Reinventing Spaces: Placemaking Through Participatory Culture

Creating places means going beyond the material dimension to meet the community’s needs, by collectively reimagining and reinventing spaces as the heart of every community. At UNStudio we have been involved for decades in this practice. Now we are applying human-centric methodologies to ground the concept in user needs.

More than just improving a neighbourhood, city, or region, placemaking strengthens and enhances the connection between people and the places they share through collaborative design methods, where all actors involved collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces.

With a human-centric approach, UNSx has approached various placemaking challenges using inclusive participatory design tools that allow each project to be context-specific, adaptable, and community-driven so that the place designed serves users as a vital community resource in which function always trumps form.
Among some of the examples of how we use human-centric design methods in close collaboration with stakeholders, and subject matter experts alike, is a collaboration with Real Estate Developer AM to develop new housing concepts.

For AM, the UNSx team created a series of workshops that explored changing needs of homeowners that arose during the pandemic. To do this, we used service design processes as a tool to spark imagination and create concepts that could improve the experience of people living in housing developments offered by the company.

The needs-mapping activities were a starting point for concept development where UNSx plays the role of a guide rather than a concept designer. This approach allowed us to bring in different voices and perspectives, which enabled us to ground the concepts in the needs of the residents, therefore assuring better every day experiences for the residents.

With an increasing number of urban citizens wanting to get involved in these participative ecosystems, UNSx works on introducing co-creative methods to a wider audience.

The UNSx team together with Squint Opera developed a workshop for visualising urban happiness, with the objective of developing a blueprint for making city dwellers aware of and involved in changes for city design and governance.

The workshop was conducted as an immersive experience where participants from all over the world connected to harvest urban data and create a framework and a digital toolkit for visualizing urban happiness.

 

Another example of placemaking is a project made for the Penang South Islands, where a participatory culture strategy was developed by the UNSx team focused on putting people at the centre. This strategy establishes tools and a mechanism for collaboration and integrates a bottom-up approach across projects from policy-making, data and infrastructure to architecture.

One of the major challenges in this project was to build a participatory, data-enabled culture that assures tech solutions not only appeal to the few highly educated people, but technology also becomes a tool for empowerment and inclusion.

The scaling strategy proposes that people should not be expected to take the leap themselves, but for the projects and activities to be taken to where people live, and to be advocated by community spokespeople with accessible tools. As the solutions scale, the participatory approach along with the tools will be integrated into the every day practices of the community.

Rather than imposing solutions to major challenges, the placemaking strategy provides tools that empower the community to co-create solutions for themselves, where scaling projects, tools, services, and infrastructures, will allow those relationships and networks to become increasingly more complex and span from hyper-local to global over time.

Based on these processes, UNSx has expanded its perspective and broadened the architecture process to new tools, developing a better placemaking process.

Mapping journeys and emotions associated with physical and digital interactions enables in-depth understanding of the needs of specific user groups. Hence, the UNSx team works across scales to bring in human-centric methodologies, creating meaningful experiences for people in their everyday environments by understanding their emotions and needs.

As a result, by engaging in conversation and co-creating, we can expand the practice and bring in new perspectives, to enable better placemaking and generate concepts grounded in the needs of the community.