Design and Context – Community Design Excellence

By Aaron Trahan, Committee On Design Spring 2012 Conference Knowledge Scholar

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”
-Eliel Saarinen

As the Fall Conference approaches, it is important to remember where we left off this Spring in Columbus. One of the consensus’ that we was that context matters in design excellence. I found this quote from Eliel Saarinen particularly relevant to this topic because it seems so obvious, and yet there are buildings in all of our cities, towns and neighborhoods that somehow miss this fundamental principal.

The modernist additions to downtown Columbus truly embodied a consistent sense of scale, and a natural progression from the residential neighborhoods, to the community buildings, and to the retail center. Living in Boston, with such beautiful historic buildings, I always imagined what our neighborhoods would look like if the only structures breaking above the canopy lines of the trees were public buildings, such as churches, town halls, and courthouses. I imagine there would be a higher quality of civic discourse prevalent when you could find your way to a public meetingplace by just looking up, and knowing where to go by distinguishing the design of each tower.

Architecture, in this sense, has the ability to prioritize and foster community. Columbus has a unique character in its urban planning, which is applicable today in neighborhoods of a similar scale. Hopefully, as young architects focus on community design, buildings that serve a public function will be given greater architectural presence.

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