Thomas Dolan interview
Building Live-Work, Building Community: An interview with Architect Thomas Dolan
Note: This interview by Pam Strayer was conducted in response to the successful community building already evident in the first few years of occupation of South Prescott Village (designed by Thomas Dolan Architecture), the first new construction courtyard live-work community built in the United States since the Great Depression.
Q: Many multi-family and multi-unit live-work buildings are designed with little attention to the possibility that they can facilitate community; what is your alternative to this?
A: Creating spaces in which casual, informal interaction between live-work residents occurs naturally is the most important element in encouraging a sense of community. The nature of those spaces can make the difference between an alienating structure and a fully functioning community. The entry situation—that transition between the moment one enters the complex and the time one closes one’s own door—determines whether one feels a part of something larger, something greater than one’s private, insular, often isolated life. This brief passage, however fleeting, offers the opportunity for interaction, the chance for communication with other residents. This, then, is the starting point of community.
- Formal visiting requires a definite intention on the part of the visitor, to which the response may be: “Come in,” “Go away,” or “Come back another time.”
- Meeting at a common destination requires a definite, purposeful intention to go to that common destination (laundry room, garden, pool, spa, etc.) on the part of two (or more) individuals who meet there. The actual meetings are usually spontaneous and casual.
- Crossing paths are meetings that though never planned, are the result of normal day-to-day comings and goings. Crossing paths leads to interactions that become more or less regular, thereby contributing to a sense of familiarity and even safety.
In my experience, the third kind of interaction works best at creating, at a comfortable pace, a sense of familiarity and the kinds of growing acquaintances that lead to a natural, voluntary sense of community.
Something seems to be working here, something new, and something old: a post-industrial form of socialization, perhaps, or the simple pleasure of meeting at the village well. Those who carry on the activities of both working and living in the same place do more fully inhabit that place: It will ever be thus. People fully inhabiting a place means a greater caring for that place and for the other people with whom they share it. This may be the great lesson of live-work communities: the rediscovery of the power of fully inhabiting a place, of the well-being that results from it, and of relating to the surrounding community as a community.