Activity patterns 01 | Post by Eva Alvarez

Next week, I will participate in the online workshop conducted by Andrès Walliser and named PUBLIC SPACE AND PEOPLE…and I am really expecting. To prepare our first session, I have been working and reviewing all the documentation, posts and information and I want to share some thoughts with all of you.

My family and I live in small village near to a medium size city in Spain. We both architects have got three children of 15, 13 and 5 years old. In this small village, we live a comfortable life and as public facilities, we have got library and sports buildings, among others.

However, the adolescents’ leisure time on Fridays or Saturdays is not easy to organize near home: they often go for a walk and spend the time talking with their friends, a very good activity but, when it is frequently repeated, sometimes it is boring. Certainly, they are not allowed to enter in a bar or smoking place, and skating or rolling is not well-seeing by the elder. They can go by bike but there is no bike parking…If they decide to go to cinema then we have to drive to take them to the entertainment complex since there is no public transport and it is far enough to go by bike (at least, in our Spanish mentality). And so on.

Though we have always promoted non consumerist behaviour, at least at home, in this context, shopping is the star, no matter what. In Koolhaas’ words “shopping is the last social activity”1. And in my experience, it is true: in particular, young people enjoy shopping; they find it funny and a way to spend time with their friends, a way to do something together. TV advertisement motivates them (in excess) and the city centre is always well communicated by public transport. The low cost shops make it affordable and even some cultural products are also affordable. Moreover, it is not necessary to buy. The street is a mixture of uses, it transforms depending on the commercial season, and there is always some novelty. If it is cold or hot outside they are free to choose air conditioned shops (really not sustainable) and if the weather is mild they can enjoy showcases and going in and out of different shops…

It also happens in the middle a lot of persons, so the level of security seems acceptable and they familiarize with their city as it is a mainly a pedestrian walk and as it becomes the scenery of part of their living…And when we visit other European cities we realize that there, people also dedicates a great quantity of time and of interest in shopping. Everywhere, as TV and internet show, you can see streets plenty of shops.

Personally, I do not agree with this excessive consumerist society and I try to reduce the frequency in which my children go shopping with their friends. But my question is that why do I find negative shopping action if so many people enjoys with that? What have we to do to understand? When something is insistently thought as dysfunctional and inadequate, why does it exist? Functional for whom? Can we avoid thinking about it? Is it going to happen outside planning?

Similar questions to these ones are introduced by Denise Scott Brown in her text Towards an active socioplastics (2007), you can find in the AA book, Having words 2(2009). Since I read her text I have been thinking that my old feeling, that we architects impose closed designs instead of evolve the solution from people, was not only the worries of, for example, a mother with adolescent children. More people had thought our work in a different manner, in an epoch and a way that I see that gives value to our profession.

And in her texts, Denise gives us two tools, among others: the Nolly plan3, where it is drawn so the public space of squares and streets as the inner public space inside public and civic buildings; and the second, the approach by taking a series of analytic cross-cuts through the data, then recombine some variables to see what we could learn from them. And she insists in the creative taking of data, different from that learnt in Schools of Architecture.

So, I guess that it could be useful studying shopping patterns in Hamar, not only in Stortorget square and near by streets. And these patterns should be studied, according to some age groups. We could complete this approach with a Nolly plan of Hamar where we could reflect so exterior public and civic spaces so as inner public and civic ones, what could include shopping facilities. Comparing both analyses could give us a different view of entertainment patterns. Even more, including different approaches to design is not only a civil right but this enriches the resulted design. Maybe, we could learn from (my) adolescent children.

Another day, I promise speaking of my 5 years old child vision that is even more creative than that of us, architects. And too, that of his school mates’ mothers one, his teacher one… Do you join us?

image: Venturi & Scott Brown | Nolly plan for Haverford College, Master Plan