Make Architects invests in research to tackle loneliness

Make Architects’ Future Spaces Foundation undertakes some insightful research into the relationship between loneliness and the built environment

Founded by Make Architects' Sydney-based studio more than seven years ago, the Future Spaces Foundation (FSF) is a think tank that undertakes extensive research in order to discover the socioeconomic, demographic and technological drivers that architects and designers should be considering, in order to design spaces that best serve a community.

Findings from the FSF gives the international studio vital insight, which helps the team design projects that are dynamic, inclusive and sustainable. Over the years since the think tank was created, the FSF has delved into some of the topics that most affect communities, including housing shortages, retail environments, and transport networks. Most recently, the Foundation shone a spotlight on urban loneliness in Australia.

One in four Australian adults are lonely, states the Australian Loneliness Report 2018 (produced by the Australian Psychological Society), and nearly 55% of the population feel “they lack companionship at least sometimes”. A 2019 national survey by Australia Talks discovered that more than a quarter of Australians aged 18-24 feel lonely ‘frequently’ or ‘always’, and those living in inter-city areas are more like to say this, compared to those living in rural areas.

In response to the urban loneliness, the FSF authored a report titled Kinship in the City; this report brought together a group of collaborators – everyone from policy advisers and academics, to designers and community organisers – to explore the relationship between the built environment and loneliness. As a result, the collaborators put together a series of recommendations, which included investing in loneliness-related policymaking, exploring new ways of funding community spaces and services, and prioritising community-focused approaches to design and planning.

Make Architects also recently challenged university students from in and around Sydney to produce design proposals that will help combat loneliness and improve social connections in cities. Eight teams from across the Sydney-based architecture schools – the University of New South Wales, the University of Sydney, and the University of Technology Sydney – took part in the competition, with the winning team coming from the University of Sydney.

The winning team’s entry, ‘InTransit’, proposed moving away from Sydney’s car-centric transport model, and instead aimed for a future which introduced fusion of transport and architecture; this combination of design and transport would provide unexpected communal spaces in transport hubs. For their winning entry, the team was awarded a $2,000 prize, and their proposal will be included in an official FSF compendium.

Explaining how the idea could be implemented, team member Simone Carmody said, “Refurbished tram carriages supporting different programs like cafes, gardens, co-working spaces seek to facilitate social interaction and encourage the commuter to engage in the built environment rather than their screens. While not in use, these carriages assemble, opening their doors in a "hub" that blends with the city to create a new urban space open to all.”

In a post COVID-19 world, the way that architects tackle loneliness with their designs will be more important than ever. In the wake of the pandemic, Make Architects’ Sydney studio lead, Simon Lincoln, is calling on architects and designers across the world to think more deeply about the way buildings and public places are designed, and to utilise the power of these spaces to unify communities. “Whilst the need for social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis is abundantly clear, it also brings into sharp focus how much we crave connection as individuals and collectively,” says Lincoln.

“There are lessons to be learned from this crisis, including the understanding that with the right technology and design tools, social isolation does not have to result in loneliness," he continues. "When designing our future cities, as architects we have a responsibility to prioritise designs that bring citizens and communities closer together. Eradicating loneliness is a lofty ambition but, for the long-term wellbeing of society, it is an essential aspiration.”

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