Urban architecture & design – Engagement-purposed urban furniture to embrace local communities’ routines and to respond to new tavellers’ ways of exploring cities. From Oslo to Paris, from Brussels to New York, our way to live squares, parks and other public spaces has changed. Archipanic met Jan Christian Vestre, the 30 years old CEO of street furniture company VESTRE who believes in a human-based urban planning for democratic, integrative and sustainable future cities.
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Born as a metalwork factory in the wake of WWII, Vestre is a Norwegian company that teams up with city planners, landscape architects but also local municipalities to design and produce urban furniture across the world. Their latest project, a set of benches for the redesign of Times Square in NewYork, was developed with Snøhetta while the brand-new collection was created in collaboration with Andressen & Voll.
Archipanic: How new generations relate with public spaces?
Jan Christian Vestre: Few generations ago, the square was a place where “everybody-knew-everybody”, but over decades they became “less safe” so private properties and spaces have been the best places to rear children. What the newer generations have discovered is that it is not less people and traditionally “safe” buildings that create safe spaces – it’s people utilising the spaces, and the more we utilise them the safer they become.
In addition, the more you use a space, the more you are invested in it. This leads to a positive spiral in which communities gradually take more care and consequently pride in their public spaces, leading yet more people to utilise it and so on. This is the movement we are trying to speed up by placing high quality urban furniture there, built to last an age.
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AP: And how young travelers relate public spaces compared to the previous generations?
JCV: For new travelers it’s about experiencing and utilising spaces and interacting with locals. If locals are out in the neighbourhood then it’s going to be a lot more inviting also for tourists to hang around there.
AP: Vestre has been working in many different cities across the world including Paris, Copenhagen and New York. Which is the common denominator?
Whether you are in the Aker Brygge neighbourhood in Oslo or Time Square in Manhattan, it’s all about interaction between colleagues, friends or even strangers and bringing people together. This dynamics hold true when you scale the number of people. People are waking up to the fact that their environment affect their lives, probably to a much greater extent than planners, companies and local municipalities are aware of.
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AP: What would you suggest to urban planners working on a public space design? What to avoid and what to focus on?
The factors that create the livable city are hard to quantify. Urban planners should not focus on a strict economic cost/benefit analysis when, for example, they compare whether a new highway should be put above or below ground. Instead they should focus on the inhabitants first, find out what is important for the local community, and the greater city as a whole. Always think holistically about the city, and keep the living beings at the centre of needs to be met, rather than our vehicles. Involving people is crucial.
AP: How does it work when you begin a new project?
JCV: We are involved and allowed to give our expertise to the entire urban design process. Generally, we first work the landscape architects to find the best solution for that particular place. Our broad range of products are combined and tweaked into an arrangement fitting the particular needs of each place. When they then bring the proposal to the end customer we engage with them as well, to find the best solution that also accommodates the end-customer. We then team with the entrepreneur to finalize the project.
AP: Five keywords for future urban spaces.
JCV: DEMOCRATIC: in tomorrow public spaces every individual should be able to enjoy themselves, with his friends or by himself. INTEGRATIVE: by allowing people of all walks of life to interact, the shared spaces will create unity. GREEN: humans are a part of nature, and our increasing distancing from it has left us with a longing to get back in between more organic environments. MULTIFUNCTIONAL: working out and exercising are increasingly an important part of people’s lives, and we want there to be opportunity for this as well in our cities. LASTING: we want to build for the long haul, and gradually abolish the use-and-throw society that we have gotten used to.
Images: courtesy of VESTRE.