Worth the Walk Design can be a strategic tool to foster behaviours, enhance and improve city landscapes

When I moved to Chicago from Milan in November 2013, besides the polar vortex, the magnitude and scale of things in relation to the human body definitely caught my attention. Streets, squares, parks, didn’t seem to have quite the same intimacy of European cities or parts of Asia I had lived in previously. Most notably, the pedestrian culture represented one of the main differences in the urban life I noticed. The reasons might have been clear to all of us: while the evolution of cities in Europe was determined by walking activities and the human body, in newer parts of the world it was focused around other forms of mobility, transportation and infrastructure like cars, trains and the subway. This renewed approach determined a new urban life experience, although triggered by the practical need for efficiency. In the last few years or decades, particular attention has been dedicated to promoting sustainable urban environments and a pedestrian landscape.  On a global scale, the goal has been to transform our cities to be more pedestrianfriendly by activating urban areas and promoting cycling and walking as major modes of transportation. In the era of urban visual noise, things often get lost. With so many distractions competing for people’s attention on the ground today, what are some ways in which products create memorable experiences for pedestrians? ABCyclette by Hatem+D Architecture aims to spark curiosity among pedestrians and create an identity for the neighbourhood through a combination of bright colours and functional shapes that form a word. It becomes an urban landmark, a meeting area that communicates the presence of a bike parking rack in a playful way that does not disrupt the surrounding context. “If you want to encourage people to ditch their cars and walk, commission public art, let
restaurants offer outdoor dining and invest in grand plazas,” says Dr. Reid Ewing, Director of the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center. The Highline project in New York, the 606 or the River Walk in Chicago, the Navigli project in Milan are, among others, great examples where the city has invested in activating areas to become more walkable and safer. Passage Insolite in Quebec, Canada, leveraging the work of visual artists, architects and so on, questions our relationship to the world and the urban space through installations across the city. The public artwork installed in 2018 is located along a breathtaking historic route, using almost re-made products to create unexpected and inspiring scenarios. For example, the Water Flowers by Jean-Yves Vigneau builds a memorable experience worthy of the walk. “But if you really want to get more people walking,” continues Dr. Ewing, “install lots of street furniture, […] and prioritise spaces that engage passers-by.” The Urban Shapes system designed by Nortstudio responds to the need of modularity and flexibility to accommodate different configurations and unlimited possibilities to engage users at different levels. Inspired by a city’s grid and materiality, it creates a playful system of objects that can reinvigorate any urban area. Examining these case studies, it clearly emerges that design can be a strategic tool to foster behaviours, enhance and improve city landscapes as well as urban areas. Design has a fundamental role in triggering and supporting human activities through creative design solutions aimed to create stimuli and more sustainable environments and cities. At the same time, designers must recognise the importance of understanding the whole ecosystem: the city infrastructures, cultural dynamics and human habits and leverage them to establish a new relationship between urban spaces and its users.


ABCyclette>Québec, Canada>2018 Hatem+D Architecture

ABCylette is a practical, identifying and playful solution to park bicycles in Québec City. The parking rack becomes an urban landmark, a meeting area, a much-sought-after hot spot for selfies and, of course, the best place to park a bicycle. The idea for ABCyclette is that the shape of the bicycle parking rack becomes the name of the ‘station’, much like other transit systems. From another viewpoint, people can see an array of colourful tubes that are both pleasing to the eye and very intriguing. The words can nevertheless be seen from the sidewalk on the other side of the street and, thanks to anamorphosis, from other vantage points as well. ABCyclette uses satellites that pinpoint the bike parking racks so that users can quickly find them on Google Maps. This is an easy way to plan rides and commutes as well promote the parking racks online


Water Flowers>Québec, Canada>2018  Jean-Yves Vigneau
As though straight from an impressionist painting, the water lilies (or water flowers) rise and fall to the rhythm of the tides, like leisurely breathing. This soothing, artificial flora lights up in the evening, evoking whispered tales of land and sea. June 28 to October 14, 2018, marked the fifth edition of Passages Insolites (Unusual Passages), a self-guided circuit of ephemeral public artworks in inspiring locations along a breathtaking route in historic Old Quebec. Sometimes playful, sometimes introspective, always surprising, these provocative works are boldly integrated into the historic architecture for a fresh contemporary reading of the urban landscape. Additional info: exmuro.com/projets/les-passagesinsolites

Passages Insolites is Quebec’s biggest public art event.


Rough forms and materials scattered around on various construction sites waiting to be used and to obtain a specific function. A special tension is created by taking these materials and forms out of their context and combining them in a completely different way. Inspired by these urban shapes we designed an inviting bench. In our design, we use three shapes derived from primary forms. These shapes are linked together by a grid. By perceiving the grid as a connector, different configurations can be built by combining the elements, making this a modular design. By creating a defiant bench, we see our design as an enrichment of public spaces such as museums and parks.

Additional info: http://www.nortstudio.be/work/bench-urban-shapes