Superior blend - Issue 171 - Magazine | Monocle

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Creating a lively mixed-use development isn’t just about throwing up some buildings and calling it a day. Developers need to make considered decisions to deliver a successful place that matches the ambition of their original architectural renderings. It’s about clever details, an understanding of how people actually use space and meticulous design from choosing the right materials to community-building.

This is the art of crafting spaces that not only house but also connect, where tenants – whether residential or commercial – feel a sense of belonging that goes beyond their address. Here, we get into the nitty-gritty of what makes a mixed-use project truly thrive, proving that vibrant developments are built one thoughtful detail at a time.

Sensory symphony


Building with materials that are interesting to look at will lend character to any development. A case in point is the rippled concrete on the façade of architect Lina Ghotmeh’s Stone Garden Housing project in Beirut. Natural, locally sourced options like stone, timber and clay bricks can help imbue a project with a sense of place.

No blocking


Avoid taking up an entire block with a single, impenetrable structure. Instead, invite public life into the development by shrinking building footprints. Create public spaces and thoroughfares for people to cut through the site, improving pedestrian connections. This will prevent a project becoming a dead zone and better embed it in the city.

Tall order
Height and depth


Cap buildings at five storeys. Why? Well, beyond that, according to Danish urbanist Jan Gehl, residents lose their connection to the street. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that people can comfortably call down from a balcony to the footpath. By capping the height, we ensure that the building’s presence doesn’t overwhelm the street or skyline.

But this doesn’t mean ignoring the needs of street level. Avoid brash glassy frontages and opt for a façade that has clear windows for passive surveillance. The doorway should be flush with the footpath (stepping up or down creates a physical barrier to entry) with awnings set only a few metres above the ground to offer a sense of cosy enclosure.

Human scale


Use visually rich details on the lower levels of a building – think tiled façades, intricate masonry and faceted window frames. Different uses, such as public or private entrances, should be defined by these ideas and expanses of monotonous material avoided. Invite rhythm to keep passersby, or those staying longer, engaged and inspired.

Mix and match


Create a complex whose patronage is, well, complex. Mix commercial, cultural, residential and hospitality offerings for a perpetual hum of activity and spontaneous encounters. Meet the essential needs of the community too: a butcher, baker, dry cleaner and key-cutting shoe-repair shop within walking distance is a boon for any tenant.

Lush lifestyle


Studies have repeatedly shown that greenery can lower stress levels and improve general wellbeing; planting can also filter air and regulate building temperatures. Street-level trees and vertical gardens bring life to the façade (Singapore-based woha architects is an expert in this field), providing a cleaner microclimate for tenants.

Civic service
Public space


The services on offer should be enhanced by the surrounding public space. In a mixed-use development, make sure restaurants front onto plazas that diners can spill onto when the weather is fine and that there are benches for workers to stop for coffee. mvrdv’s Atelier Gardens in Berlin blends office space with hospitality offerings in a prime parkland setting.

If a development is more residential, make sure there are spaces for visitors to lock their bikes and communal courtyards where neighbours can stop to chat. Danish design studio sla’s work on the South Harbor of Køge is a benchmark in this, with the residential buildings divided with linear parks.

People first


Prioritise the pedestrian experience, so whether tenants are walking to their cars or between home and café, their time outdoors will be uplifting. Provide generous footpaths, an abundance of crossings and traffic-calming measures such as kerb extensions. Where you have to include parking, do so in a discreet underground location.

Go green


This is about more than using environmentally friendly materials and adding foliage. Architects should embrace the site’s microclimate and use it to enhance their design. Consider annual sun, wind and shade patterns, and position the building so that natural light and ventilation can be put to use in heating and cooling it.

Participation awards


Finally, it’s all well and good to have a beautiful building but without buy-in from the people using it, it won’t be a success. Build a community by inviting continued resident participation: ask for ideas, host town hall meetings and encourage community gardens and public art. All of this will create a sense of ownership and belonging.


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