Make Architects says the Future Spaces Foundation (FSF) — its own think tank that undertakes research to unlock the socioeconomic, demographic and technological drivers that need to be considered in order to design places that best serve communities will help them design more dynamic, sustainable and inclusive places and spaces.
In recent years, the FSF has done a deep dive into transport networks, housing shortages and retail environments. Most recently, they turned the spotlight on urban loneliness.
In an FSF-authored report, entitled Kinship in the City, a group of collaborators including architects, designers, academics, community organisers and policy advisers came together to explore the relationship between loneliness and the built environment.
Together, they determined a series of recommendations including prioritising community-focused approaches to design and planning, investing in loneliness-related policymaking and exploring new models for funding community spaces and services.
A snapshot of loneliness in Australia
Research shows that one in four Australian adults are lonely and nearly 55 percent of the population feel they lack companionship at least sometimes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, lonely Australians have significantly worse mental and physical health than connected Australians.
Who are these lonely Australians?
Last year, a national survey revealed that more than a quarter of people aged 18 to 24 feel lonely ‘frequently’ or ‘always’. Additionally, people living in inner-metropolitan areas are much more likely to say they ‘occasionally’, ‘frequently’ or ‘always’ feel lonely, when compared with those residing in rural areas.
Architecture students tackle urban loneliness
Make Architects recently challenged Sydney university students to produce design proposals to help combat loneliness and improve social connections in cities. Eight teams from the architecture schools of the University of New South Wales, the University of Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney all took part in the competition — judged by a panel of experts. NSW Government Architect Abbie Galvin, architect and writer Elizabeth Farrelly, Lendlease’s Natalie Slessor and Make’s Sydney Studio Lead Simon Lincoln assessed each proposal.
The winning team from the University of Sydney (USYD) impressed judges with their entry, ‘InTransit’. It proposes moving away from Sydney’s car-centric transport model and towards a fusion of transport and architecture that provides unexpected communal spaces in public transport hubs.
Team member Simone Carmody says, “Refurbished tram carriages supporting different programs like cafes, gardens, co-working spaces seek to facilitate social interaction and encourage the commuter to engage in the built environment rather than their screens. While not in use, these carriages assemble, opening their doors in a "hub" that blends with the city to create a new urban space open to all.”
“The winning proposal was set apart by the simplicity and clarity of the central idea. The team had the foresight to take something mundane and make it delightful.”
More broadly, Galvin says, “Cities need to create a sense of ownership and belonging for their citizens. Progression and sophistication as a society has led us to an increasing focus on the individual. As our cities densify, this approach needs to shift toward one that is more community centric,” says NSW government architect Abbie Galvin.
Loneliness post COVID-19
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Make’s Sydney Studio Lead Simon Lincoln is calling on all architects and designers to think more deeply about the design of our buildings and public places, and their power to unify communities.
“Whilst the need for social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis is abundantly clear, it also brings into sharp focus how much we crave connection as individuals and collectively,” Lincoln says.
“There are lessons to be learned from this crisis, including the understanding that with the right technology and design tools, social isolation does not have to result in loneliness,” Lincoln believes. “When designing our future cities, as architects we have a responsibility to prioritise designs that bring citizens and communities closer together. Eradicating loneliness is a lofty ambition but, for the long-term wellbeing of society, it is an essential aspiration.”
Image: The Conversation