Designing in the Public Realm
Providing architecture, engineering, and interior design services for governmental projects requires a high level of coordination between competing program requirements. Providing design solutions for public sector projects is a delicate balance of not only satisfying the programmatic or missional requirements of the project, but also a wide range of other tangible and intangible factors which all play a role in creating a space “by the people and for the people.”
Obviously, some of the tangible qualities are project drivers (the internal or external factors that influence a project design) that are commonly found in the delivery of project designs, regardless of the sector, client, or project type. Issues such as scope, schedule, and budget; or satisfying the client’s program are found on all design projects everywhere. On the other hand, projects designed and constructed in the public realm have a wide range of additional qualities and attributes that create projects wholly different from those found in other market sectors.
This interplay of the tangible and intangible project drivers sets apart projects designed for and in the public realm. None of these is superior to another; they all play key roles in informing how a design is conceived and ultimately crafted by way of the constructed project. If any one of the project drivers strives to be satisfied at the expense of another, it will often cause the project to fall short and be unsuccessful.
These are the top ten project drivers that we have found factor in the development of projects designed for the public realm.
1 | Responsibility
Projects implemented in the public realm are charged with creating enduring value while providing good stewardship of the resources required to implement the project scope. Correspondingly, projects in the public realm fall into the unique position of not only providing health, safety, and welfare for the employees and public that use the space, but in many cases, the department or agency using the space provides critical health, safety, and welfare services for the public-at-large, well ‘beyond the walls’ of the project. In many cases, the services provided by these government agencies are providing a large cross-section of the very fabric of society itself.
2 | Respecting Context & History
By their very nature, governmental facilities are direct extensions of the communities and regions in which they reside. One does not exist without the other. The government exists because there are communities to govern. Communities exist because there is a social framework that the government provides to the community. Based on this interdependence, governmental facilities are charged with being extensions of the local, regional, and national historical narrative. Public architecture for governmental facilities offers form and meaning to the fabric of the culture we live in.
3 | Design Aesthetic
Obviously, it is the goal of all architecture and engineering projects, regardless of their market sector, to be well-conceived and aesthetically pleasing. When the additional project drivers of ‘responsibility’ and ‘respecting context and history’ are taken into account, the design aesthetic takes on an elevated level of importance. For our team, the over-arching elements of the design aesthetic are distilled down to three core principles: 1) the vision for the project needs to be well cast, 2) the idea conveyed in the design aesthetic needs to be clear and well understood by those who experience it, and 3) the solution needs to be well-crafted, utilizing the resources deemed appropriate for the program, facility, and project at-hand.
4 | Efficient Planning
The layperson may think that governmental projects have undefined programs with unlimited budgets. This is not the case. Every project design for the government needs to use the resources required to implement the project wisely. Ultimately, each project needs to make good use of the taxpayer funds allocated for the project, creating productive workspaces for government employees and providing an efficient and appropriate interface with the public.
5 | Program Requirements
As we know, every designed and constructed project needs to satisfy the owner’s programmatic requirements – their needs, wants, and desires. The underlying tenet to satisfying these programmatic requirements takes on an enhanced understanding when considering that the governmental agency utilizing the space has been charged with supporting the public good. All Federal government agency missions are to uphold, protect, and defend our nation’s constitution and laws. The very legislation and regulatory standards that government agencies are charged with promoting and assuring compliance with are helping to support some of the threads of the fabric holding our society together.
6 | Sense of Place
Projects designed for the public realm hold a special place to provide form and meaning to America’s legacy of public architecture. Public facilities are the peoples’ buildings. They rest in the public domain. As mentioned previously, the government exists because there are communities to govern, while communities exist because the government provides a social framework to the community. To that end, facilities built in the public realm serve as an anchor, providing a sense of stability and constancy. These facilities are the physical manifestation of this stability and constancy, emulating this sense of place for the institutions that help tie us together.
7 | Durability
As said previously, every project designed for the government needs to make the most of the resources required to implement the project. To this end, projects designed for the public realm are not necessarily assembled in the most economical way possible. In terms of being a good steward of resources, projects for the public realm are called to be durable, standing the test of time by withstanding the rigors of wear and tear. Simply put, projects in the public realm are called to utilize the appropriate resources to serve the facility’s anticipated end-use and service life.
8 | Security / Anti-Terrorism / Force Protection
Governmental agencies are charged with promoting and assuring compliance with some of the threads that hold our society together. These facilities figuratively and literally safeguard various layers of critical public infrastructure that protect and defend our nation and the communities in which we live. For this reason, the critical public infrastructure provided by the government needs to be provided with the requisite security and anti-terrorism / force protection to protect these essential facilities and essential services.
9 | Sustainability
With the continuing developments in the effects of global warming on our world, one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions is the built environment. One of the single largest owners of building stock in our nation is governmental facilities at all levels. The government’s ability to better design, construct, operate, and maintain projects in the public realm will help mitigate the effects of global warming. Through both executive action and agency directives, governmental agencies understand this issue. They require that all projects in the public realm be provided sustainably, resulting in projects that tread more lightly on the earth.
10| Ever-Changing Landscape
Facilities in the public realm serve as an anchor to the community and nation, providing a sense of stability and constancy. While the institution of government and the physical presence it provides offers a sense of constancy, we recognize that it is only a portion of the society in which it exists and that society is always changing. Projects in the public realm need to be sensitive to and respond to the ever-changing landscape in which they exist. The external forces that inform projects in the public realm include administration priorities, public health concerns, societal adjustments, and societal stresses. Each one of these external forces can inform the outcome of the project design.
Over the coming months, we look forward to exploring this seemingly disparate list of project drivers to help you better understand the key role each of these elements plays in the design and construction of projects that become part of the public realm.