Architecture and Community Development


At Faith in Action we will spend sometime in the second half of this year looking at buildings.  This may seem like a strange thing to spend time on when your brief is community development but it would seem, from what we are learning, that our buildings have a loit to contribute to our neighbourhood interactions.

Esther Sugihto will be visiting us from Melbourne on the 19th of August to present some thoughts from her experience in Human Centred Design on how our buildings contribute to our community work.  She will be looking at how we might take a fresh look at our spaces (Churches especially) and make them more community-friendly (without necessarily engaging in a building project).

I find the discussion on how our build environment contributes to our social fabric a fascinating one.  I have been reflecting myself how, in my local suburb, the change in housing is impacting how community is developing and changing.

I live in a area of urban renewal.  Initially suburbs constructed for social housing in the post World War II era are now being demolished for new subdivisions.   Inevitably these new, smaller, privately owned houses have different characters from those they have replaced.  And the big loss seems to be to those incidental interactions with our neighbours (what Esther calls propinquity):

  • On smaller blocks there isn’t the luxury for large front yards and buildings are being moved as far forward on their blocks as possible in order to maximise private backyard space.  Less time is therefore spent maintaining or playing in the front yard leading to less incidental neighbourhood interactions.
  • Because many of these houses have master bedrooms at the front of the house they are also more likely to have double glazing, heavy blinds or roller shutters and fencing in order to minimise traffic noise and light.  Esther has written an interesting blog on how “the current trend of living/kitchen/dining spaces towards the rear of the property …contributes to the death of activity on the streets.” (read more here)
  • Garages with roller doors feature on most of these new houses also- once again minimising opportunities to incidentally bump into our neighbours and people walking our streets.

So why is this important?  Well a 2010 study revealed that 59 per cent of Australians said they never speak with their neighbours and 38 per cent do not know their neighbours at all.   While we can’t just blame our roller doors for this- I wonder how much our buildings are contributing to this break down of local neighbourhoods?  And what, if anything, might be done to reverse it?

If this interests you too, why not join our discussion with Esther on the 19th.