When I was given the opportunity to write a blog post about work and life balance as a new parent, I asked myself if I was even qualified… With an intensely engaged partner, I haven’t done this alone. Furthermore, does anyone really have it figured out, parent or not? The opportunity brought in to question the polarity of home life and work life; with the complexity of our interests, and contemporary life in general, does this diametric mode really represent my experience? Is the 40 hour work week model really even relevant? I ask this not as a proponent of its elimination, but instead, in recognition of an emerging, more complex way of living, one in which we partake in multiple fulfilling tasks/ hobbies/ recreational activities, any of which might involve some form of exchange. While I may not have developed a panacea for balancing work and life, I am certain that society is changing in favor of a less discrete separation between "On" time and "Off" time, both in the evolution of the culture of the workplace, as well as the activities that we do for our own personal wellbeing. My experience is that both are more fulfilling when they lean toward “On”. With the boundaries of our leisure / work activities becoming blurred, there is a greater demand for infrastructure that might facilitate this more vigorous life approach.As an architect, the intersection of this cultural change and the built world is where I can offer my perspective.
I love living in a city. I am constantly hearing, seeing, and engaging the individuals whose lives create the pulse of this great city. When my husband and I first found out that we were expecting, our initial impulse to buy real estate led us further and further away from the center of the city. We decided to stay in our rented apartment because being in the city brings a sense of dynamism, curiosity, and yes, balance to our lives. As new parents, our lives are easier with infrastructure- within minutes of our apartment we have networks of great neighbors, responsible childcare, a library, museums, and multiple playgrounds and parks. I rely heavily upon local civic amenities as destinations that activate my child’s mind, expand his view of the world, cultivate a sense of wonder, and provide us with a basic complexity that encourages our activities to extend beyond the dwelling and into the realm of local society.
With that said, I can’t help but find myself underwhelmed by the level of sophistication of the design of these structures that play such a key role in the sustainability of family life in our city. With such high levels of discourse in our academic and professional institutions, it is disappointing that the designs of these spaces haven’t developed a similar level of cultivation, at a minimum, by articulating the layers of use that support the more nuanced demands placed on this infrastructure by our adaptive, advancement oriented society. These are the environments that support our generation and cultivate the next, and they should offer a place that progresses society’s interests, not default to the traditional, the conventional, and the mundane. They ought to nourish the imagination and instill a sense of civic pride that follows our youth through their adulthood and encourages them to reinvest in our city.
Take New York City’s Highline (by James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and planting designer Piet Oudolf) and Sao Paulo’s SESC Pompeia (by Lina Bo Bardi) as examples: these multi-layered infrastructures are a convenient destination embedded in the center of the urban fabric, designed to accommodate a variety of interests both planned and impromptu, including athletics, educational activities, public theater and the arts, food venues, socialization, and pure lounging, among others. Both projects carefully articulate the interaction between different demographics at varying times of the day, with planned venues for children of varying ages, adults, elderly, homeless, tourists, and even pets. The SESC organization goes even further in its commitment to the community. They address the long-term viability of the project by offering organized programs that respond to the changing needs and interests of the users, including art classes, gardening, music events, and farmers markets. For parents, these places provide a destination for simultaneously engaging their children as well as their peers; offering a greater balance of family time and personal development. These progressive design solutions opened new possibilities for vital, culturally-rich lifestyles for their entire community, and in turn have cultivated a reciprocal sense of ownership, pride, and commitment by their users.
In San Francisco, we should understand the need for forward leaning design in our facilities and call for more intensive solutions. These are the places that hold the potential for a balanced vital urban lifestyle, for our generation and the next. I believe as parents and citizens, we should feel empowered to press for better infrastructure, infrastructure that we can Lean "On".
To see Dominique Price's work, visit Gensler's website.
To find out more about Equity by Design, click here.
And if you haven't yet, watch our Hangout on Air: Knowing Our Worth As Architects. We discussed how architects can embrace their value and increase financial success with Rosa Sheng, Mark R. LePage and Anne Fougeron.
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