What makes a place remarkable and memorable? Is it about trending headlines that reference the world’s ‘largest’ or ‘first’? Or, is it broader – like a development that integrates cultural, social, environmental, and economic practices of well-being into a single destination? With perceptions heavily influenced by media exposure, a love for technology, and desire for authenticity, society’s answers to where people want to live, gather, and make memories are changing.
Touchless hotel check-ins, robot bartenders, and driverless forms of smart transportation are just a few of the many ways the design bar has been elevated in the construction or refresh of spaces. And though these elements have achieved their goal of providing unique experiences, in many cases, they no longer respond to the human conscience of what makes a space meaningful. Rather, they are each appealing – or even useful – elements of an experience, but they fall short of forming the emotional and intellectual connections necessary to elevate places to a ‘beloved’ or ‘treasured’ status.
As our digital world continues to leave behind a never-ending trail of innovation, designers are facing the difficult, yet courageous, challenge of creating places that are more than just picturesque, but timeless. We have a responsibility to understand what makes a place exceptional, but even more so, we must build in ways for places to retain their intrigue, relevance, and purpose over time. Placemaking capitalizes on a community’s assets, inspiration, and potential with the intention of creating memorable environments that promote health and happiness. It is less about constantly developing and redeveloping, and more about connecting to nature, culture, and the power of relationships. It is about transforming outdoor environments into multifaceted destinations that hold within them a myriad of experiences and dozens of moments (and memories) waiting to be discovered.
The new demand for overall simplicity in life is fueling a never-before-seen revolution of experiencial living that is no longer motivated by ‘bigger is better’, but modesty and scaling back. This shift in attitude serves as a gentle cue for developers and designers alike to adapt an approach rooted in more sustainable practices. At the same time, the integration of technology still holds appeal, but must be implemented with an eye towards balance, ensuring that it does not dominate that which is essential – the beauty of the land, its people, and their traditions. It is through the careful weaving of usability, aesthetics, accessibility, and the full understanding of how people will incorporate the designed space into their lives that the idea of enriching and memorable spaces becomes reality.
It’s a new world, a new life, and a new economy. As a collective, we must acknowledge that the importance of placemaking in the design process has not changed, but our idea of what makes a place meaningful has. Authentic design in a true sense provides opportunities to collaborate, to reflect. It is a seamless integration of nature, place, people, and purpose – and within this practice is the soul of the communities, destinations, and public spaces in which special places reside. This intersection of history, culture, preservation, and new infrastructure is where we find what makes a place truly remarkable.