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Revitalized Public Spaces: Fostering Human Connections in Cities

Public space has always been a top priority in every city’s urban planning agenda and given today’s world context, these urban spaces have emerged as fundamental elements of cities and neighborhoods. Plazas, squares, and parks, undeniable necessities in the urban fabric, have become, today, more vital than ever.

Not only these spaces have a positive impact on health, but they generate recreational space to exercise, play, meet, and socialize with others. In addition, quality public and open spaces are key in generating human connections within cities’ neighborhoods. Having an open space to enjoy, certainly prompts a sense of community and belonging to one’s own proximate environment, whilst creating positive psychological effects by establishing relationships between members of the community. 

To provide people with accessible, human-centered, quality spaces, cities have sought help from architects. In fact, the high demand for these types of places required excellent design and architectural value. Below is a selection of projects that have successfully regenerated existing urban spaces and transformed them into active and vibrant squares, plazas, and riverfronts.


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Israels Plads Square / Cobe + Sweco Architects

© Rasmus Hjortshøj - COAST
© Rasmus Hjortshøj - COAST

The plaza also works as a transition between two worlds, the city, and the neighboring park. The landscape character of the park continues into the plaza in the form of the organic pattern of trees. Towards east and west, the plaza is raised up and folded to provide niches. In addition, it has a sculptural expression that refers to its historical past as part of the fortifications. The surface functions as a large urban playground and a space for activity.

The idea with the new Israels Plads is to celebrate the significance and the history of the site and revitalize it, turning it into a vibrant, diverse plaza for all kinds of people – for leisure, culture, activity and public events.

Israels Plads Square

Superblock of Sant Antoni / Leku Studio

© Del Rio Bani
© Del Rio Bani

A people-centred planning that offers the opportunity to gain new public spaces by creating proximity squares in the chamfer corners and green-healthy streets where previously there were cars.

Where previously there was an urban highway, now there is a healthy street full of life and green, where there was a traffic intersection now there is a liveable plaza. Car noise has been replaced by children playing, cheerful conversations between neighbours or elderly people chess games … The transformation continues together with this flexible landscape capable of integrating new changes derived from urban testing and social innovation.

Superblock of Sant Antoni
Superblock of Sant Antoni

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V-Plaza Urban Development / 3deluxe architecture

© Norbert Tukaj
© Norbert Tukaj

What was previously a largely unused space adjoined by historical buildings is now becoming a new, inviting public amenity where you can casually enjoy a coffee in your lunch break or get some work done outdoors while children play in the water, young people skate and students relax in the sun…

The real challenge was to preserve cultural heritage while creating space for social transformation. And the solution was innovative architecture that caters to the needs of today’s society: bright, friendly, open, and connecting.

V-Plaza Urban Development

Memory of the Land / NODE Architecture & Urbanism

© Chao Zhang
© Chao Zhang

Based on thorough field investigation, the following strategies were proposed: 1. Separate pedestrians from vehicular traffic to give way to slow-traffic circulation and ensure safe daily trips of residents; 2. Highlight the functional characteristics of each public space and simplify/enhance the existing site as needed; 3. Enhance the slow-traffic loop and public experience, and link up the industrial exhibition area, river landscape, community park, market, theater, and buildings of different historical periods to offer diverse daily experience.

Memory of the Land

Azatlyk, Central Square of Naberezhnye Chelny / DROM

© Evgeny Evgrafov
© Evgeny Evgrafov

We transformed the square into a captivating, dynamic public space with multi-character environments and qualities that are inclusive of different groups of people.

In place of the former central axis, we created a “city carpet” that functions as three squares, each with its own unique character: The Event Square is a paved urban space that is also used for weekly outdoor markets. The “Green Square” is for relaxing on the lawn and enjoying the seasonal landscaping by the city’s planting department. The Cultural Square has a renovated fountain and a new shallow pool for playing in water on hot days. This square is connected to the municipality and a movie theater that is located inside.  

Azatlyk, Central Square of Naberezhnye Chelny

Skanderbeg Square / 51N4E

© Filip Dujardin
© Blerta Kambo

The project’s landscaping was studied anew, and turned into a local ecosystem anticipating the creation of a new urban ecology for the city. Local species were chosen to increase the system’s natural resistance by reacting to ongoing climate change. Trees, shrubs and perennials were combined to foster urban biodiversity and control the city center’s microclimate. Albania’s nature’s richness in diverse species and varieties is thus valorized, allowing public space to assume bot recreational and educative functions.

Skanderbeg Square

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Tainan Spring / MVRDV

© Daria Scagliola
© Daria Scagliola

The mall’s underground parking level has been transformed into a sunken public plaza dominated by an urban pool and verdant local plants and surrounded by a shadowed arcade. The pool has been carefully planned to be a perfect gathering spot for all seasons: the water level will rise and fall in response to the rainy and dry seasons, and in hot weather mist sprayers will reduce the local temperature to provide welcome relief to visitors, reducing the use of air conditioning in the summer months. This space hosts playgrounds, gathering spaces, and a stage for performances, while the artful deconstruction of the building’s concrete frame has left a number of follies that can in due course be converted to shops, kiosks, and other amenities.

Tainan Spring

Victoria on the River / Edwards White Architects

© Simon Wilson
© Simon Wilson

 At a macro level, the design seeks to establish a park that serves two functions. Firstly, as a destination where people can pause, interact, and enjoy river views. Secondly as a device that links the disparate levels of the lower river path, upper promenade, and main street.

For some, it’s a space to play, for some a place to contemplate, a place to find solitude or a place to be in community. For others, it’s a means of access or a place to exercise. A new market, concerts, yoga classes, boot camps, skateboarders, meeting friends to eat together, all occupy this space. Sitting down in the park and overhearing both young and old as they discover it for the first time is a real joy.

Victoria on the River

Niederhafen River Promenade / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Piet Niemann

With construction of all phases now complete, the redevelopment of Hamburg’s Niederhafen flood protection barrier re-connects its river promenade with the surrounding urban fabric of the city; serving as a popular riverside walkway while also creating links with adjacent neighbourhoods.

A minimum width of ten metres ensures this popular riverside promenade offers generous public spaces for pedestrians, joggers, street performers, food stalls and cafes. Shops and public utilities are also accommodated within the structure at street level facing the city. Wide staircases resembling small amphitheatres are carved within the flood protection barrier at points where streets from the adjacent neighbourhoods meet the structure; giving passers-by at street level views of the people strolling along the promenade at the top of the barrier as well as views of the masts and superstructures of ships in the Elbe.

© Piet Niemann

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