“Within the dense press of the built fabric, the greatest luxury of all is, empty space. “
For our second conversation we are joined by Victoria Milne, a creative adviser who through her consulting practice 6￠ design, works at the intersection of design, government development, art and public space. We’ll be speaking with her about her work with the Times Square Alliance on the creation of The Times Square Design Lab. The Times Square Alliance is a non-profit organization that supports and celebrates the area’s business community, bringing culture and engagement to Times Square through a variety of initiatives and installations.
In this episode Victoria and Yorgo, discuss the different attitudes toward public space in the UK, Europe and the US as well as countries around the world such as China and Qatar. London being comparatively spoilt for public space, much of which has been historically bequeathed by the state to give the space ‘back to the people’ and by contrast, New York City, has to work much harder to create egalitarian space that will appeal to and benefit everyone.
Throughout the pandemic so many of us have endured, public space, or the public realm as we often refer to it in the UK, has been vital for city dwellers in particular. During this conversation, Victoria and Yorgo consider public space in our communities, whose benefits are well researched and understood, yet still face an uphill battle to strive within the often-congested fabric of the metropolis.
Victoria speaks about the important democratic message that a public space – whether indoors or outdoors – conveys, the obligation of government and public entities to establish a standard of social engagement with meaning and respect.
Making a commitment to what is humane, joyful and playful will create a shared experience that has the power to make a difference to society as space shapes our perception and design is a crucial contributor to this.
Materiality and design plays a vital role in humanising space; for example, hard-edged bolted-down furniture portrays a defensive indestructability, an extension of an institution rather than a welcoming expression if culture. A physical manifestation of a society’s lack of trust.
Victoria shares her thoughts on the ‘cues’ that design can provide, in particular the opportunity that public spaces can create to define levels of trust and expectations of behaviour for the societies they serve. A subtle example is the contrast between the fabric upholstered seats on the London underground versus the hard plastic shell seats of the NYC subway. The message in London is trust in the social fabric and a sense of shared responsibility
Good civic space has the ability to exemplify good civic value and manifest through the built environment, for instance, in New York, the memorial on Roosevelt Island is exquisite, and open to everyone.
“When you show respect for the public, when you provide resources, when you make a space, not just beautiful, but in some ways generous, it resounds positively through that because it all public spaces are equitable.”
“We theorise endlessly to create scaffolds for the design process. In the end, it’s about beauty – you can never argue with that. Beauty affects everyone. If we have an empty space, we must fill it with the possibility of a beautiful experience, a poetic encounter.”