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Community Engagement

A building project is far more than pieces and parts that define spaces.

Projects reflect the goals and aspirations of the communities they serve.

Schmidt Associates views community engagement as an essential part of our strategic, data-based planning, giving Owners information to evaluate viable options and make good decisions. We take a proactive role in planning for public meetings that inform, gather feedback, and incorporate public input to achieve a relevant facility solution that the public can support.

In order to understand what is truly important in the eyes of the end user, we like to become part of the “fabric of the community” by gathering input directly from community members and project stakeholders throughout our process. Here are a handful of community engagement tactics we typically use:

Community Workshops

The target audience for these workshops are neighboring businesses, residents, the end users, students and parents, property and business owners, others who visit and work within the area, etc.

These workshops can range from presentations with Q&A, to an open-ended SWOT analysis, to interactive display boards where people can vote on the types of spaces, furniture, aesthetics, etc. they like the best. Depending on the scope of the project, these could be hour-long sessions, last a few hours, or be an open-house where attendees can interact and ask questions for as long as they need.

We want to hear from as many community members as possible, which can be hard to do. Some tactics we utilize to ensure these workshops are as convenient as possible are:

  • Setting up a variety of time slots, across several days, held in various locations—in the evening after the school day, Saturday morning with coffee and donuts, on a Sunday after church services, etc. It all depends on each unique community and type of project.
  • Providing childcare options, if children aren’t an integrated part of the workshop process. For example, we can meet with community members at a school with child-friendly activities held in the gym under the supervision of adults.
  • Offering a variety of input methods—like notecards, email, and limited access blogs—to ensure the quiet voices are heard and allow 24/7 access to the conversation.

Community Engagement - Community Workshops

Stakeholder Meetings

This is where we gather key targeted stakeholders and leadership in a casual environment to build interest and allow their influence on the project. We quickly share the community workshop findings and offer a brainstorming session to continue building ideas and support for the project. Our team then creates a deliverable that can be posted to a website and distributed to the community, stakeholders, and other interest groups.

The targeted attendees typically include property and business owners, developers, and neighborhood and city representatives. We take similar approaches to making these meetings as convenient for the stakeholders as we did with the community workshops. As the planning process moves forward, we often will reconnect with these stakeholders to communicate any findings, recommendations, and intent of the results.

Community Engagement - Stakeholders

Community Empowerment

The plan for any project must be intentional and community-driven so stakeholders will feel a sense of ownership. To create community empowerment, we have found that allowing physical, deliberate interaction with the space is essential. Together, we will visit the physical space and brainstorm ideas on-site, allowing the realities of the space to influence decision making.

Another approach we often take is to attend community, city council, or PTO meetings.

Community Engagement - Community Empowerment

Project Blogs

Along with our physical approach to community engagement, we also leverage technology to bring it all together. We have successfully used a blog on projects to have a way for the community, stakeholders, and Owners to see the progress and to offer input. This is a controlled way to manage feedback and disperse current information, as determined by the project’s leadership team. Each blog features a “Make a Comment” button which sends comments as emails to Schmidt Associates. This way, we can receive comments, review with the Owner, and post appropriate responses.

We have used a link to our website to post the ongoing status of the project—from planning through construction—to keep the public involved and informed throughout the process.

Community Engagement - Project Blogs

Ultimately, only community projects built on community input can maximize their influence and create shared ownership and investment. If you have questions about our community engagement process or want to learn more about how we can help you with your next project – reach out!

Six Biophilic Design Tactics

“Biophilia is the humankind’s innate biological connection with nature. It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and heights instill fascination and fear; and why animal companionship and strolling through a park have restorative, healing effects.”

Terrapin Bright Green

What Biophilic Design?

Biophilic design is the broad application of connections with natural environments, elements, and patterns. It can be viewed as the relationship of science, nature, and the built environment combined. Humans impact nature as much as nature impacts humans. This isn’t exactly a new concept – people always have and always will associate closely with the natural world, even when we are inside a building during most of the day. But we are coming up with new ways to talk about it, think about what it means, and apply the findings to design.

Why does it matter?

There are two main factors that drive the need for biophilic design:

  1. We spend about 90% of our time indoors
  2. Urbanization: increase in buildings and decrease of green spaces

As designers, we are tasked with bringing some of those natural elements back to human lives. The benefits to biophilic design elements are mutually beneficial to the end users and to the business’ bottom line. Backed by research, these basic benefits include:

  • Improves mood, physical and mental health, and cognitive function
  • Reduces stress levels
  • Increases productivity, performance, engagement, and creativity
  • Advances the natural healing process

How do we do it?

First off, as designers, we listen to our Owners to gather insight on their needs and priorities for their end users. Then we determine what is possible in terms of biophilic design and how it will benefit the end user and Owner. In the design process, we strive to find the sweet spot between quality and quantity within the space – ensuring we don’t over saturate. A school will have obviously different requirements and needs than an office building, but the basic design tactics are the same:

  1. Natural Daylight

Introduce natural daylighting into buildings to the greatest extent possible for maximum benefit, but do so in a controlled and responsive manner. Proper building orientation means maximizing southern and northern exposures and minimizing east and west exposures. Worried about the energy costs of having a wall full of windows? Don’t worry, this is where engineers come in and help design with tools for energy savings. Exterior shading devices, elements that push daylight deeper into the building, and proper interior window treatments can be incorporated.

Biomorphic - natural daylight

  1. Fabrics, finishes, and lighting

Choosing fabric colors, textures, and patterns that occur naturally in the environment around them is a simple way to provide connection to the outdoors. Using palm tree patterns, nautical textures, and beachy colors may not be the best choice for a building in Indiana – it would be best to incorporate something more authentic to the geology of a specific place. This can be wood planks, limestone features, and a neutral color palette.

As for lighting, try to include technology that allows users to mimic the lighting outdoors. For example, include dimmers so lights can be slightly lowered as the sun goes down. Shadows within the space will mimic what is happening outside this way as well.

Biomorphic - finishes

  1. Real plants and water features

Make sure not to forget large and small plants when planning interior design elements. Naturally weaving organic materials into a design helps to give an authentic and cool vibe. Other than being aesthetically pleasing, natural plants also help improve indoor air quality.

It is important to consider what windows face outside – plants and/or water features should be placed strategically outdoors as well. The benefits to biophilic design will be heighted when the user is looking at big trees, colorful flowers, or peaceful water fountains even when the users are still indoors. A courtyard area (inside of out) with a water feature and plants creates a calm refuge area from the busy day.

Biomorphic - plants and water features

  1. Give them a view

Like we mentioned above, give a visual connection to nature and let plenty of natural light in. Panoramic views, or large windows positioned next to common or lounge areas give users a chance to have a moment to practice mindfulness, a good breather from the busy day. Plan office layouts that position desks to face windows.

If designing for an exterior courtyard, arrange an indoor seating area around those windows so people can still peer out at the activity even when they can’t join. Providing movement within users’ line of sight will give them a visual break they need to stay focused.

Biophilic - give them a view

  1. Biomorphic design elements

This means integrating naturally occurring shapes, forms, or patterns suggestive of nature and living things into the design of the built environment. This can be merged into the previous point (fabrics, treatments, and finishes) and/or through the building’s structural and ornamental design. Apply biomorphic design elements to two or three surfaces, too much could cause a negative reaction for users.

Biomorphic patterns

  1. Artwork

If there is little opportunity to give users a full view of the outdoors or to incorporate organic materials, murals of a landscape scene can serve as a good alternative. On a smaller scale, paintings or sculptures are nice touches to add to a space that provides a good view of the outdoors.

Biomorphic - artwork

 

There will always be restrictions – budget, priorities, safety, or available square footage – on how grand the biophilic design gestures can be. But even the smallest touches can create a big overall impact on users. If you can’t do a huge wall of windows or provide a jungle-like courtyard, sprinkling biophilic design elements sparingly in common spaces and high-traffic areas can still have a significant impact on users. So take a short (or long) break and find a way to immerse yourself in nature to improve your day and health!

Multipurpose Facilities (MPF’s)

Multipurpose Facilities (MPF’s) exist in many forms. As we consider the transformation of existing facilities into part-time athletic venues – ad hoc “field houses” – a plethora of sports can reasonably be considered. Indoor track and field, cheerleading, dance, and gymnastics, indoor soccer, baseball batting cages, tennis, and competition court activities (e.g. volleyball, basketball, and handball) should all be considered.

While each sport has its own unique requirements, there are 4 critical considerations shared by all:

1. Dimensions

  • Column Grid
  • Structural Height

2. Materials

  • Flooring

3. Lighting

  • Natural
  • Artificial

4. Amenities/Support

  • Restrooms/Locker Rooms
  • Food/Vending/Ticketing
  • Spectator Viewing
  • Parking

Multipurpose Facilities graphic

 

Dimensions

The structural grid, both layout and height, is the primary driver of sport appropriateness in existing facilities. Strictly governed court sizes, including overrun areas and required clearances, will likely determine both how many and what kind of courts can fit into any given building efficiently.

Material

Most purpose-built Multipurpose Facilities have multiple courts with a mix of both wood and synthetic floors. Wood floors are more preferred for sports like basketball and volleyball while synthetic floors are best for activities such as baseball, tennis, or even flag core. Soccer players, on the other hand, prefer natural grass, with turf as a distant second best. In an existing facility that will be a “sometimes” sporting venue, the selected sport will determine the surface. Whatever surface(s) is(are) selected, each appropriate surface needs to be easy to install in a foolproof fashion – so athletes are not injured. In addition, storage for each surface must be accommodated.

Light

Competitive sports all require consistent high-quality lighting, ideally with no glare, shadow, or hot spots. To that end, while natural light makes things nicer for spectators, it is often highly problematic to athletes. Solar studies of existing buildings can help discover lighting trouble spots.

Amenities/Support

Storage and some form of changing space or locker rooms is a necessary component of a successful MPF for the athletes. In addition, accommodations for spectators and the public is critical. This starts with parking, a ticketed entry, and some form of lobby space. Easy access to restrooms and concessions becomes almost as important as spectator viewing areas.

 

Ultimately, most large event facilities are capable of supporting athletics. Evaluation using the critical considerations above, can help determine what fits easily and what may require more extensive and expensive modifications. Of note, considerations for new facilities are very similar to those above, however they have the benefit of preplanning. With a new facility, flexibility can be enhanced by being purpose-built to accommodate the desired athletic functions from day one.

Creative Aquatic Center Design

Parks & Rec Business

Features Prophetstown State Park Aquatic Center

July 2018

“State parks have a larger economic impact than most people realize. Parks help increase tourism, motivate businesses for relocation and expansion, invest in environmental protection, and improve physical and mental health…”

read full article

Give it a Shot

Did you know Schmidt Associates has developed an expertise in the niche field of outdoor Shooting Ranges? With about 55 million Americans owning a gun, the need for safe and secure ranges has increased. Flip through our Issuu publication on shooting ranges, and learn about best design practices on these projects: