People make communities unique. Their shared experience, geographical location, and history, together with their diversity, all work together to create an individuality that ultimately differentiates one community from the next.

We travel or study to learn about others, in order to better learn about ourselves. Understanding others opens up our world. It is this uniqueness of community that attracts us – sameness is boring, but the one-of-a-kind captures our attention and imagination. It has fueled travel, tourism, eco-tourism and architourism throughout the years.

Architecture plays a major role in community building, illustrating a community’s history and culture. Architecture reflects the people who inhabit the built environment. Over time it creates a story which can be experienced first-hand.

Architecture of our built environment is the tangible expression of the history and culture of society through time1

Take a look at the main streets of our towns and cities. The historic landmarks that punctuate the important places, that act as icons and place markers to give direction and meaning to the current landscape and to the people who travel those streets.

Take a closer look at the styles of architecture, how style that had meaning may be repeated to create a rhythm along an avenue or throughout a neighbourhood. And how styles changed with the times as well as the issues and societal concerns of the day. They illustrate an evolution.
Some buildings stand the test of time, others have been modified or retrofit allowing for a new purpose within the existing framework of the original structure. Other buildings have been demolished to allow for a new-build—to best address changing needs of the community. Some may integrate elements of an old building or make reference to historical styles and tradition in a new and contemporary way.

On a broader scale think of ‘landmarks’ within the rural environments: towers, bridges, gates, barns, gas stations, restaurants, lodging, religious buildings and community centres. These are the structures that we use to way-find and to allow others to explore our regions with ease.
Reflect on where people like to gather, to meet, to interact; these are the places that have meaning. They are often linked to memories, both historical and personal; they create a bond to our community and hold special meaning to each of us. The built environment that touches our hearts, reminds us of our place within the community. It may instill a sense of pride and encourage us to take an active role in creating a better community for today and for the future.
Architecture allows people to engage or re-engage with their communities.

Consider buildings or neighbourhoods which encouraged collaboration in their design and development. These are often the public buildings in our communities: town halls, libraries, recreation centres, mixed-use developments—where members of the public, the users of the facilities, were integral in the design decision-making process. These projects embody the story of that particular community, at that moment in time, by integrating the objectives and goals of the project from a full spectrum of concern.

The next time you stroll down a street in your neighbourhood, think about which buildings have made lasting and meaningful contributions to your community. And consider their role and importance in telling the story of a place and its people.

Do you want to learn more about architecture and its role in community building?
Check the following reading list and resources:

ARTICLES

How Architecture can bring Communities together
http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/toon-dreessen-/architecture-and-community_b_7236966.html
Community Building
A downtown tower and nearby revitalization plan demonstrate Toronto Community Housing’s commitment to high-quality neighbourhood development.
https://www.canadianarchitect.com/features/community-building/

RESOURCES

Creative City Network of Canada
https://www.creativecity.ca/research-hub/community-building.php

1Stephenson, John. “Our country’s rich diversity is reflected in its architecture.” Globe and Mail 25 June, 2017 Report on Business. Print.

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