How to Show a Community’s Soul in The Landscape of the City
Article by Moreira Filho – The Afghan Bazaar Cultural Precinct, by HASSELL, Dandenong, Melbourne, Australia.
Far from their homelands, immigrants all over the world look for a space they can call their own in their adopted country. And they often have to do this in an atmosphere of struggle and even prejudice in their day-to-day lives. How can landscape architects design projects to help people feel at home and celebrate their culture in an unfamiliar setting?
In 2014, HASSELL designed a place for the Afghan community around Thomas Street in Melbourne, Australia, in an area now called The Afghan Bazaar Cultural Precinct.
The Landscape of the City
A Mirror to the Soul
The Afghan Bazaar includes a bunch of shops, cafés, and restaurants designed for Afghan people but open to everybody. The influence of Islamic design and Afghan culture comes alive for those who walk along the sidewalks or browse the stores.
To discover the soul of the place, the designers went beyond simple observation. They consulted with the community to hear their dreams and listen as they reminisced about their homeland. This consultation was facilitated by the landscape architecture practice of Sinatra Murphy.
From these consultations, the designers adopted a patterned blue mosaic for the pavement, reminiscent of the tiles of Afghanistan’s Mazar-e-Sharif — the Blue Mosque. This respect toward geometrical Muslim design can be read as respect for the Afghan culture and people, inserting them into the city’s scenario and encouraging cultural pride.
Social gathering is a tradition in Afghan culture, so benches of steel and wood by Commercial Systems Australia were customized as a reinterpretation of Arabic daises and sofas. The benches promote socialization, small talk, coffee meet-ups, and outdoor life. At night, LED lightbulbs under the benches give the sensation of Arabic lighting, common in Afghan culture.
They also shortened fragments of the street to make the sidewalk bigger, creating parklets. Parking for cars and bicycles is interspersed among these fragments, creating a calm space in the midst of city traffic. Cars have to slow down as they approach the area, because of the change in topography and the addition of stone rumble strips positioned along the street. All of this makes the area both culturally significant but also inclusive.
Vegetation as an Oasis
Green elements always remind us of prosperity, freshness, and life. In cities, they have the power to break through heavy concrete and the mechanical aspects of cars and public transit.
In this project, the designers created garden beds along strategic points of the extended sidewalk. The sense of enclosure and buffer from the roadway encourages people to gather, meet, and eat meals outdoors.
Along the garden beds, Persian Lilac (Melia azedarach) has been placed to provide shade on hot sunny days. Its powerful green leaf color and the bright lilac flowers forming bouquets contrast elegantly with the other elements of the landscape.
Parrotia persica, also known as Persian ironwood, has been placed linearly into the main sidewalk. This rectilinear green visual effect completes the harmony of the geometrical forms of the pavement. The trees provide shade and make the promenade pleasant with their fresh sensation, especially on hot days.
Lamp: Light for Human Beings
The apex of the promenade is an art installation known as Lamp, by Afghani-Australian artist Aslam Akram. This sculpture is composed of two parts. According to the artist, the base expresses human energy and, for this reason, it represents history, holy places, and the memories of the Afghan people.
This part can also sum up knowledge, wisdom, purity of heart, and the Afghani experience. The top of the artwork symbolizes human energy creation in a positive way: the friendship and respect among multicultural communities that make Australia a diverse, respectful country.
WATCH >>> Making of ‘The Lamp’ Afghan Bazaar Cultural Precinct Centrepiece Dandenong
Lessons to Learn
How can we insert a community identity without doing harm to other communities within a city? What lessons can we learn from the Afghan Bazaar Cultural Precinct? Hearing people’s wishes and dreams can make all the difference for the success of a project. But we need to listen not only to those who work or live there, but also to those who are passing through.
As landscape architects, we must be conscious of connecting people with their environment as if they were in their homes while also helping them to receive their visitors as good hosts.
As Jan Gehl teaches: “Every good neighborhood should have a heart (…) Public life and lively cities are very important for social inclusion and for democracy.”
So, what do you think a useful questionnaire would be for this kind of research into the heart and soul of a community?
Full Project Credits For Afghan Bazaar Cultural Precinct:
Name of Project: Afghan Bazaar Cultural Precinct
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Client: City of Greater Dandenong / State Government Victoria, Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship
Year: 2014 (completion of 1st phase)
Sinatra Murphy | Community consultation and brief development
Aslam Akram | Artist
WSP Group | Lighting and electrical design
Aurecon | Civil engineering
Size: 1,500 square meters
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