The Low Price of Free Space
How many times as an architect have I wished I had a magic wand? To make granite and stainless steel cost less than asphalt and plastic, or to change a mistake into something great?
There is a form of alchemy we architects tend to forget we can practice though. While we struggle so hard to create beautiful durable buildings, against all odds, we forget that the space we leave open around them is the “free space” that almost everyone who experiences our designs will inhabit!
That was the theme of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale: Free Space. Not without cost, but freely available for all to enjoy. For example this applies to our National Forests, but those places are difficult for most people to access. Free space is actually much more important within cities. Savannah’s original squares are great examples, providing common ground for all citizens to enjoy.
Our nearly completed Cultural Arts Center and recently opened Alida Hotel each provide new high quality Free Space in and around their sturdy architecture. These are publicly owned spaces like our City’s squares. But there is another kind of space—privately owned public access—that may be even better. These kind of urban spaces will be privately maintained and programmed at a higher level, but seem free to most people. The River Street East neighborhood we are designing now can in this way achieve a higher quality environment that enhances the value of the surrounding hotels and retail as well as enrich the public realm. By comparison to the cost of the buildings, this Free Space is relatively inexpensive.
Creating great space open to all within and around new building architecture may be that missing magic wand after all. Making high quality public space is never easy, but its relatively low cost compared to that of making buildings has a wonderful effect. That said, knowing how to make this kind of space magical is the highest form of urban design.