Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Gathering Spaces

Apartment buildings are strange, contradictory places. You've got dozens, maybe hundreds of human beings living in close proximity with each other. One might imagine that this physical proximity would produce a sense of community, or at the very least encourage the growth and development of relationship between fellow residents.

And yet the design of most apartment buildings discourages such relationships. Fire codes require multiple stairwells, and consequently it is far easier to slip out of a building rather than pass through a centrally located (and more commonly used) passageway. If the building has a garage, residents can zip down to the garage level, hop in their car, and never have to pass through a common area. Sound shielding between apartments reduces the chance that you might hear anything of your neighbor's life.

Some buildings have design elements that encourage community gathering. Laundry rooms, mail rooms, and lounges are chief among them. But do these spaces really help? I wonder. Apartment culture discourages meeting one's neighbors. The transience of residents doesn't help much.

Have you made any friends in an apartment building? Have you seen quality design in a building that encourages meeting fellow residents?


Blogger Ed Kohler said...

The only times I've met co-apartment dwellers were times when I lived in buildings with either party rooms that got used for social parties or with pools.

2:28 AM  
Blogger Arthur Willoughby said...

The "Club Room" of our apartment building is right next door to our unit. We avoid it, however, because it's usually full of Neanderthals in backwards baseball caps (and barbed wire bicep tattoos) taking advantage of the free wireless Internet and watching baseball at full volume. Not my scene, man.

Every time I switch buildings I tell myself I'm going to meet the neighbors and thus (in theory) head off potential future problems at the pass. I never do, however, and then when there's a problem...last week's loud stereo, for instance...I'm forced to complain anonymously and "officially" rather than by knocking and casually saying "Hey, so-and-so...here's some brownies, could you keep it down?"

I've heard that nowadays, apartment buildings are hardly unique in the non-community feel. Many people in bona fide neighborhoods "commute" 20 miles to hang out with friends; people don't know their next-door neighbors anymore. Probably a manifestation of our suburban, spend-60-hours-per-week-at-work mentality.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Red said...

I find this interesting you post this particular train of thought after a wonderful evening out on the front lawn discussing the neighborhood, careers, and puppies. We are lucky to live where we do because the community fosters more intimate relationships -- more so than anywhere else I have lived.

3:00 PM  

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