Architecture firm Quadrangle has created the concept of ‘Neighbourhood Nests’ to foster community resilience in multi-unit residential buildings.
“We have been thinking a lot about community resilience, sheltering in place, and how the built environment can be adapted to support individuals’ ability to bounce back,” Quadrangle said in a blog post. “Are our buildings equipped to respond to shocks and stressors, such as climate change related emergencies, and pandemics?”
A team of sustainability, resilience, wellness, and design experts from the firm explored that question in the context of multi-unit residential buildings with their concept project “Neighbourhood Nests: Fostering community resilience in multi-unit residential buildings.”
The concept seeks to add nature’s design strategies and apply these principles to the infrastructure supporting daily lives. This infrastructure includes both the physical realities of sidewalks, buildings, pipes, and wires that provide shelter, water, power, and communications and also the soft systems such as social connections.
For example, in Toronto, there is already an existing social infrastructure of public amenities such as libraries and recreation centres, but the networks could be made more resilient by adding even more opportunities for making connections within a finer-grained layer of easily accessible gathering spaces throughout neighbourhoods.
“We believe there is a real opportunity to create these neighbourhood gathering places by reimaging the internalized private amenity spaces that we already provide in all new housing, as welcoming, open community assets. Places to foster the social bonds that make resilient neighbourhoods. We could call them neighbourhood nests,” the vlog said.
The neighbourhood nests would be unpretentious, welcoming, and have three main physical characteristics. They would signal opportunities to pause for a moment, stay for a while, and return to enjoy a variety of resources and activities.
Invitations to pause would include elements such as a seatwall along the sidewalk for resting and people watching, movable patio chairs to allow for flexible seating arrangements, and a generous canopy to both provide shelter and mark a welcoming entry door.
Invitations to stay could be provided by a variety of seating opportunities, including long tables with room to spread out but still encourage casual conversation, high tables for standing, sitting or quick, low-pressure encounters, soft seating for longer stays and nooks at the periphery of the action for quiet moments.
Invitations to return could be encouraged by embedding accessible design elements and enough flexibility to host a wide variety of functions and resources, including a counter for coffee and snacks, a games library, postings for changing local events such as a book club, a music event, or a farmers market.
“Neighbourhood nests also need a welcoming presence to animate and set the tone of the place. While most residential buildings have security guards that function mostly as passive gatekeepers, we propose reframing the job description to facilitate inclusive community engagement. We think of this person as the nest curator,” the video said.
On top of this, they would add a robust hard infrastructure of back-up services including: an adaptive communications network, a continuous supply of clean water, refrigeration for medical and other essential supplies, a heating, air-conditioning, and filtration system to enhance air quality, all backed up on an emergency power supply.
The rich and resilient connections to services and people will create a network of resources that will help respond to the stresses that can be brought on by extreme weather or other unforseen crises. In those cases, neighbourhood nests can transition into the nodes where people can gather to take shelter, plan next steps, co-ordinate emergency provisions, and pool resources.
When physical distancing is the appropriate response, as in the current condition, these places can become communication hubs that will keep people connected to one another, providing the information they need, and flexibility to act as emergency supply distribution hubs for a variety of critical needs.
Once the stressful conditions start to dissipate, the flexible design of these neighbourhood nests can facilitate recovery at a pace that works for the circumstance. They can become the places where people might start planning next steps for an appropriate re-entry to daily life, reintegrating some core activities, slowly re-establishing social events, and finally re-establishing familiar routines.