As populations in our urban cities continue to grow, public spaces are under increasing pressure to provide for a greater density and diversity of users. The city in focus is Melbourne, Australia; a city experiencing rapid population growth expected to double to 8 million people by 2050. This increased overcrowding has given rise to a sense of social discomfort within its public spaces, as more of its urban inhabitants lose faith in finding intimate moments in the public space. Simultaneously, with the resultant strain on Melbourne’s infrastructure, the quality of its public facilities are affected most greatly, noticeably lacking the supportive services people seek such as Wi-Fi and power to charge their personal electronic devices they rely on.
So we pose the question; Can intimate space be regenerated, exist and grow in an increasingly dense public realm?
Our response begins with our research on intimacy, by defining what we have called ‘intimacy factors’; an indexing system gathered from our academic and urban research of Melbourne’s intimate laneways. We found that intimate space is a complex system, composed of a definitive combination of variable parameters, including proximity to others, visual obstructions, natural and artificial light, colour and sound. Our initial case study, Centre Place laneway in Melbourne’s CBD, challenged our preconceived idea of intimacy requiring isolation, instead proving that it can still exist and thrive alongside and within busy, dense public spaces.
Therefore our objective is to create an urban intervention that will regenerate this lost intimacy. REM is a parametrically open, architecture-making machine that has been designed to rediscover intimate space in crowded urban situations. We see the crowd as a potential energy and information resource to directly connect with, engage with, and learn from. REM therefore has been developed as a user-driven urban place-maker, where collaborative urban play between designer and user encourages physical interaction by inviting the public to create their own adaptable intimate moment. In return, the designer has the ability to gain a greater understanding of the public’s spatial needs and desires, before re-engaging to provide revised additions to the evolving design intervention.
The interplay of this intervention occurs at the initial grounding of the system, tapping into the city’s infrastructure and providing access for the general public. The growth and evolution of the broader system is dependent on the material it aggregates out of; recycled plastic. The recycling of plastic bottles, acts as both a currency and the structures physical building material. In return for recycling, users have the opportunity to develop their own intimate moment within public space, and help distribute even more infrastructure connection points around the city. As a result, the system acts as a quantifiable barometer for the public indicating the plastic recycling impact they are having. Finally, the system asks one final question for the public; how sustainable is plastic usage and recycling? By providing an online presence, the REM system hopes to expose the environmental impact of recycling and the importance of a more united and environmentally informed society.