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June 22, 2023

Working with Developers to Intentionally Build and Support Culture


There’s a lot that goes into building a building. There’s drafting the architectural drawings, procuring the materials, choosing the paint colours and fixtures, and a million other steps in the physical development of a piece of construction. And then there’s all the unseen work that needs to happen, too. The permits, the certificates, and most importantly—ensuring the proper steps are taken to ensure a development will be able to support and foster culture.

For anyone who’s ever built a structure of any kind, that last one might not have been on your “how-to build a condo” checklist. But savvy developers are starting to understand that you can have an award-winning design, use the finest materials available, have a stellar marketing campaign ready to launch, but if the building can’t support the culture of the neighbourhood and its residents? It might as well be built from sand.

What is culture?

Culture is one of those elusive and intangible things—it can be difficult to pinpoint examples of its presence, but you can definitely feel its absence. I like to think of culture as belonging and connection—whether that’s through identifying as being part of a certain group or a shared set of values and touchpoints that brings individuals together in a common frame of reference. Culture is often expressed through art, music, literature, or other forms of creative output. It can be customs and behaviour. It can be based on history, heritage, and common experiences. Often, it is a combination of all of those things together. And chances are, when you think of a development, you don’t necessarily equate it with being and active part of culture. 

NYC, Lower East Side 2023

But culture exists within physical spaces. It's on the streets, in neighbourhoods, cities, countries, regions, etc. To ensure it can continue to grow and thrive, our built world needs to make sure the right conditions exist for culture to be present. 

That being said, just because you might know the ‘ingredients’ required to create culture, recreating it is not like baking a cake. You can’t simply follow a set of instructions and expect to get a consistent result. Creating the right conditions for culture to exist and thrive is different for every development, neighbourhood, and city.

At Junction Co., we help our clients understand and define what conditions are needed to ensure culture is every bit a part of a development as nails and concrete. 

Building for Culture

But having a vision is only one piece of the puzzle. Ensuring the vision is properly executed is equally important. This starts with total buy-in from key stakeholders. The architects, interior design teams, marketers, builders, etc. must all be aligned and understand how to execute their portion of the project, otherwise, the whole thing starts to fall apart. And that’s just the project team. The vision also needs to be considerate of the neighbourhood itself and the current and future residents who will be occupying the space. 

Let me give you an example. My home city of Vancouver is filled with numerous condo developments that while beautiful, are completely and utterly devoid of culture. Sure, the fixtures might be beautiful or the design cutting edge, but they weren’t built with culture in mind. The best way to demonstrate this, in my mind, is by spending time on the ground level of these developments. If you take a walk around the space just feels dead. It’s lacking vibrancy and a heartbeat. In short, it’s lacking culture. This is because of a few key factors.

First, though many of the buildings have ground-floor retail space, the retail isn’t programmed to cater to the needs of the neighbourhood and its residents. If the shops aren’t set up to serve the needs of the community, there won’t be foot traffic and the streets become empty or just a place to pass through quickly. Second, many of these developments lack foliage, seating areas, or even adequate lighting. By making the spaces feel unappealing to linger, it also creates a feeling of the space being unsafe. Deep down we’re still programmed and at the whim of our instincts. And when we see an empty space, somewhere in our animal brain, that signals ‘danger’ or ‘beware’. By contrast, when we see others occupying an area, we unconsciously understand that it must be safe since these other people seem to be hanging around unharmed. 

So, how do developers ‘fix’ this?

Ideally, the area surrounding a development should be convenient and conducive to the needs of a normal life. Retail space should offer basic necessities, restaurants should offer space to linger, outdoor spaces should provide comfortable spaces to get outside, transit should be accessible and integrated, and the list goes on. The best developments are the ones that treat the areas surrounding them with as much care and attention to detail as the space above ground. In other words, though the physical conditions are important, the care and attention to how a place feels is often the missing ingredient. Ultimately, when you walk into a place—whether it’s a condo building, office, shop, etc.—you should be able to feel the culture, rather than having to be told what it is. 

Culture by design

Seoul, South Korea is an example of a city that’s doing a really good job when it comes to building spaces that allow culture to thrive. There are a lot of distinct neighbourhoods within the city. Often, these areas are a combination of old and new buildings with a healthy mixture of condo buildings, businesses, and well-maintained outdoor space. In other words, the neighbourhoods are thoughtfully designed for how people need to live and function in an urban space. The result is that they just feel more comfortable and inviting, which in turn, provides the conditions for culture to exist and thrive. 

When there is a more organic flow between man-made structures and nature, the result is a space that feels more integrated and therefore, more comfortable to spend time in. Even the most urban dweller needs a little bit of nature, just ask anybody who’s ever lived in a high-rise with a dog! Likewise, when a development is designed and built to fit within an existing neighbourhood, it’s a lot more organic and integrated, too. Rather than creating boundaries and walls, developers need to be thinking about integration and fluidity. That’s how we can build cities and neighbourhoods to support a thriving culture both now and in the future. 

Curious to learn more? Connect with us! Always happy to chat.