Making Spaces Into Places

Grant Marani
Robert A.M. Stern Architects, New York City

Successful urban outdoor places support both the rhythms of everyday life and the special occasions that foster a sense of community. As architects and planners, we must recognize that what looks good on presentation is not always popular or desirable when built. Be they parks, squares, gardens, or courtyards, public outdoor spaces cannot be designed as afterthoughts but must be realized with a creative vision grounded in experience and rooted in an understanding of history, how cities grow, and how people want to live.

Outdoor spaces must be conceived in close concert with the various buildings around them; together they should be related in their proportions and character to their surroundings, rooted in local culture, and accommodating of regional climate. We study the spaces that people cherish and support – that achieve the popular appellation of "places" – from New York to Shanghai to discover how they succeed, what works, and what doesn't, in order to create places people will actually use and enjoy. Our neighborhood planning work in China and elsewhere is broad-based, drawing on both Asian and Western precedents, from grand urban gestures like the Royal Crescent in Bath, England, to the fine-grain urban street patterns of Gulang Island in Xiamen, China. This presentation outlined how our research and design work has created a variety of successful places in cities around the world.

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