What is Placemaking?

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180309_KennedyCtr_RFP-INTERVIEW_FINAL-180316-OFFICE-TALK 41crop · What is Placemaking?
Scott Demel
01 Nov 2018 News, Research, All

Earlier in 2018, Marvel Architects participated in an open competition for the redesign of the public spaces within and surrounding the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.  During that time, the office immersed itself in all things related to John F. Kennedy, the performing arts, and ideas about the use and activation of public spaces and amenities in our cities.

We built a team, developed a lucid landscape and architectural proposal with our collaborating design and engineering consultants and were selected for the shortlist to further develop and present our ideas to the Kennedy Center committee.  In total, the Marvel Architects office committed about 800 staff hours to the process.


Afterwards, we returned to New York City and continued work upon ongoing projects and waited for a decision about a final selection for the competition.  A few weeks later, we learned that our team was not chosen – always bitter news to hear after such an intense design and coordination effort.

One of the requirements for the team’s composition was to include a placemaker as one of the designers.  Admittedly, we were a little confused by the requirement.  What is a “placemaker”?  Isn’t that exactly what architects do…. make places?  Or was the request to include a placemaker something more broad, or more specific?  Admittedly, we didn’t know the answer.  And when the Kennedy Center committee was asked, they didn’t really know, either – though they thought it was important enough to include as an established role.


The placemaker role caused us to fundamentally ponder what we’d been doing all these years:

  • Had our role as architects and designers changed in some way?
  • Or, was what we were doing in the creation of buildings misunderstood? 
  • Had our work approach been unknowingly missing some of the goals of the clients and users of our building designs? 
  • Or were we missing opportunities all together, and what does that mean for the way we work as architects? 


This triggered some further thoughts and we aimed to find out where we needed to be in the practice of architecture.

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