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Whether in the urban wilderness or small oases between concrete and steel – inner-city locations such as community centers, playgrounds, market halls or banks can be much more than mere urban backdrops. We present four outstanding projects that bring vibrancy and diversity to the city and strengthen social interaction.

From hicklvesting

Children’s Community Centre – The Playscape © waa (we architech anonymous)

Whether in the urban wilderness or the oases between concrete and steel – city centers and places such as parks or community centers are much more than mere urban backdrops. People long for places of vibrancy and diversity where they can share experiences and socialize. Cities need conscious design concepts that are geared towards people’s needs and enable them to be together: open to creative uses, flexible in their ability to react in subsequent years when the spaces concerned change. The following architecture and design projects from this year’s ICONIC AWARDS: Innovative Architecture show the potential that can be found in consciously designed places for social interaction and how intelligent concepts can promote this interaction in a creative way and strengthen the city as a living space.

Unusual play worlds that animate and challenge

The fact that children spend (too much) time with modern media is a frequently discussed topic, and not just in Germany. They spend long hours looking at screens, do not get enough outdoor exercise and often lack real interaction with other children. Solutions are needed to offer children a variety of leisure activities. This is also the view of the initiators of the “Children’s Community Center – The Playscape” in the north of Beijing. The aim of the project is to make playing on the street, as experienced by previous generations, an essential part of children’s development once again. The playscape that “we architech anonymous” (waa) has created for this purpose in and between the buildings of an existing industrial complex is based on important experiences from everyday situations: Here, children can meet, dare to do something, hide, practise balance, experience their own body proportions, learn to find their way around an unfamiliar terrain, gain an overview and much more. With the vastness, variety and colorfulness of the “Playscapes”, you can’t help but get involved in playing, experiencing and learning. In this way, the playscapes in the city contribute to the healthy development and balance of children, which has a direct positive effect on the living community of family, neighborhood and school.

The supermarket as an inspiring neighborhood meeting place

Developments in the design of market halls show how places that previously had a clear purpose can be opened up for other uses. Since the Middle Ages, market halls have played an important social role as trading centers and were immensely important as places for exchanging news. Today, market halls are increasingly becoming a lively meeting place for lunch breaks or combine a residential and commercial center under one roof, as is possible in the Rotterdam market hall by MVRDV. In Groningen, the Netherlands, the “SuperHub Meerstad” takes its cue from traditional market hall design and develops an unusually expressive building that can do more than just display goods. A nine-meter-high roof construction is supported by wooden columns with a cross-shaped cross-section, the beams of which have an effective diamond pattern. Enveloped by a continuous glass façade, a great deal of daylight enters the cathedral-like interior and creates an extraordinary spatial experience. In the evening, the building radiates into the district like a lighthouse on all sides.

SuperHub Meerstad © De Zwarte Hond

The “SuperHub Meerstad” is an inviting and identity-creating center with a high quality of stay for the growing district, which previously had no focal point and offers more than just a special shopping experience. The areas in the building can be flexibly subdivided so that other uses such as a neighborhood center or even residential uses can be accommodated if required. One thing is clear: The need for opportunities to be together is universal and can be found globally. The only difference between the various cultural areas is the way in which being together can look.

Chinese Village Cultural Activity Center © Atelier tf

A cultural center as a bridge between past and present

The village of Zhonghua on the outskirts of the Shanghai metropolis has expanded and modernized considerably in a very short space of time. This makes it all the more important for the sense of community to maintain a connection to the village’s origins as a village on the water with traditional bridges to the surrounding fields. With the “Chinese Village Cultural Activity Center”, ppas Engineering Consulting Co. has deliberately built a striking bridge, combining the origins of the village with the current development and the influx of more and more people in a consistently simple, compact and multifunctional building. The aim is to meet as equals within the neighborhood and strengthen the community by giving both tradition and modernity a place in this cultural center. And by being together in a common place, a new identity is given space to develop.

Coffee party in a bank branch

Is there anything more closed than the traditional bank? PSD Bank Berlin is resisting this image and wants to strengthen its neighborhood with a joint center. While many bank branches are closing, PSD Bank is breaking new ground. Together with interior designer Ester Bruzkus, the rooms of the historic post office in Berlin-Friedenau have been transformed into an inviting neighborhood meeting place. In addition to the usual banking services such as ATMs, advice rooms and information desks, there is a café, a colorful communal living room, an indoor garden as well as exhibition and public meeting rooms. The inclusive concept aims to appeal to older customers in particular, who tend to be put off by digital banking transactions. The concept was implemented as a “room within a room”, which stages a dialog between old and new in the historic main hall, which has been restored in accordance with the preservation order. In line with the regionally rooted cooperative bank’s philosophy, the redesign focused primarily on small and medium-sized businesses, and as many Berlin and German designers as possible were involved in the selection of furniture.

PSD Bank Berlin-Brandenburg © Ester Bruzkus Architekten

This project not only stands for the preservation and refurbishment of historic buildings in line with the preservation order: the dialog between the materials and the atmosphere of the Kiez living room bring liveliness and modernity to the neighbourhood. The interplay here creates a bench that is unexpectedly approachable – and actually transforms bench walks into a pleasant item on the to-do list.

Architecture for social connections

The conscious design of social encounters in urban spaces is significantly influenced by concepts that go beyond the mere functionality of buildings. Successful approaches are characterized in particular by their multifunctionality, offering a wide range of opportunities for social interaction. The complexity of these concepts highlights the diversity of human encounters and helps to connect people from different backgrounds. Successful social design in urban spaces also takes traditions into account by incorporating cultural aspects and thus building a bridge between past and present. At the same time, these concepts are characterized by their openness to change by adapting to the needs and developments of society.

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