Architecture that serves a community function

People often interact over a cup of coffee or a meal, perhaps at times leaning against a balustrade while enjoying the view of an interior garden, moments before sharing significant news with a partner or co-worker. They may encounter a stranger playing with their child at the nearby park next to their apartment building or sitting on a bench, engrossed in a book from the same genre. Others might feel inclined to invite a potential friend to meet their family and discuss the unique aspects of their home, where many elements reflect and define their identity. People rely on spaces and architectural elements to facilitate these interactions. The subtle nuances of spatial arrangements, public spaces, and architectural design serve as catalysts for social interaction, cohesion, and a shared sense of belonging.

"To me," said Rin Takahashi, who lives near Tokyo, "it feels like architecture is the community itself. There is a strong, circular relationship between humans and architecture: where people gather, architecture exists. Humans create architecture, and architecture, in turn, shapes us—our community, culture, and lifestyle. Although architecture has evolved over time, it typically reflects people's culture and way of life."

Rin's perspective resonates deeply with the notion that architecture not only serves functional purposes but also embodies cultural narratives and societal values. From the towering skyscrapers of lively metropolises to the antiquated homes in rural villages, each architectural form encapsulates the essence of its inhabitants.

"I believe architecture can influence our biases," said Asumi, a Japanese resident currently living in New Zealand. "For instance, a modern high-security building can deter petty crime with its scale and features. When I visited an area known for high petty crime rates, I noticed many abandoned buildings, which seemed to contribute to the issue."

Asumi's observation highlights how architectural design can subtly shape behavior and perceptions within a community. The presence of neglected spaces can inadvertently foster a sense of neglect and detachment among residents, influencing social interactions and safety perceptions.

The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 by East Germany during the Cold War and split the city of Berlin physically in two by dividing the city between East and West, separating families, friends and communities literally overnight. An initial construction of barbed wire eventually evolved to a full-scale brick wall with guard towers and this architecture not only split the city physically but effectively embodied the gulf between the communist east and the capitalist west.

The Berlin Wall was a grim focal point of the stark East-West division in both Germany and the broader divide between the communist Soviet bloc and the capitalist Western world during the Cold War. Fragments of the Berlin Wall remain today, as seen above, to make ready reference to the dangers of division and the capacities of architecture to both divide communities and come to their aid.

After the wall fell in 1989, most of it was demolished, butseveral sections were left up as memorials and landmarks. One of the most photographed and intact portions is found on the East Side Gallery close to the center of Berlin, measuring 1.3 km long Containing 100+ paintings and murals by artists all around the globe the walls are the longest open air gallery in the world.


The Wall, painted on The Wall. East Side Gallery, Berlin.


East Side Gallery, Berlin.


East Side Gallery, Berlin.

Another fascinating example of how architecture can foster connections is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. Designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, this iconic basilica has played a significant role in fostering connections among communities through its unique architecture and symbolism. The Sagrada Familia has become a symbol of Barcelona's identity and a unifying landmark for its residents.

Moreover, the Sagrada Família serves as a testament to the power of architecture to transcend divisions and unite communities around shared cultural heritage and artistic appreciation. It stands as a living example of how visionary architecture can inspire connections and collective identity without the need for physical barriers or walls.


La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain


One notable park in Turkey that exemplifies architecture fostering connections among communities is Gezi Park in Istanbul. Gezi Park is situated adjacent to Taksim Square, one of Istanbul's central hubs, and has a rich history of serving as a gathering place for various social and cultural activities.

Originally established as a public garden in the late 19th century during the Ottoman Empire, Gezi Park has evolved into a symbolic space for civic engagement and community interaction. Its layout includes lush greenery, pathways, and historical monuments, providing a tranquil escape amidst the bustling city.

Located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Cidade das Artes features a striking modern design characterized by angular shapes and a sweeping roof that spans over the main auditorium and public spaces. The complex houses multiple performance venues, exhibition spaces, rehearsal rooms, and educational facilities, catering to a wide range of cultural activities and events.

Architecturally, the Cidade das Artes is designed to facilitate social interaction and community cohesion through its layout and spatial arrangements. It includes outdoor plazas, landscaped gardens, and gathering areas that encourage visitors to engage with art and each other in a dynamic and inclusive environment. The integration of natural light, open spaces, and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape enhances the overall experience, creating a sense of connection to both the cultural offerings and the urban context.


The Cidade das Artes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


At the end of the day, as social creatures, we utilize the built environment around us to connect with each other—or, in cases like the Berlin Wall, to remain divided—thus, we are shaped by the walls that are constructed and dismantled around us. As architects and designers, an awareness of this should make us more mindful when approaching the drawing canvas, as it will soon manifest not only in the city but also in the bonds among its dwellers.