Recently Coralie Olson, MASSIVart’s Managing Partner, Toronto, had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion at the Interior Design Show (IDS) of Toronto surrounding placemaking – destinations, people, connections, fabric – in a post-pandemic world. While placemaking may have existed before the pandemic, it now presents us with a powerful opportunity to rebuild relationships between people and places, and to meet the new experiential landscape.
George Foussias, Design Director at Lemay
Louis-Etienne Dubois, Associate Professor at Ryerson University
Coralie Olson, Managing Partner at MASSIVart Toronto
Heela Omarkhail, Vice President, Social Impact at The Daniels Corporation
Vedran Dzebic, Research & Development Coordinator at Entro
During the discussion, all four panellists brought together their own unique perspectives on the concept of placemaking. Heela Omarkhail defined placemaking as a set of tools that enhance our experience in a space, by bringing memories and connection to the space. For Louis-Etienne Dubois, places are spaces that people have made meaningful. MASSIVart’s own, Coralie Olson, shared her perspective: “People are at the centre of placemaking. The most powerful way to connect with people is through the power of art and culture.”
Omarkhail sees space as the platform or the canvas for placemaking, where placemaking is the set of tools or the toolbox. The tools needed for a public or private environment, indoor or outdoor space, will be different and will include both tangible and intangible aspects. Tangible aspects of placemaking include everything from design and materiality to finishes, furniture, signage, and artworks. More intangible aspects include music, as well as programming and events, are at the core of community building.
Placemaking needs intentionality. “Build it, be intentional, add these interventions and tools and slowly people will start to come and connect with that space.” – Heela Omarkhail
Space functionality has changed since the pandemic. Developers must now question the use of large harvest tables for example, to accommodate individuals wanting separate smaller tables. How to make that an experience: where these tables can look and feel good as much separate as they do together.
Outdoor spaces have taken a front seat in the current climate and pandemic. Is there a renewed interest in public outdoor spaces?
Professionals are forced to think a lot broader of what outdoor space means, over and above formal park spaces, to create an experience. George Foussias added that no longer having access to indoor spaces during COVID, made us move outdoors as a natural extension. We are changing the way we look at the indoors, the outdoors, and the amenities needed for both.
For Dubois, outdoor space offers a feeling of safety, the ability to breathe fresh air after having masks on for so long. Digging a little deeper, many reasons that have attracted us to the outdoors, can easily be replicated in indoor designs. Negative space, circles or pods present in parks for example, are concepts that can easily be implemented indoors and will continue to be prevalent in the future.
“There is something intentional when going somewhere or arriving at a destination”, Dubois noted. One of the most important elements for designers and planners to consider surrounding placemaking is this holistic social, cultural, human-centric experience. Upon arriving at a destination, when you reflect or feel certain feelings about it, you become attached to it, emotionally, physically, and psychologically. That’s precisely when space becomes a place.
With COVID, people will likely develop a new sense of place and look for different attributes or feelings that were not as important before, such as safety or even cleanliness. Moving forward, individuals may be a little bit more reluctant, have residual fears or discomfort with being around others. To bring people back into a shared physical environment, Dubois mentioned using ways such as art, entertainment, and spontaneity.
Olson reinforced the physical aspect of safety, yet also the psychological and emotional aspect of feeling safe in a place. She emphasized how critical co-creation will be for people coming back to a space through a new lens. There is an immense opportunity to engage the community, get feedback and understand what will make them feel safe in those spaces.
“Arts and culture are going to be so critical to this next version of the recovery, both from the human perspective and economically.” Engaging artists in the recovery process is an incredible opportunity to bring people back safely and to share experiences with those who were most affected by the pandemic. Having street presence, music, and performances surround you, is what Omarkhail sees as recovery both from a human and economic perspective.
Olson emphasized this delicate balance between space and human connection. As humans, we crave these emotional connections and these experiences. Without people there really is no place. In order to create these connections, memories and feelings, curation and programming are essential.
A space should draw people in, connect with them in a meaningful and authentic way, and leave room for spontaneity. It is not always about the space itself, rather how you connect with people, and how human connections live on years later.
On a macro level, the identity and culture of a country is the food, the music, the art, and the architecture. On a micro level, the same aspects remain for different public or private spaces: the arts, the food, the programming, to create that identity. Essentially, it is about shifting from this transactional nature and proving that these intangible, emotional or cultural aspects are even more important.
A big focus for professionals in this space right now, is how to capture and communicate the value of connections, both qualitative and quantitative aspects, especially as more and more things become data-driven. If the value offering is not clear or intentional as a curator, then it is likely to be met with resistance or suspicion by the viewer.
The panel discussion took multiple different paths: everything from design, to human psychology, to economic considerations, all factors required to support placemaking. Panelists were challenged to discuss distinct and complex concepts on their own, let alone linking them together.
According to Foussias, the prefix “re” can be in everything we do from this point forward: re-brand, re-think, re-vitalize, and re-educate. The desire to go back to a physical place has changed – rather than going back for the sake of doing something, we want to go back for the sake of feeling, of experiencing, and of connecting.
In the past, the visionary developers, the curators, the brand, the architecture, the design, product developers, product engineers, all worked in silos and came together to define a final outcome. Now imagine working as a beehive, a hub, a creative assembly to create the end result, above and beyond what each discipline would do separately.
The panelists are all actively defining the new normal, with decisions that will affect everyone. As a multidisciplinary curative hub, the responsibility is not to simply design something for the end user, but to design something with the end user. Moving the process from letting people experience the design, to letting us design the experience. Simply recognizing that the experience or the engagement with the users does not come at the end of the product, but rather starts from the outset, is probably the biggest shift.