We typically talk about outdoor public spaces in this forum, but when I first visited the new lodge at Canaan Valley Resort State Park, I discovered interesting indoor spaces that address many of the same issues that we face in developing outdoor spaces.
The first thing you see when you enter the lobby is the grand hall with soaring ceilings. A large window at the far end draws the visitor like a moth to a flame. You’ll see beautiful, organic material – tile floors, stone walls – as well as comfortable carpets and eye-catching artwork. Really a warm and inviting space. But what’s interesting is the variety of spaces within the grand hall. Rather than simply providing boring benches or a haphazard collection of chairs, the designers have created a real variety of seating opportunities with conversation nooks and gathering alcoves.
In one area, four high-back upholstered chairs make a nice space for a small group to share a cup of coffee. In another area, a sprawling, upholstered sectional provides a place for a larger group to get together and hang out. While these two spaces are nice and will fill a need, I’m really interested in two others.
One of the things that makes a good public space is the opportunity for social interaction. The placing and arrangement of seating plays an important role in determining the sociability of a place. I saw two areas in the Canaan Lodge that could encourage social interaction. One is just a typical arrangement of sofas and chairs. They are spaced is such a way that one person could occupy one end of the sofa and a stranger could sit in a chair at the opposite end without violating the other’s personal space. Four to twelve feet is the social space range. We’re generally comfortable if the stranger is at least four feet away, and yet they are close enough to engage in conversation if we would want.
A similar situation exists in front of the fireplace, although I would move the two wood weave chairs to encourage easier access. The opposite-facing upholstered chairs are around four feet apart and the fireplace provides a point of triangulation. Could be a great place for making new friends.
Next time you’re in the area, stop by and check out the new lodge. It’s a great place for apres-ski. And while you’re there, see how people are using the space.