There was a time when a city hall should affirm the power of municipal authorities - and infuse citizens with awe via a monumental building with tall doors, a large hall and a minimal interaction with its surroundings. Today, luckily, we are far from that symbolism of power, and a civic centre should be so much more.
Here are three key thoughts to consider:
To strengthen the idea that a civic centre is for the people, avoid creating a building that feels closed. A modern civic centre should have an inviting interior and exterior pedestrian scale, an animated street presence and a square for broad civic use. Create a space that can host yoga in the morning, ball games on a big screen, work lunches, holiday markets, play dates, civic gatherings and other events that will make it a natural meeting point for the public. For the new civic centre in Etobicoke, Toronto, we created a cascade of smaller built forms and spaces in a myriad of scales to make the building address the civic square and feel accessible. We also analyzed the local microclimate conditions thoroughly to create shelter in the right places - prolonging the outdoor season with at least 5 weeks to foster an (even more) engaging public realm.
A civic center or city hall is a physical manifestation of democracy in the sense that it reflects some contemporary currents and structures in society. To reflect and honor this, civic centers, as well as city halls, must be open, inviting and transparent. Use glass sections to ensure the citizens’ as well as the politicians’ insight into each other’s everyday lives, and send the citizens straight into the heart of the building, when they’re contacting the municipality – do not let them enter a front desk in the foyer only. Make sure the administrative functions are visible. In Uppsala, Sweden, we have designed a city hall where citizens are invited into the heart of the city hall when they are contacting the municipality.
A modern civic centre should have the character of a community centre, where culture, business life, healthcare and administration fuse and profit via common facilities and locations. Multiple functions ensure life and activity throughout the day and the week – even after hours. The civic centre becomes a symbol of a lively community. In Etobicoke, a community recreation centre, swimming facilities, a public library, offices and a child care center is placed together with the city council hall. If the citizens have a strong incentive to use the town hall and its facilities they will take greater ownership it. This will strengthen local democracy. Offer the house to the public for weddings and other private events. In this way, everyone, regardless of age, gender and social background, receives free, equal access to democracy.