The PLACES category is an exciting addition to the Green Star rating system with its inclusion in the Green Star New Building version 2 tool that is currently under development. It ensures that people are placed at the forefront of design by facilitating a focus on how buildings are integrated into the existing urban fabric to create spaces that increase social cohesion.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022 identified social cohesion corrosion as one of the top short- and medium-term global risks in 31 countries, including South Africa. According to the report (2022:16), economic, political, technological and intergenerational inequality “was already challenging societies even before income disparities increased through the pandemic”, and it is anticipated that these disparities will now widen even further.
The report goes on to describe the erosion of social cohesion as the “loss of social capital and a fracture of social networks negatively impacting social stability, individual wellbeing, and economic productivity as a result of persistent public anger, distrust, divisiveness, lack of empathy, marginalisation of minorities, political polarisation etc”. (2022:94)
Perhaps the most subjective and difficult to refine categories of the new tool, the PLACES category also creates a very direct link to the decision-making processes behind asset development and real estate risk assessment. The adage, “location, location, location,” is the driving force and we view this category of an extension of the extensive investigative work the developer and their assets investigations teams would have undertaken to identify the project location. It should build on the work already done, and present information to the full design team in a manner that will ensure that all the opportunities and challenges are taken into consideration to ensure that appropriate responsive design interventions are identified.
As head of the sustainable cities and research department at Solid Green and the PLACES category director, I was supported by a fantastic and knowledgeable team that has worked tirelessly for the past six months to identify the local contextualisation prospective design teams would consider as part of the tool localisation process. I believe that we can facilitate meaningful change in how our cities and neighbourhoods are created, what these spaces would look like, and how these places will function. By including location and context sensitive design directives, which will require the full design team to review and respond with integrated design solutions, buildings will no longer operate in isolation from their surroundings. It will be possible to create systems that organically interconnect, for the betterment of the end user experience and longevity of the asset, while the risk associated with location is fully understood and appropriately addressed – through this category along with others contained within the tool.
Peter Stokes, architect, and partner at dhk Architects provided insight into place making best practice, urban design guidelines that drive good design and site context analysis, which teams will usually undertake at the start of the project. He also noted that, if some of this information is not shared with the integrated design team at the outset, it can result in limiting design responses.
Marc Sherratt, founder, and sustainability architect at MSSA, provided insight into the culture, heritage and identity elements linked to the category. Of the process and the category details he commented, “As a nation we have a leadership role to play in the green building movement and how it applies to this transitional stage between the industrial and ecological ages of human civilisation. Questioning how we can create better, safer and more equitable spaces in a country notorious for its inequality gives great weight to the words we have carefully proposed for this new green building rating tool.”
Zendré Compion, professional architect, sustainability consultant, and owner of Common Space focused on the importance of movement and connectivity. “Sustainable buildings cannot be islands. Every site is unique and will therefore have to respond differently through designing in sustainable mobility or responding to infrastructure and services that already exist beyond the site – which we tried to capture with the transport-focused credit.
The PLACES category highlights the imperative that building design is no longer regarded in isolation. It is essential to unpack, assess and manage the potential impacts that a project can have. For the real estate sector, this means that impacts are measured over more than one re-sale cycle to really understand the risk associated with a specific investment. For design teams, this means using the contextual understanding of a site to define design responses that are aimed at maximising the positive impacts while limiting the negatives that a building can have on the wider surroundings.
There are three credits in the PLACES category that the team have been investigating:
Contribution to Place. This credit is aimed at placemaking and city scape formation with consideration to inclusivity and diversity in design. The focus will fall on ensuring an integrated design team response is developed to respond to the contextual opportunities and challenges of a site, while ensuring projects create accessible spaces that can contribute to community building and interactive engagement. For those spaces, design teams will also have the opportunity to create activation strategies that will remain with the building, as a guide to future end on how to use those spaces effectively, to ensure those spaces are always places for lively interaction with a positive contribution not only to the site, but also its surroundings.
Movement and Connectivity. Encourages mobile diversity that builds on the opportunities of a building’s design and location to encourage occupants and visitors use active, low carbon and public transport options instead of private vehicles. Depending on the specific project context analysis, specific emphasis could then be placed on interventions that encourage walkability through improving amenity access, pedestrianisation of the environment or the provision of showers and lockers. There will also be an opportunity for projects to consider how public transport can be given a more prominent role.
Culture, Heritage and Identity. This is perhaps the most reflective credit of the category. Teams are urged to find appropriate ways to reflect the local culture, heritage and identity by publicly demonstrable design interventions. These could include community art or placemaking projects; the selection of local labour/suppliers/designers for complete artwork or cultural element manufacture; significant publicly visible building elements that tell stories of local social and/or environmental past and heritage; and/or significant public spaces and uses that reflect local identities.
Where credits within other categories of these tools are aimed at creating climate responsive buildings, the intent of the PLACES category and its respective credits is to identify people-centric design solutions that invite and accommodate occupants and visitors on site in ways that are memorable and rewarding.
The goal is to create an asset that is unique to its location, is responsive to the external opportunities and challenges that the site offers, and that takes advantage of the opportunity the building and its immediate surroundings will have to converse with passers-by every day. The goal is to create a dialogue that will build stronger communities, create networks and support wider neighbourhood resilience for any future shocks and stresses that we might face in the cities of the future.