What would a fish do with a swing?

A park can be a picnic, a classroom, a home, a meeting, a workout, a date, a break, a pathway. A park is a location-tool for the person, or group of people, who needs it.

I ask you: what would a fish do with a swing?

How can the designer or builder know what tools something or someone needs without a careful period of empirical observation? Building a public space without anthropological research could be like giving a goldfish a swing set. A tool without a specific purpose is an inanimate object with an arbitrary existence.

So, how can Landscape Architects be Anthropologists?

Image from Gehl Architects

Gehl Architects, a company combining architecture with psychology, works internationally to create cities for people. Gehl recently launched a new survey tool called “Public Space and Public Life”. PSPL is a platform for collecting qualitative data, giving a voice to the public in the process of observation, and helping clients to engage the users of the city  to implement useful, sustainable changes that the public will benefit from. (Read more about this incredible platform and process here.)

Students studying Landscape Architecture at AAU implement their own observation experiments before creating their designs for a space.

As you can see, the LAN 660 (Designing Public Spaces Studio) students engage the community to determine which problems are necessary to solve from the perspective of the people already using the public space in question.

If someone asked you how your home street or front yard pathway could be improved, your experience and unique vantage point would provide you with a relevant, educated, and valid response.

Landscape architecture can build a useful pathway when sociology, anthropology, and psychology are all invited to the park.