Top 10 Square Fails

National Mall and Union Square; credit: Rendering produced by: Methanoia

What defines a good public space? Human scale features at eye level, a variety of options, activity, choice, interest, accessibility and a link to context, amongst other things. The previous articles such as Top 10 Urban Plazas and Top 10 Squares of the World have focused on public spaces that have hold these elements. Yet, sometimes, despite good intentions, it can go very, horribly, wrong. Read on but be prepared to shake your head in dismay at some… 10. Pershing Square, Los Angeles, USA Despite the admirable use of colour to convey spontaneity and fun, Pershing Square is a fail.  The tell-tale sign is that no one actually uses the square, despite ample transport links and surrounding offices. Unavoidably the square represents the negative aspects and consequential downfall of the postmodern era – big, brash and now, very empty. 9. Cultural Centre, Hong Kong, China As one of the very few pedestrian spaces along the waterfront in Hong Kong, this plaza comes as a huge, abrupt disappointment. First of all, it’s blocked by a megalith of a plain façade from the city, and then laid out in an awkward manner; the potential of this space is not being utilized at all. 8. Viger Square, Montreal, Canada The brutalist architecture in the middle of this square is extremely uninviting – accept if you are a vagabond. Viger Square has come to be hated by locals for its aesthetics and now attracts a negative aura due to its new role as a hangout for homeless people. 7. Filadores Square, Girona, Spain The square is supposed to be divided into 3 parts for varying uses; an esplanade for concerts and events, a viewing station and a parking area. The harsh colours and materials in conjunction with a space devoid of any interest, comfortable seating or trees, make for a square that is about as bleak and barren as you can get.  Thankfully the existing countryside is beautiful or else there would be very little to celebrate in this spot. 6. Millenium Square, Leeds, UK Although people will say this is a space that works well for different events throughout the year – from concerts to German Markets – ultimately Millennium Square is a disaster. What about when there are no events? A huge space with no use except as an awkwardly sloping thoroughfare. What is worse is that it is a huge stone blimp in a city devoid of good quality central green space. 5. Praça dos Três Poderes, Brasilia, Brazil Such an icon has Brasilia become that it’s almost tempting to ignore it in in this list. Yet, when we really get down to it, Brasilia was a huge failing. The real citizens lived in the suburbs where the space was a more human scale and more navigable, not in Brasilia which was once described as “the back side of the moon.” 4. Place de la Concorde, Paris, France One of the most beautiful cities in the world and one of its major squares, en route to the Louvre…has the sole purpose of moving traffic around the city; or so it seems. Vast and open, this is a maze of cars and busses. 3. City Hall Plaza, Boston, USA City Hall Plaza is often held up as one of the worst squares in the world because it is paradigmatic of a square with no feeling and little do to with its context. This alienating plaza has no real connection with its city. The buildings are bleak, changes in fall are awkward and there are no views outwards and little connectivity to the area despite subway stops nearby. 2. Empire State Plaza, New York, USA Often held up as the prime example of architecture at its photogenic best – but little else, the Empire State Plaza in Albany is soulless in its detachment to man.  Modernist Babel-like towers rise out of a blank white carpet and yet, there is no life on the ground and certainly no provision for it. 1. East Exit, Station Square, Kumamoto, Japan Whilst the streets in the sky concept is in some cases still popular (i.e The High Line), this example harks back to the misplaced utopian aims of the High Tech era which saw pedestrians reduced to second class citizens below cars. There is a pavilion – a thin structure – that apparently allows pedestrians to find ease in the complex and allows for panoramic views across the space. Of what you may ask? Traffic jams? A complete tragedy in terms of public space – because there is none. Yet it is not all despair, read some of our previous articles to feel better about truly great public spaces and don’t forget to watch out for our next article that will surely reinstate your faith in designers and public space: Top Ten Squares for Detailing!

Article by Sonia Jackett.

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