Have you ever paused to wonder how communities are made? It’s a fragile, complex and enriching process when a suburb becomes a neighbourhood, when a city becomes a society. While writing a recent story on the subject for Houzz, I discovered some inspiring residential architecture and designs that aim to connect people and create communities.
And it’s lucky that these trailblazers exist, because social researchers believe the lack of cohesion in many areas is partly responsible for populations’ general decrease in mental health and wellbeing. Researchers have termed this phenomenon ‘social stress’ and it’s particularly pronounced in cities. As neuroscientist Dr Colin Ellard eloquently put it when I interviewed him earlier this year for an article about neuroarchitecture, it is an unhealthy and unnatural state for human beings to live surrounded by millions of strangers.
So, how can architects, councils and people transform suburbs into communities through design? While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, the key lies in celebrating architecture that connects inhabitants with their surrounding environments without sacrificing privacy. Here are a few ideas; for the in-depth scoop, head to my story on Houzz.
Embrace ‘social’ design
We’ve all had days when we want to go home, close the front door firmly behind us and shut out the world for a while. At times like these, a home’s primary function is to be a secure sanctuary, separate from one’s greater society. But routine seclusion can lead to isolation and loneliness, and this is where ‘social’ architecture and design can help.
Homes that encourage their inhabitants to use their front façades as a functional space (instead of simply walking through the entrance and disappearing inside) increase our chances of chatting with passing people, meeting neighbours and forming friendships. Something as simple as a comfortable bench on a porch or some planter pots to tend to at the entrance can lure people from being within their homes to being within their neighbourhoods.
Celebrate laneway culture
It’s not all about the front façade – if your home backs onto a rear lane, there’s just as much potential to create a social design at the back as there is at the front. This so-called ‘Local House’ in Melbourne by MAKE Architecture took out a 2015 National Architecture Award for demonstrating “the value of inventive design to a willing and receptive client” in a residential alteration and addition. The back of the home
Think beyond architecture
The architecture, design and structural elements of homes are not the only features that can create community cohesion. Sometimes the small details can make a big difference. Community book swap programs such as those from Little Free Library or Street Library Australia have instigated many local friendships, as have community gardens, crop swaps and even little bowls of water placed on the footpath for passing pooches.