Public Architects: Who Are They?

Public architects design public structures. Public spaces such as libraries and museums provide common areas that are accessible to all, and they have very different needs than private spaces. Public architects are trained to address those needs in innovative and economical ways, and can breathe life into a seemingly dull public building.

Public areas generally have heavy traffic. This heavy use presents unique design challenges while also creating an opportunity for public structures to have a major impact on a community. Ideally, a public structure is efficiently designed and utilizes space well while still being visually captivating or noteworthy. Grand Central Station in New York is a classic example of a well designed public space, while the city’s more recently completed High Line Park is a more modern take on how to utilize public space efficiently. Both spaces are beautiful, useful and leave a lasting impression.

Public spaces differ from private spaces in several ways. First of all, they should accommodate multiple purposes. A church or temple uses its common areas for a variety of purposes, and a music hall can be used for many types of events. Public spaces need to use space efficiently, and one of the best ways to make them efficient is to design them to multi-task. Public spaces also need to be designed for multiple users. These areas don’t cater just to the young or the old, they’re for everyone. Keeping multiple users in mind also means keeping multiple forms of transportation in mind. Buildings and spaces with car, bicycle and public transportation access can serve a much broader segment of the community than those that can only be reached by car.

Public spaces are often social spaces. As social spaces, they should reflect the history, character and personality of the community. These areas should be safe and welcoming; a place any community member feels comfortable visiting. The community’s natural landscape is also important; ideally a great public space will play off of the buildings and geography around it. Architects who specialize in public spaces have the unique challenge of balancing social needs with financial considerations and extreme attention to environmental impact. Public architects are trained to approach this challenge with both the needs of the community and the budget in mind. They can get the most use out of the available space while creating a visually striking public area for all to enjoy.

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