Op-Ed: The built environment — creating a sense of identity and place

Op-Ed: The built environment — creating a sense of identity and place

By Royann Dean

The design of the built environment creates a sense of identity and place. Moreover, it informs how we behave in a space and interact with each other.

When one thinks about a city’s sense of cultural identity, architectural design is a part of what shapes that identity. Would New York have the same allure without the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and other skyscrapers? There is a definite sense of place which is created as a result of this architecture.

One often takes this for granted as we drive through the main roads and tight corners of Nassau. But it is the style of these old buildings which give the city its charm and foster a sense of Nassuvian identity.

That’s not to say that architecture should not be modernized, but the fact that we don’t pay much attention to preserving our historical buildings is disturbing. It’s a sad barometer of the significance that we place on preserving our culture.

One can reasonably argue that some of our modern buildings do not approach architectural design at the same level of detail as traditional buildings, resulting in structures that have no discernable design aesthetic. This is often a palpable source of frustration for local architects who find themselves having to meet the demands of clients who are either limited by resources or do not understand the value that design can add.

Royann Dean.

Understanding the value of proper design in the built environment leads to the involvement of urban design and the creation and development of public spaces. We have become accustomed to the government or the developing entity creating spaces without designing it to serve the community or fit its needs.

One must ask why these planners didn’t use examples of great public spaces. When considering all of these issues, one cannot help but understand the plight of architects and designers of public spaces in The Bahamas. There are clients who do not understand design and on the other hand, there is a government that counts among its ranks politicians who are apparently blissfully unaware or unconcerned about the real value of incorporating good design in public spaces.

Ultimately, as consumers, we can make the difference in how design is used. Unless concerned members of the public and design industry professionals lobby for change, nothing will happen. If our passion and knowledge can be expressed in numbers, maybe something will. In the meantime, there’s a lot of work to do.

Royann Dean is the managing director of ONWRD Advisors, a digital solutions, communications and design agency in Nassau. Find out more at www.onwrdtogether.com. Follow her on LinkedIn @RoyannDean.