Posts Tagged ‘social space’

The grand hall of the new Canaan Valley Resort State Park Lodge welcomes visitors,

The grand hall of the new Canaan Valley Resort State Park Lodge welcomes visitors.

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.

A grouping of four chairs makes a great place to share a cup of coffee.

A grouping of four chairs makes a great place to share a cup of coffee.

The sprawling sectional can easily accomodate a small group.

The sprawling sectional can easily accomodate a small group.










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.

Sofas and chairs offer seating that could encourage social interaction.

Sofas and chairs offer seating that could encourage social interaction.

The facing chairs are spaced in the social range, while the fireplace serves as a point of triangulation.

The facing chairs are spaced in the social range, while the fireplace serves as a triangulation point.










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.

Do this.

Posted: March 19, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Attention mayors, city managers, public works directors, parks directors, urban planners, landscape architects and architects.  Please go to Tamarack.  Do your usual browsing through the amazing arts and crafts, buy lunch at the food court, and then, instead of sitting at one of the tables inside, venture out into the center courtyard.  If it’s raining, just take a table under the roof overhang.

The center courtyard at Tamarack has all the right elements of a successful public space.

Observe.  Take notes.  Take pictures.

You probably won’t see many people enjoying the courtyard.  I hardly ever see anybody out there.  Besides maybe bad timing, I think there’s a reason for this, which I’ll explain later.

The Tamarack courtyard is an outstanding place for people.  It has all the right elements.

To start with, it just looks good.  Designers will appreciate the pleasing use and arrangement of natural and man-made materials.  Cobblestone-like pavers and stone walls create a comfortable environment.  Water features provide interest and the pleasing background sounds of splashing water.  Plants are not pruned into balls and rectangles but instead are allowed to grow into more natural shapes.  Sweeping curves add to an atmosphere of relaxation.  There is real value in simply enjoying the beauty of a place.

More importantly, though, the courtyard is people oriented.

First, there is a sense of safety.  Of course when you’re at a place like Tamarack, safety is not really part of your conscious thoughts, but in your subconscious, it’s always there.  That’s why we like to sit with our backs to the wall.  We feel comfortable and that sense of comfort comes from the psychological need for protection.  At Tamarack, there are many opportunities for sitting near the wall of the main building.  Beyond that, there are other spaces with “walls” in the form of landscaping and low seat walls to provide that sense of security.

Remember our previous discussions of intimate, personal, social and public spaces?  While the courtyard provides opportunities to experience all of them, tables are spaced in the social range, making it easy to start a conversation with strangers who may become friends.  Or not.  Social space provides options.

Now simply taking the Tamarack design and building it on your downtown vacant lot does not guarantee a successful public space.  Build it and they will come?  Not necessarily.  Do you have retail?  Food?  Drink?  Entertainment?  Offices?  There are no easy answers.  But when you are ready to build that new space, you would do well to follow the design principles found at the Tamarack courtyard.

The edges of public spaces provide a sense of security. When given a choice, most people choose the edge.

Back to the question of why I seldom see people using the courtyard.  Yes, it could be bad timing on my part, but I never have a timing problem when I go to Pullman Square in Huntington.  I think it’s because Tamarack’s courtyard is not a true public space.  It can’t draw on the diversity of uses that successful public spaces have.  Retail, food and drink are there, but you don’t see people with laptops, or reading a book, or otherwise just killing time.  Shop, eat and get back on the road.  It’s a destination but not a place to linger.  That’s my theory.  Check it out for yourself and form your own opinions.  But do check it out.