At 100, we believe that working in the Public Realm is a privilege. This is where our design has the biggest impact on the largest quantity of people.
Therefore, we developed a singular vision: designing architectural objects that attract people and encourage social interactions. Within that range of action, we have already developed projects not only as “interventions” in existing urban enclaves, but also projects that would rather fit into the category of landscape architecture, but always with our special twist and approach as “street architecture” rather than traditional landscape architecture design.
Secondly, we addressed the aspect of the architectural design style, and there were many factors that played a defining role in that. As young architects trying to set up a business based in China that targets the global market, we figured that we were facing many challenges.
We questioned ourselves about how to call attention and make our projects remarkable in this culture of disposability, wherein art is forgotten as quickly as it is celebrated. And we came to understand that just architectural objects for social interactions were not enough to attract the attention on a global scale. Rather, we had to play according to the rules of this culture of overstimulation, in addition to having a functional purpose and a meaningful narrative.
Our projects had to be pop & controversial, eye-catching and contrasting from their surroundings, hence our particular use of color and iconic shapes. But our projects also had to offer an interesting program of functions to be openly used and enjoyed, displayed as open platforms for social interactions.
In short, we needed a striking and eye-catching style that would call the attention of citizens, stimulating them and encouraging the occurrence of social dynamics.
At this point, our design approach was distanced from traditional landscape architecture, which historically has blended its contexts with its surrounding. However, this doesn’t mean that our projects are not tailor-made for a particular space or that they don’t meet the needs of their surroundings.
Our projects in public spaces seek to stimulate the user by providing colorful landscapes and intricate topographies that allow the user to interact in a much closer way with the objects and the space. With its appearance, morphology and impactful positioning, they invite users to jump, sit, lie, eat, watch, take photos, talk, hug, laugh, upload, run, play, enjoy, and relax.
Public space is something that has undergone almost no innovation in the last 100 years. Urban plazas, squares and urban spaces for entertainment have of course gotten more sophisticated and adapted to the current trends and technology; however, these public spaces haven’t given an answer to the revolutions that the world is experiencing.
We believe that nowadays it is not enough to simply have trees, a patch of greenery, a bench and nice lighting features in order to have a remarkable public space. Nowadays, Millennials are experience seekers, to the point that they prefer to invest in meaningful and memorable life experiences rather than in owning objects or products. Also kids nowadays are not the same as when we were kids; they are exposed and used to different kinds of sensory stimulations. In that regard, we believe urban public spaces are lacking a form of recreation that meets those new needs of a generation that demands increasing stimulation and fantasy in its experiences.
In the near future, urban public spaces will inevitably evolve into something that at this moment we can only guess at since we have no certainties. However, at 100 Architects we believe we create architecture according to the spirit of time: hyper-stimulating architecture for the postmodern era.
New dynamics equals new opportunities
At 100architects, we see the object not as a problem-solver, but rather, as an engine that brings out the best possibilities in a determined space and acts as a catalyst for social and commercial opportunities.
Our singular vision is to design architectural “objects” that attract people and encourage social interaction.
In order to aid place-making, urban interventions despite being eye-catching, pop and controversial, must serve purposes that are focused on people’s health, happiness and wellbeing. As we like to say, we sell happiness. Over time, our office has specialized in conceptualizing interventions that bring joy and entertainment to the citizens in their public realm through fantasy and surprise, two attributes we always try to implement in our proposals.
The fantasy factor is the one boosting the imagination and creativity of the users, despite their age, while the surprise factor refers to the feeling of encountering completely unexpected spaces when walking through a city, which is something we seek.
It is through these two attributes that our urban interventions make the link and engage with the audience and the citizens. Once that link is created, our projects are just pure platforms for the community to colonize – not only enjoy the spaces, but most importantly, to enjoy the social interactions that those spaces encourage through their morphology. The ultimate purpose of those spaces is to be used by the community – even in totally different ways that were not even planned by us at the studio.
Public space, by attracting people, will produce new dynamics and opportunities, and in a world when technology, social media and online retail are replacing and eliminating our natural meeting places, we believe that our design should explore ways to stimulate human interactions in the urban space. Because at the end of the day, human connectivity is the kind of connectivity that triggers wellbeing and happiness, productivity and innovation.
Based in China, a cultural and social challenge.
In China the public space is such a delicate and extensive matter to be discussed, not only from a design point of view, but also from a sociological, cultural and political point of view.
At first sight, it might seem like the concept of public space in China may differ a lot from the way it is understood in western countries, due to the lack of plazas, small urban squares, and proper spaces to gather. In Chinese cities, public spaces are more like corridors. Big streets and wide sidewalks. It seems like public spaces are merely gaps between buildings, endless corridors and sidewalks with no public furniture where to sit down, where one can only circulate from point A to point B.
In Shanghai, The Bund for instance, is the most notorious public space in the city and it is essentially a wide hardscape platform in which thousands of people walk every day admiring the colossal scale of the city.
However, this situation is a product of the most dramatic urban transformation the world has ever seen, in which China increased its population living in urban areas from rural areas in more than 600 million people in a matter of just 60 years. During that rapid process of urbanization, big chunks of the city were reclaimed from people at a faster speed than people actually needed, completely changing their lifestyles and relationships with their immediate urban surroundings.
That’s the reason why we can still see elder Chinese urban citizens gathering in pocket plazas with their own foldable chairs and tables, playing mahjong, cards, or simply gathering and chatting, while women organize group dances every night. Not long ago, they used to live in Lilongs: alleyway communes in which communal outdoor living and space sharing was commonly and widely exercised. They just seem to be claiming their spaces and original lifestyles back.
On one hand, all this scenario is a huge challenge for a practice like ours to be able to intervene public spaces and penetrate in their idiosyncrasy. However, on the other hand, the same rapid urbanization & globalization process has generated a new type of public space in China, commonly known as POPS (Privately Owned Public Spaces).
The POPS, although privately owned, are legally required by the city’s land-use ordinances as a result of deals between private developers and cities in order to grant public space share in private developments. They must stay open to the public, and as a consequence, exactly the same social dynamics take place in those spaces as the ones happening in purely public spaces – hence potential spaces to be intervened by our office, despite its controversial nature.
The attributes of successful public projects in urban environments
Besides the attributes typically known to impact positively in citizens’ health & wellbeing – such as openness, accessibility, walkability, free mobility, playability, shareability, social connectivity and perhaps a sense of belonging to your surrounding public realm – we usually measure the success of urban environments according to our own recipe for successful projects in the public realm.
For us to consider a project remarkable, contemporaneous and successful, it must include the following key attributes:
1_ contrast: It contrast with the context: Remarkable, iconic, colorful and eye-catching shape.
2_ aesthetic independency: Architectural objects with aesthetic independency. It is a singular shape in itself. it doesn’t mimic the surrounding.
3_ Pop & Controversial: Simple shape to be understood at the first glance (pop) disrupting in a known cityscape that belongs to everyone (controversial).
4_ instant functions: Composed by instant functions: openly used from the exterior providing of a programmatic landscape with condensed functions
The value of urban scape
“A good city is like a good party — people stay longer than really necessary, because they are enjoying themselves”
— Jan Gehl
“Play is so critically important to all children in the development of their physical, social, mental emotional and creative skills that society should seek every opportunity to support it and create an environment that fosters it”
— Welsh Assembly, Government Play Policy 2002
We are strong believers of this theory: good public spaces definitely make cities a better place to live in. The importance of good public spaces in cities has been not only underestimated, but in cases even neglected, reducing the attributes of public space to mere gaps in between buildings. If citizens are not part of the equation when designing our cities, we are denying them the contact with the real world and interactive lifestyle.
We have witnessed firsthand the joy our projects bring to the public – the way they can turn neglected city spaces into places of color, stimulation and social interaction, and ultimately invite people to reclaim these urban areas for themselves. We usually say that “we sell happiness”, because our interventions bring new colors, functions and character to the city scape, and can therefore be understood as a form of urban celebration.
At 100 we believe that respect, usage and pride for the public realm should be considered a form of education. We also believe that many of the urban challenges that developing cities are facing could be overcome with such an education. Note that this is not the kind of education you glean from a classroom or from your parents; it is an education you get from living in a city that provides spaces for public and urban enjoyment, spaces that invite to socialize and interact and respect. It is an innate understanding of how a city is built and how it’s very structure can benefit you.
In short, we believe our urban interventions are contributing to the quality and habitability of the cities we’ve had the chance to work in, while simultaneously raising awareness of urban aesthetics in the process.
Written, designed and developed by 100.
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