12.2 The correlation between art and architecture to promote social interaction in public space – Maher Mk. Dawoud

Cities’ Identity Through Architecture and Arts – Catalani et al. (Eds)

© 2018 Taylor & Francis Group, London, ISBN 978-1-138-05409-7 –

Creative Commons, CC BY-NC-ND

The correlation between art and architecture to promote social interaction in public space

Maher Mk. Dawoud

Department of Mural Painting, Faculty of Fine Arts, Helwan University, Giza, Egypt

Ebtesam M. Elgizawy

Department of Architecture, Faculty of Fine Arts, Helwan University, Giza, Egypt

ABSTRACT: Public Space gradually becomes an absolutely necessary resource to a successful community in the new cities. It can provide lots of opportunities for people to meet and be exposed to their neighbours. This agrees with evidence of modern sociologists, who have proved that the strong social interaction between residents leads to a healthy community. However, these social connections and neighbour meetings often take place by coincidence or with active organising. In addition, the way of promoting the interaction among people in public spaces has been mainly ignored in many communities.

More recently, modern artists and architects reveal that arts and culture strategies can help to enhance the social form of the community by shaping the scene of its public space. Public art administrations, institutions, and cultural centres can play an important role in designing, managing, and planning these public spaces. Nowadays, artists are cooperating with land- scape architects and city planners to design creative public spaces.

From this point of view, the study will display the meaning, the value, and the main characteristics of that new approach of designing to be part of the community’s collective iden- tity and promote the community social interaction. Moreover, the result confirms a supposed relationship between a creative community vision of designing their public space and their social interaction in these places.

Keywords: Social Interaction; Public Spaces; Visual Art; Contemporary Art; Landscape architecture; New Communities


Community engagement is an interaction connection between residents and a place that can provide them a satisfaction, loyalty, and passion; a place where they can connect and social- ise. They then feel a bond to their community which is stronger than merely being satisfied about where they live. Public space is the most attached form of place to the people who want to interact and share their interests together. Moreover, it plays an important role in iden- tifying the community image and culture scene. In addition, public art such as memorials, sculptures, murals, and other aesthetic elements, can be involved with landscape architecture to personalise that public space and enhance the social connection between the community residents.

In that way, this paper will use the descriptive methodology which is generally used for humanities and social science research to highlight the crucial value of the correlation between art and architecture in the public space, to promote the social ties between residents which leads to a liveable and healthy community.


In the last decades, public space at first glance has been taken as meaning a common name for a public park. However, that meaning has been transformed these days to meet other new aspects and connotations. For instance, there is a prevalent vision around the world to see recreation centres, marketplaces, and gallerias as the modern kinds of public spaces. In addi- tion, these spaces are considered to be crucial ingredients in every successful community. It can draw and infer an identity between the society and the whole city.

Public spaces can provide many chances for residents to gather and be exposed to various sorts of neighbours. These gatherings most probably take place by coincidence. How- ever, they also can be organized by active associations or come through creative organising. Despite this, the art of enhancing and boosting the good vibes of interaction among people in the public spaces has been almost forgotten in many communities. Most of the urban plan- ners, architects, and landscape architects have focused more on designing aesthetic places which provide various spaces to accommodate any kind of public activities, rather than creat- ing places that promote social interaction between the community residents.

More recent studies in Chicago (Earls & Carlson 2001) have shown a very surprising result that the most significant factor of health from one community to the next was not wealth or easy access to healthcare, or any of the expected factors. It is simply the capacity of people who interact with each other on matters of common interests which makes a huge difference in health and well-being for individuals and neighbourhoods.

Another study was conducted by William H. Whyte, a famous American urbanist and soci- ologist writer, who emphasised that crowded, pedestrian-friendly, and active public spaces are more likely conducive to healthy civic communities than secured and controlled public spaces (Whyte, 1988). In addition, they are deemed to be safer and economically productive according to other sociologists who have asserted that strong social interactions are crucial ingredients of economic success.

‘What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people’ by this evidence, we now have a clear vision of, to build a creative community, you should create spaces where people can cooperate, connect, and share their goals.


For Penny B. Bach, a seasoned executive of the Association for Public Art, public art is the easiest way for collecting people together and encouraging them to communicate well. ‘It’s free. There are no tickets. People don’t have to dress up. You can view it alone or in groups (Figure 1). It’s open to everyone’ (Bach, 1992).

Furthermore, according also to Bach, many studies have indicated that the economic benefits of art has been increasing recently when public art is involved with public space. A survey of 43,000 residents in 43 new cities (John & James 2010) showed that viewing public art was the second most desirable activity in the public spaces, ranking above jogging, hiking, and biking.

In that way, it seems obvious that public space is the combined work of many design and artistic disciplines, predicting the prospering future of public art. Public art organisers, visual


Figure 1. People watch art work in different contexts as individuals or groups.


Figure 2. Various parades in public spaces.

artists, and cultural administrators can play a significant role in designing, organising, and programming the public space.

Recently, the awareness of how art can be an added value for any public space leads to involving visual artists with architects, landscape architects, and city planners in designing and creating these spaces with their unique facilities. Increasingly, there is a strong belief that as important as the space, pieces of art, or annual events, is the process by which they are created. For instance, you can organise a puppet parade involving only a group of dancers marching in the street, or it could be the result of a lengthy, community-wide process con- tributing many residents who create unique themes, paint the puppets, conduct the activities, and march together with their families in the neighbourhoods and public spaces (Figure 2).

  • Promoting collective identity through public art

While the design of public space influences its visitors, a public art event could form the col- lective identity of the community. By now, the meaning of public art as a piece of art work in an open space has been changed to include music, performance, and ceremonial show, besides the usual fine arts of sculpture, painting, and mosaic. In order to called the above, contemporary art which became a big hunt nowadays.

Innovating the kind of interaction between people that leads to collective identity is daring for any urban planner, organiser, or community administrator. Annual public art events or contemporary art exhibitions can play an important role. They boost the self-image of the community beyond the aspects that have been shown by them. Visitors and local residents now come from other communities to attend these events. They have become a secret formula as well as essential ingredient for any creative and liveable society.

As well as art associations, public galleries, or art institutions making the change to con- tribute in forming the community’s collective identity, individual artists can also make a dis- tinction. Artist Barnaby Evans, who works in many media including sculpture installations, photography, landscape design, and architectural projects, encouraged hundreds of volun- teers and supporters to create a public art event in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. It was called Water Fire and its mission was to inspire Providence city and its residents by restoring the urban experience, boosting community interaction, and innovatively transforming the image of the whole city, by presenting the Water Fire public art event for all to enjoy (French- man, 2004).

The event engages music, performances, and sparkling bonfires. Filling the air with the fragrant scent of firewood, flickering firelight and enchanting music from all over the world involves all the senses and emotions of over ten million visitors, who have been captured by that kind of art which brings life to that public place and revives the connection between people every time it happens (Figure 3).

  • Public art to restore the urban and social landscape

Once you see an art work in a public landscape area, your movement through the space is slowed down. None of us can deny that one public art work can have a great effect on view- ers. They gather up around it, take photos of themselves with it, or debate the underlying message behind it. Public art works attract people and lead to an interesting controversial


Figure 3. Water Fire public art event, Providence, USA.


Figure 4. Rainbow, Culver city, California.

talk. Public art could be provocative and joyous. However, it could also be annoying. It does not matter what feelings and emotions it raises up; an art is a sudden stop in pedestrian life. For this case, artist Tony Tassel has restored the urban and social landscape experience of Culver city, California through his creative public contemporary art work of a 94-foot rain- bow (Figure 4). Many visitors now are welcomed, to be excited and socialised with each other around a wide neighbourhood area watching that unique kind of art. Actually, the rainbow is showable from miles around that people could believe that it is real!! Back then, during the rainbow’s first inauguration ceremony, the visitors and the community residents were feeling

dizzy and talking about how it has really changed the image of their city (Andrew, 2012).

Eventually, where the art work hits the ground, an exciting conversation starts between the people and the landscape.


Throughout time since the ancient ages to the modern history and then by now, the correla- tion between art and architecture is deemed to be as an inseparable symbiotic relationship. The aesthetic norms of art have been always engaged with the synthesis of architecture to produce a very successful product of the two in any specific field. However, public art is seen to be unappreciated much like landscape architecture is. But then, by now, great efforts have been made to indicate the role that landscape architects play in helping public art work.

In this instance, there are many good examples of the combination between artists and landscape architects to make a difference. Janet Echelman the famous sculptor and artist who graduated from Harvard University and was named an Architectural Digest Innovator in 2012 for changing the very essence of urban spaces (Echelman, 2016), always says that the landscape architect can play a leadership role in innovating a space for her art work. She is always the person who is charge. Echelman Studio explores the cutting edge of sculpture, public art, and urban revitalization.

The design team usually collaborates with creative architects, landscape architects, mechan- ical engineers and lighting designers. Furthermore, their design often focuses on creating a large scale public art work of contemporary sculpture. These sculptures embody collective identity and attract residents to form a personal and dynamic relationship with the art and

place. In the Vancouver Project, Canada, Janet Echelman said that Phillips Smallenberg, the seasoned landscape architect was the leader of her work. He designed a creative landscape architecture product for the Vancouver convention centre, which is covered with a Six-Acre green roof to make a lovely space for her art work. Echelman and Smallenberg collaborated and integrated the art ideas and the design concepts into the landscape. Especially in that project, Smallenberg redesigned the idea several times to adjust the water garden so that Echelman’s art work became remediating.

Art critic Mary Louise Schumacher describes this project as in ‘A social space that is simul- taneously physical and virtual’. Many visitors came from all over Canada to see that huge and magnificent art work and engaged with each other in the surrounding space around (Figure 5). Since that time, the Vancouver convention centre has held annual public art events to please their visitors and raise the prosperity of the city.

Another exciting combination between public art and landscape architecture has begun with Echelman and Weiler to produce a contemporary project in Dilworth Plaza, Philadel- phia (Figure 6). The both qualified artist and architect have added to the detailed work of the city hall’s historic architecture with a creative virtual Rothko painting in the landscape area. The art work innovates with layers of coloured light moving in water mist, that physically and psychologically lead the people on a path through the underground lines below and traces them above the ground in real time (Harris, 2012).

Enthusiastically, Egypt is on the track. More and more new communities now believe in public art annual and seasonal events in their public spaces, to attract people to connect and socialise. It is clear findings, that events play an important role to promote the economic development and the human well-being for these communities. In addition to, they help to draw up the evidence of how public art could be a great element in place making and contrib- ute well to landscape design and urban restoration.

In this instance, Sodic Residences, one of the greatest real estate companies in Egypt, has a missioned to that offering a variety of open spaces, overlooking green open areas and recreation plazas as the best way to sell a liveable community and a sustainable and main- tain neighbourhood (Sodic website). According to their mission, the Sodic design team has created West Town Hub Project in one of their successful communities, Sodic West, Cairo- Alexandria desert road, to be a place where people can share and cooperate (Figure 7).

In the beginning, the project suffered a lot to make a foot print on the way to success, because it would depend only on the architecture landscape elements of recreation centres such as res- taurants, cafes, market places, plazas, and outdoor areas. However, it has achieved a great boon after involving public art performances and events to these ingredient landscape areas.


Figure 5. Jelly Fish, Vancouver Centre, Canada.


Figure 6. Contemporary public art in Dilworth, Philadelphia.


Figure 7. West Town Hub, Sodic West, Egypt.

In that way, West Town Hub became the famous place that always opens a room for the individuals and institutions of art, to produce their innovative ideas in contemporary art with a lovely environment for residents and visitors.


The information drawn from the study indicated that people gravitate towards other people. Besides the proof that public spaces are the places which can best provide them a healthy and happy community to interact with each other, these spaces are the life-blood of a successful society and they have become an essential component of any community.

Urban designers, landscape architects, and city planners have been devoted more on creat- ing social spaces that encourage residents to interact and find common interests. Moreover, enormous efforts have been made to develop these public spaces in order to improve the com- munity civic participation and healthy living.

As another way to promote the social connections in public spaces, new cities, stakehold- ers, planners, and organisers recognise that public art, along with landscape architecture, is one of the crucial tools the community can use to build strong meaningful interaction between people and places.

Through the development of creative community design, seasoned artists are commis- sioned to innovate interesting products of public art works that are helping to enhance the scene of the place and shape the city.

In this respect, the study has discussed many examples of public places in various com- munities which depend on public art work to attract lots of visitors and help residents to connect and socialise in open spaces. Meanwhile, these art works contribute to raise up the civic participation and urban revitalisation in those communities.

Therefore, it is obvious to suggest the involvement of public art work with the landscape design of public spaces to promote the social interaction between people. This paper can pro- voke an interesting question about the correlation between art and architecture to enhance the collective identity of the creative community.


Through the investment and the development of successful community, public art can con- tribute to urban planning and landscape design to create a serene environment where people can make a social interaction. That increases the community attachment which engages peo- ple with their place.

Today, many new communities have recognised that involving public art in master plans increases the opportunities to build a creative society. Public art is ideally matched and attuned to its social and environmental context.

Public art investment and integration can assist in overcoming of economic, and physical challenges by increasing the social interaction in public space. The relationship between the economic health of a community and the quality of its connection has been increasingly strengthened.

This paper has concluded that public space has become one of the main ingredients in any successful community. It is the place where the community residents actually live and attach to their community. As well as this, public art has been considered nowadays as one of these ingredients needed to create a liveable community from which it draws its identity. Further- more, public art administrators and cultural planners are being tapped to collaborate with urban planners and landscape architects in designing innovative public places which encour- age the community residents to socialise and connect.


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