What is Placemaking in Architecture?

There is a lot of discussion about ‘placemaking’ in Ireland in recent months, particularly due to the new National Policy on Architecture.

So what is Placemaking in Architecture, and what does it mean for local communities? Here, we explore it in greater detail. 


Placemaking in Architecture

Each urban space has its own unique character and personality to it which influences the experience of the end-user. There are a lot of factors that contribute to how a user experiences a space.

Placemaking is the term that we use to describe the process of shaping the character and personality of an urban space, aided by planning design and public space management.

The aim of placemaking is to create people-centric living spaces which focus on promoting people’s health and wellbeing, as well a a better overall quality of living, oftentimes tapping into the local community’s talent to promote people’s potential.


Ideology of Placemaking

The established culture and political backdrop dictates the identity of place. As such, a process and a philosophy is required for placemaking in urban design. This can be driven by local authorities, communities or grassroots tactical urbanism.

Successful placemaking uses under-utilised space to its advantage, enhancing the civilian experience in local planning.

Marrying professional planning with an understanding of people’s needs, the placemaking ideology gained momentum during the 1960s – an era of widepsread social change, through thinks such as Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte.

They proposed the idea of designing cities for people, rather than just designing for stakeholder wants, capitalist structures and vehicular requirements – with people taking ownership of the streets, and the existence of vibrant community spaces.


What Makes a Great Place?

Placemaking in Architecture - Irish Architects | Waterford Architects

1. Access & Linkages

Placemaking - Access & Linkages

A place’s accessibility is generally assessed by its connections to the surroundings, as well as the visual links in place. Public spaces should be accessible in terms of getting to it, entering it and navigating it.

It should be possible to see a public space from afar and up close, and it should be conveniently reached by all modes of transport – including pedestrians, public transport and private vehicles (with high parking turnover).


2. Comfort & Image

Placemaking - Comfort & Image

Comfort & Image is assessed by how inviting a space is to the user, and retention rate. This is enhanced by perceptions of greater safety, cleanliness and places to sit down, giving a choice of options to suit all times of year and weather conditions.


3. Uses & Activities

Placemaking - Uses & Activities

Having a diverse range of activities is pivotal to creating and maintaining a great place. People must feel that they have something to do in order to come, and return, to a place. Therefore, empty spaces are often ones with little to do.


4. Sociability

Placemaking - Sociability

The most important, and hardest attribute – sociability. It typically becomes a reality through the culmination of the previous three, and is achieved when a space becomes a favourite spot for socialising, and community spirit is observed.



The Principles of Placemaking

According to Project for Public Spaces (PPS), there are 11 principles for transforming public spaces. These are as follows:


1. The Community is the Expert

A placemaking strategy should always involve consultation with the community – making sure to take note of valuable community-based insights , historical perspectives, and any and all critical issues at hand.

Liaising with communities provides them with a sense of community ownership, and benefits all parties involved.


2. Create a Place (Not a Design)

Places must prioritise accessibility – ensuring that users feel welcome and comfortable – such as through seating and landscaping, as well as through activities that bring about a stronger sense of community.


3. Look for Partners

Collaboration with partners is critical to the success of a placemaking project to assist in getting it off the ground – including local institutions, museums, schools and others.


4. It Can(‘t) Be Done

Placemaking is riddled with obstacles, as ‘creating places’ is a typical role duty or responsibility observed in the public or private sectors. Thus, smaller scale community-nurturing improvements can demonstrate the importance it to start.


5. Observing is Learning

Just taking in the current successes and failures of a place in terms of how users feel about them, makes it easier to assess what makes a place work, and determine what activities are missing, and where there is room for improvement.


6. Have a Vision

This should come from each individual community, and include the types of activities envisioned for the space that incorporates both comfort and image, as well as a sense of desirability and pride.


7. Form Supports Function

Before design, a number of elements should determine what ‘form’ is needed to accomplish the future vision of the space – including community and partner input, understanding how other spaces function, experimentation and the overcoming of both obstacles and those that remain resistant to change.


8. Triangulate

This involves the arrangement of different elements in relation to each other in a way that encourages people to interact (or triangulate). For example,  arranging amenities together, such as a coffee cart and a food stall.


9. Experiment

The complexity of placemaking is that it is very difficult to get right in the beginning, and spaces should experiment with short-term improvements to be tested and refined – lighter, quicker, cheaper, and so on.

Elements to test and refine could include seating, outdoor cafes, public art, striping of crosswalks and pedestrian areas.


10. Money Is Not the Issue

After basic infrastructure of public spaces is implemented, the additional elements, such as vendors, cafes, flowers and seating) will be inexpensive and be much of the driving force.

It also means that if the community and the other relevant partners play a role in programming and activities, costs can also be reduced. Essentially financial barriers are few when compared with the benefits.


11. It’s a Journey – Not a Destination

The needs of a community are always evolving,  and amenities will always wear out and require rejuvenation. An openness to (the need for) change and the ability to enact and manage these changes is so important for public spaces.


Placemaking in Ireland

As stated previously, placemaking is a process and a philosophy. What’s more is that it offers Ireland an opportunity to differentiate itself from other countries by creating desirable places to live, work in and visit.

To learn more about the new Places for People, visit our National Policy on Architecture article.



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Fewer Harrington & Partners is an Irish Architects Practice with offices in Waterford, Dublin and across the world. 

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