in Riga that's when I spent a week crawling on the ground painting green circles and constantly explaining to curious passers-by why am I doing this I was actually setting up an outdoor exhibition which was dedicated to a latvian writer my experiments with color continued in Sacandaga neighbourhood in riga and this time i painted everything red and of course I carried on explaining why it was to mark the first public square in Riga co-designed with a brave local community but today I'd like to tell you more about the project in Miller Street the name of the street means peace in Latvian and the name of the project Miyagi translates as peacefully or easily at our studio of fine young Urbanists my colleague don't ins and I started working with me as three three years ago now this was when I had just returned from Rotterdam the Netherlands where I had spent several years studying and working when it comes to street design Netherlands is really a superpower there are so many different kinds of streets in the Dutch state cities with beautiful big trees with canals with wide sidewalks and I know you're probably thinking this already with cycling lanes of course living in Rotterdam made me realize that healthy lifestyles and vibrant street life can be embedded in urban design without even thinking of exercise I rode my bicycle for at least 20 minutes every day without even looking for a park I had access to greenery right there on the street I saw people barbecuing watching TV or selling their furniture on the street and I gladly took part in that I felt that I had the freedom to move around the city whichever way I liked I was fit and I was happy and then I returned to Riga I saw the streets here from a new perspective how sad they really are how empty especially the ones that have been constructed recently cycling felt uncomfortable and quite soon I switched the car because it's so easy Riga today repeats the same mistakes that American cities made back in the 1950s it builds highways to solve traffic problems it allows for big shopping centers to pop up next to these highways and for suburban villages to grow just outside the borders of Riga at the same time the historical center is rapidly losing residents the air quality is the worst in the Baltic States due to traffic congestion and there's an empty building on nearly every block Riga made me an urban planner feel restricted in my choices and unconsciously switch to a lifestyle that makes me unfit and unhappy with all this in mind we decided we can do something about least one Street in Riga the reasons why we chose Main Street was that there's an active local community which is quite exceptional for a street in the center of Riga there's a great spatial potential for a high quality street life and there's a very obvious problem ninety percent of the cars go on to run rails leaving the lanes that are designed for them empty at the same time pedestrians and the increasing number of cyclists have to share a narrow sidewalk and navigate between signposts open doors and parked cars we were sure that the available Street space can be used in a more balanced way by creating a shared car and tram line in the middle space with free up for cycling lane on each side of the street that would in turn allow us to vacate the sidewalks for walking for sitting for bicycle parking for outdoor cafes for plantings and for trees for beautiful green leafy trees did you know that in those almost 700 meters of ministry that are considered to be a hip creative quarter there are only 15 trees that is one tree for 45 metres on just one side of the street that doesn't seem so hip does it with a better design Street profile it will become easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the street small businesses will have special conditions to develop and there still will be car parking available where needed the livability of mayor streets would improve and all this would in fact leave the current traffic situation practically intact people will simply feel better more at home on the street that accommodates more choices but we also wanted to explore with this project with the relationship between an architect and the local community the locals are surely experts over their streets and we urban planners we want to know what they know because we want to create a design that fits their needs and actually improves their Street so at first we made these drawings and photo montages to have something to talk about and then we tried involving people on the street by showing them our visions the response was mostly positive but we still weren't really sure if the proposed solution is the best fit or if we were even understood so eventually we decided to test the idea spatially and we did what Architects normally do we built a model but instead of building something small and looking at it from above we decided that we would become those small plastic people inside of the model and to test the idea in real conditions on a scale one to one directly on the street the mock-up was built in three days and it remained in place for almost a week it changed the street instantly on one side we added only 30 centimetres to the sidewalk and that was enough to create space for benches and small cafe tables next next to the wall which is very convenient if you want to sit down and wait for somebody have a meal reorganize your bags after grocery shopping rest after a long walk or simply enjoy sitting down and looking at other people on the other side as soon as we put down tables and chairs people from a nearby cafe started serving coffee and cakes people instinctively know how to use a good Street when they see it we had fine young urban nests believe that this kind of urban prototyping with mock-ups is the cheapest fastest and most reliable way for testing changes in the urban environment urban prototyping is collective imagining collective wishful thinking it allows you to feel the space with your body to see if you can find a comfortable place for yourself if you want to stay there it is also a way to avoid costly design mistakes later we can learn that these small actions in a public space is a great way to involve the public in the design process during construction time we were constantly there building painting and talking to people that were interested in this the most frequently asked question was why is this thing blue well the vivid color provoked people start a conversation with strangers about three design that is really the dream of an urban planner come true and this time we got all kinds of questions from our really positive very supportive to rather critical and even aggressive it is understandable that not everybody supports the idea of more cyclists on the streets it is a nuisance not everybody wants to give up their parking space for for an outdoor cafe or potted plants but here I'd like to refer back to a smart advice that my mother once shared with me no one can resist good manners people are entitled to have an opinion that is different from yours but be polite talk calmly and listen to what others have to say perhaps you'll learn something and perhaps they will start listening to you as urbanites we must understand that cycling lanes are not built only to please cyclists and street furniture is not installed for the profit of shopkeepers and streets in general do not exist only for the convenience of cars thinking that would be like still believing that phones are only made for calling cities are not that simple cities are very complex organisms where everything needs to be in balance and where everyone young hell and financially secure as well as those whose income is modest and whose movements are limited can equally take part in mobility and in social life why do I think that streets are so important the American urbanist and famous people watcher will image white ones beautifully said that streets are the rivers of life in the city of course streets help us effectively move around but streets are also a stage where public life can take place and public life really is the essence of cities people have not built urban settlements to remain hidden from each other in their homes or in their cars they have hummed come together to exchange knowledge to share resources and to create something collectively and a good city has a capability to embrace all the different choices for the people that live there and to help balance them especially after finishing the meeting project a video was made and we posted it online the idea resonated with people worldwide our little video has now been viewed tweeted shared liked over 60,000 times that goes to show that urban planners activists and community leaders all over the world are looking for new ways to let their cities know that people want to take Street space back from cars and from profit hungry developers and we are definitely not alone there's a whole new breed of architects and urban planners that are less concerned with designing iconic buildings and more interested in humanizing the rigid unbalanced City they are not afraid to take risks to work with their own hands and their masters in finding loopholes and regulations and alternative ways of communication forget about the arrogant modernists this new architect is more of a hacker practices like exists in France or Ramallah Bor in Germany or assemble in the UK are successfully transforming the role of architects and changing the way we look at congested streets empty buildings and undesired areas in our cities for example parking day it started as a small initiative of rebar art and design studio in San Francisco and in 10 years it has grown into a global movement and several cities have even incorporated it into their urban policies or the architecture firms in Rotterdam managed to transform an undesired of his block that had stood empty for 15 years into a creative hot spot and the testing site for new ideas that is a place now that many other cities are envious off how could we convince even more architects and urban planners that to become actively involved in city making I think one of the ways is through education every year we organize a summer school for students and young professionals of architecture urban planning and design and in this summer school they get a chance to go through a full design cycle in just two weeks this is something rare in architectural education the participants do research come up with a concept and test it immediately by building in the public domain through this they learn how heavy real materials are and how scary power tools can sometimes be and they don't just build for the sake of exercise they create something that the local municipality in our case sizes or a local organization is genuinely interested in and finally at the end of the summer school they see the finished construction being appropriated by the public they see whether it works as intended or it fails to live up to the concept this hands-on experience completely changes the way these young architects view their profession in our summer school we teach that architecture reaches beyond buildings and that urbanism is not just the space between them we believe that building is a social act but let's not forget that prototype are just a step towards creating real public spaces and the summer school will probably never replace the University and I don't really think that Mira Street should be painted all blue and I know the professional builders have much more skill operating a screw gun that architects ever well what I am suggesting is that to keep a clear and critical mind we often need a change of perspective to build better cities we need both a thorough understanding of street life and the view from above I believe that taking small steps can lead to major transformations in our cities and I really really hope within the future there will be more architects and urban designers that rely less on megalomaniac visions and more on their humanity thank you


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