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Lessons for streetscape placemaking

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Sometimes deceptively simple "urban rooms" are all that's required

By Peter Elmlund.

In Beijing of all places, I found one of the best shopfronts I have ever seen. It is visible from both directions on the street thanks to the slanting window. The inviting space that is a result of this design is used for a bench with decorations and a tiny little “urban room” in front of the door. This arrangement creates an indoor feeling on the outside, and it welcomes the customer. The store sacrifices only a few square meters for outdoor placemaking, contributing to the streetscape and the "place network."

It should also be noted that this is done in a minimalist-style modern building. It is very common to see exterior social spaces grow out of, or be a part of, the building in classical and vernacular architecture, but very rare in the modernist era.

A little bit further down the street I found another welcoming shopfront. This time the effect was created by the simplest design I can think of. The doors at the entrance are opened outwards.

It is unfortunate that many simple design details with huge psychological and social implications are forgotten by the overwhelming majority of contemporary architects. Perhaps that's in large part the fault of architectural education, as we've written before. Perhaps that needs to change! As Jane Jacobs said, so much of what we need to learn is available just by observing what already works for people in cities -- or doesn't.

The shop down the street in Beijing that has the simple outswinging doors in a very shallow niche. Simple - and remarkably effective.

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