How effective are buildings in creating social and economic resilience in the city?

Written by Elena Collins on 17 January 2013

To celebrate buildings that have produced a positive impact on society, World Architecture News annually runs the Buro Happold sponsored WAN Effectiveness Award. The winners over the past three years have demonstrated how individual buildings can make a difference to economic and social resilience to cities and how they can increase real estate value.

Discovery Green © Chris Cooper

Discovery Green

The first winner of the WAN Effectiveness Award in 2010 was the Discovery Green, an urban park in Houston, Texas, designed by PageSoutherlandPage. The twelve-acre park opened in April 2008, in response to the increase demand for public space in the densely populated area.

Discovery Green has transformed the perception and experience of downtown Houston. On a social scale, downtown has benefited from the large and broad constituency of users in the park. It has become a rich melting pot for Houston’s very diverse population. The number of families, residents and visitors using the park has helped broaden and diversify downtown’s social and economic foundations.

From an economic point of view, Discovery Green has had a significant impact on downtown Houston. Park visits exceeded 1.7 million during its first two years of operation, far exceeding projections and expectations. The park has already proven to be an extremely effective catalyst for redevelopment - an adjacent residential tower and office tower have recently been completed, and two additional hotels will soon occupy the remaining open blocks next to the park. Since its opening, over $530 million of development has been directly influenced by the park, and another $640 million has been indirectly influenced.  By improving the public realm in Houston, the area has seen social improvements and well as economic benefits in terms of real estate investment.

Vancouver Convention Centre. © Nic Lehoux and LMN

The Vancouver Convention Centre

In 2011, architecture firm LMN and MCM/DA won the award with The Vancouver Convention Centre, a space which forms the city’s first central gathering place on the water. Years of private development had transformed the Coal Harbour waterfront from an industrial relic into an upscale neighbourhood of residential high-rises, but the area still lacked a strong public realm. The convention centre became an opportunity to demonstrate the city’s commitment in creating a public space. Its answer was to produce the first LEED Platinum convention centre with the largest living green roof in Canada.

Design took place over a period of 3 years. In addition to the client leadership, city agencies and consultants, stakeholders taking part in the design, it also included the extensive involvement of the community, which manifested in both the feeling of local identity in the building as well as the highly accessible, civic nature of the convention district. The project has added 400,000 sq ft to the public realm, oriented for pedestrians, accessible by multiple modes of transit and aiding the development of a diverse mixed-use urban core.

Economically, the convention centre is a leader in its field, currently generating $215 million in economic activity per year. The West facility tripled the capacity of the convention centre as a whole. It also adds 90,000 sq ft of retail space along the waterfront promenade and infrastructure for future development over the water including an expanded marina and water-based retail. Industries have boomed due to the convention centre, strengthening further the social and economic resilience of the city.

Gillett Square © Hawkin\Brown

Gillett Square

Last years winner of the WAN Effectiveness Award was British architecture firm Hawkin\Brown with Gillett Sqaure. Groundwork East London and Hackney Cooperative Development discussed the idea of a Square in Dalston locally for over 20 years as part of a community wide consultation. The local community were determined to create a special space that could represent the local cultures and spearhead improvement throughout the community.

The project gained momentum in 1998 when funds became available for HawkinsBrown to prepare a masterplan of the surrounding area. This lead to the retention and repair of the derelict buildings in Bradbury Street and the development of the award winning Bradbury St market stalls, and the building of the Dalston Culture Club to house the Vortex Jazz Club. A derelict car park was converted into a new town square; knitting together the surrounding buildings and provide much needed outdoor space for performances and teaching. A sense of place has emerged with the rehabilitated managed workspaces, offices and workshops with their first and second storey balconies looking over the square.

Besides the successful Jazz Café there are local entrepreneurs selling music, jewellery, crafts and beauty products, plus hair salons, a tailor, an African bookshop, designer-makers, craftspeople, graphic artists, architects, media and IT workers and arts and voluntary sector groups. There is a high level of sustainable black, ethnic minority and female entrepreneurs and community groups.

The area is now engaged with a wider economic and cultural market to endure local cycles of boom and bust, thus allowing for longer term economic development and neighbourhood renewal.  The square has attracted national recognition as a model for regenerations as the first of the London Mayor's programme of new public spaces for London. This scheme didn't just physically redevelop the square but aimed to build an innovative, devolved management organisation to secure an enduring future for the site and its community. Support for the scheme came from the European Regional Development Fund, the Greater London Authority, Hackney Co-operative Developments, The Peabody Trust and the Vortex Jazz Foundation. Investment made my these organisations demonstrates how local businesses can grow. The square has been cited in much research as a model for future social regeneration and has received much recognition for its creative and inclusive design.

Categories: Design, Economy, Living, People, Vancouver, Houston