We’re defining the Spaces category loosely here. It’s the built world around us, which includes pretty much anything big enough to stand on or inside of:
- Museum installations
Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic of the New Yorker (now en route toVanity Fair), once wrote that architecture should “improve the lot of the people on the inside and at the same time contribute something to the experience of people on the outside.” It’s a tough standard, and it certainly doesn’t apply to every example mentioned above (museum installations, for one). But it’s something to keep in mind as we consider what makes for a well-designed space.
SANAA’s New Museum on Bowery in New York is a good example. A tall, untidy stack of aluminum mesh boxes, it introduced a monument to contemporary art on a street better known for down-and-outs and flophouses. What hangs on the museum’s walls is manna for art lovers. But unlike a lot of big developments in marginal neighborhoods, it presides gently. The jaggedness of the tower and the toughness of the aluminum mesh pay homage to the area’s chaotic history. At street level, a nearly 15-foot-tall pane of glass stretches the full width of the tower, ushering the street into the museum and vice versa. Other buildings have gone up around Bowery since. None matches the thoughtfulness of the New Museum.
Another example is the High Line, an elevated park designed by James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro in Manhattan. Nowhere else in the city–or the world, for that matter–can you walk 1.5 miles on an abandoned railroad track level with rooftops and surrounded by wildflowers. It’s been tremendously popular with tourists and locals alike. Beyond that, the High Line shows how deeply design can impact a city. The park has been a major catalyst for private investment in the surrounding neighborhoods, spurring some 29 development projects worth an estimated $2 billion, according to the nonprofit advocates Friends of the High Line.
A well-designed space doesn’t have to exhibit such sky-high ambitions, of course. It can be a makeshift parklet that provides harried residents respite from the go-go pace of city life, such as the ones that’ve been sprouting up all over San Francisco. It can be a museum show that captures the soul of its subject and does so with legible signage and crystal-clear pathways. It can be a restaurant that’s, quite simply, a feast for the eyes. The overarching theme here is flawless functionality, with a little something extra–whether it’s plants on the sidewalk or a $2 billion present to New York City.