Kerrytown in Ann Arbor is a place people want to be. What can planners and developers learn from this example?
Architects tend to talk vaguely about design quality and excellence. Then they’re disappointed when bland places get built that nobody cares about.
We need to be more specific when discussing all the the intended functions of a space. “Function” includes technical specifications and program requirements, but it also includes building for a purpose. The ultimate purpose of most building projects is to attract people: shoppers, diners, employees and others who will deliver ROI (return on investment) to the owners.
Boring, generic places risk becoming financial failures.
Developers and even the most cold-blooded business investor can avoid unnecessary risk by asking one simple question when making design decisions: “Are we building a place where people want to be?”
The answer to this basic question requires awareness of the kinds of places people don’t want to be, as well as analyzing places they barely tolerate out of necessity. These five factors influence bottom line attraction or avoidance:
- Human scale (not overwhelming, or making people feel insignificant)
- Distinctive character (unique identity that people can relate to emotionally)
- Flexible seating and overflowing activities (an organic sense of abundance)
- Nature and the human touch (such as art, texture and living things)
- Elements of surprise, whimsy, quirkiness that indicate people care (vs.”mean”)
These five elements add up to a wise business decision. When architects say, “business investors don’t appreciate good design” they are really saying “decision makers don’t recognize elements that contribute to places people want to be.” It’s not enough for designers to talk about excellence and quality.