The development of authentic spaces – reflecting the identities and interests of communities and individuals for whom they matter most – is often yielded through opportunity for a broader range of contributors to participate. Creating places and development strategies that allow more people to participate in a range of uses, physical forms, and development formats is not only vital to ensure city residents have greater economic opportunity, but to also reveal how certain spaces may be adapted to future uses. As urban development is increasingly focused into the districts and neighborhoods of our cities, we recognize the imperative to accommodate new uses that yield economic opportunity for more people within existing structures representing context that is meaningful to current residents and stakeholders.
Such development strategies help to maintain the identifiable urban fabric while supporting continued economic opportunity for residents. From the long-running Spitalfields Market in London, to the reutilization of the storied Fisher Building in the New Center district of Detroit.
Spitalfields, a covered market in London for over 350 years, is a local institution: a place in which identity and utility converge to yield a durable, identifiable, and emotive relationship between surrounding neighborhoods, the city at large, and the market. Through regenerative investment in 2005, new public spaces were added, creating modern features that accommodate new uses and interests.
Under the direction of The Platform, the Fisher Building – in the New Center district of Detroit – is being reshaped to create an inclusive “third place” for local residents and district employees to utilize. Adapting the 1929 building’s massive and inspiring arcade from a stunning but underutilized interior space to a new dynamic environment that welcomes a wide range of visitors and tenants. Everhard Findlay has worked closely with The Platform to introduce provocative juxtapositions of uses and spaces, including a temporary half-pipe in the building’s arcade. SmithGroup has worked with The Platform to apply complementary design features that allow people to engage the interior and exterior of the building in ways that facilitate interconnectivity between tenants, visitors, and nearby residents. These adaptive opportunities are hallmarks of impactful contemporary urban reinvestment, where the physical domain becomes a differentiating element as it is updated for different purposes.
As urban redevelopment unfolds, it is not only responsive to market demands, but increasingly burgeoning visions for more inclusive spaces. In these cases, the design and physical manifestation of developed space – at all scales – become important contributors to the broader social, economic, and ecological composition of the city. Sitting at the intersection point of authorship, identity, and opportunity, design is the mediator and driver toward a more cohesive and coordinated physical form of the city. Design has the potential (and the responsibility) to drive the formal articulation of unique market characteristics, community voice, and collective aspiration. It serves as a mediating device between aspiration, reality, and responsibility.
While many may see design as simply the translation of real estate investment decisions into a cultivated physical form, its process – when considered in totality – has the potential to create transformational projects that result in new perspectives and opportunities. Within the context of urban mixed-use development, this is increasingly evident as individual buildings and districts are formed within existing areas, such as underutilized former industrial properties, to yield economic value and access.
Here, design has the capacity to test, iterate, and establish the phased adaptation of spaces – whether from within an individual building or amidst a larger district or city system. It can attract short-term capital and catalytic initiatives that may prove the plausibility of individual developments, and when considered at larger scale, such design characteristics can establish a broader proof-of-concept, allowing small scale, short-term capital to grow into larger long-term investments. Such early iteration allows a broader, more diverse array of contributors to participate, increasing inclusion, broadening authorship in the urban development process, and ensuring speed-to-market.
When urban mixed-use initiatives are prepared for longer-term investment design can remain present, helping to translate the physical lessons learned into the full development. This was the case for the Southwest Waterfront development in Washington, DC, where a larger district-wide concept emerged earlier small-scale initiatives, bringing renewed investment to a formerly set-aside and underutilized waterfront. A cornerstone of the design includes an ample public waterfront promenade, ensuring all residents and visitors are given waterfront access, while activating ground floor retail, restaurants, and theaters. Here again, design – when combined with thoughtful development strategies and mixtures of uses – serves as a mediating device between aspiration, reality, and responsibility – defining a future previously unanticipated.
The increasing convergence of mixed-use initiatives within cities remains a potent illustration of the significance of inclusive, visionary, and committed development. It reasserts the growing power of the integrating characteristics of urban environments to support and catalyze multiple, seemingly divergent uses. Since the very foundation of urban form over millennia, cities have demonstrated their durable value, even in the midst of reevaluation of the relevance of place in an increasingly digitally defined world. Our relationship to one another is defined in the spaces of our cities and the convergent environments they support.