Three motivators, each poetic and pragmatic, are the catalysts for this story:
1 The Carpenter Center's pragmatic advantage is being a democratic, accessible midblock shortcut. Poetically, the ramp moves you slowly and gracefully, freeing your eyes from the ground, unveiling and revealing the world before you.
2 Walter Benjamin’s Parisian flaneur is “a person who walks the city in order to experience it [..] with an inquisitive wonder and an infinite capacity to absorb the activities of the collective.” The arcade offered the flaneur an alternative route through the city, an extension of the street where loitering did not have negative connotations. The pragmatic covered daily shopping was a vessel for the poetic chance encounters and glances at one another.
3 Older adults, In the poetic, qualitative sense, are often ignored and their individuality is overlooked. Stigmas put them at risk of isolation. The pragmatic side is that older adults have quantifiable value and mass, socially, cultural, and economically, that often goes under appreciated.
Fact or Fiction? This proposal encounters 3 types of facts and fictions:
1 The existing narrative we hear about design for older adults often focuses on the functional facts, or bare minimums - these are the pragmatic datums of physical access, and rather than being told as a story, they come in the form of a self-limiting checklist. These functional facts are often perceived as a constraint and an afterthought.
2 Rem’s biennale series recaps and reminds that the elements are architectural devices full of all facts and fictions that can enable or disable, that can be viewed as constraints or opportunities. He describes how the ramp can waste space, be an afterthought, the ramp can announce the flaneur, a new lifestyle, a new relationship.
3 Fiction as fact is the idea that our perception is reality desires and imagination may seem like fiction to some and fact to others.
So the story that follows is a combination of functional facts, poetic fictions, poetic facts, and functional fictions.
This story takes place across 4 reconsidered scales. Designing the poetic and the pragmatic across scales seeks the best of both worlds so we don't have to compromise.
1 At the scale of the body, the Universal Design / ADA / Code / World Health Organization guidelines are based on bare minimum physical requirements - these checklists focus on disability rather than ability, the required over the desired - they are not incorrect but they are incomplete. This proposal reconsiders psychological and social desires in addition to physical needs
2 At the scale of the element, rather than being an afterthought, like the ramp tacked on at the end or yellow stripes only to announce warning, these can be reconsidered to create engaging primary experiences
3 At the scale of the city, “age-friendly” spaces isolate and contain people to a single, multi-purpose building, keeping them from engaging with the evolving nuances and complexities of society. Instead of the Walmart model of isolating older adults to an all-inclusive volume - strings of public space can be thread through wasted spaces within existing cities to enable aging in place by combating isolation and increasing access to services, ultimately returning to a dispersed, social market model of living
4 The string is made in between the poetic and the pragmatic, between scales, and between moments, and, like happy maps, it is not about providing the most efficient route like we usually see, because in exchange for time, the longer, slower route offers experiences the fastest route may not.
London was selected as the site, as so many of it's citizens face isolation and loneliness. Globally, studies show that people who feel lonely are at heightened risk of death. It also showed that 43 percent of people over 60 felt lonely. And as these headlines reveal, that percentage may be even higher in London, giving it the title of loneliness capital of Europe.
At the local scale, Romford, East London, is selected, as it is seeing an equal rise in their 65+ and their 18-35 age demographics, at a rate higher than other boroughs. Romford specifically is the only borough to have equal day life to nightlife, has the promise of the connecting to central London by tube on the 2018 Elizabeth Line, but is currently suffering from an abandoned high street and an influx of big box stores.
To site the string, the London is evaluated across its social / cultural condition, its built and natural environmental condition, and the pace and experience of the place. Where these measures overlap creates an optimal string zone for engaging multiple generations, regenerating wasted spaces, and enabling aging in place.