On the Bookshelf
Architect and Fulbright scholar captures meaning of public places
By Carolyn Gonzales
UNM Press, 2004
by Mark Childs
Mark Childs, assistant professor and director of the Design and Planning Assistance Center in the School of Architecture and Planning, reminds us of what we’ve lost in our civic centers and some ways to recapture the conviviality that exists when people casually encounter one another in public places.
Childs’ book, “Squares,” (UNM Press, 2004), begins with a history lesson on town design. A brief look at Spanish plazas, English city squares and circles, Native American central places and other locales, as well as a quick language lesson on terms used to describe a “civic room” prepare the reader to understand the significance of such meeting places to residents and visitors.
Childs contends that public places that beat to the rhythm of the village or city can be the old town square or the swimming pool, the playground or the post office, just about anywhere that people feel comfortable engaging in conversation, watching people go by, reading a book or becoming part of the landscape.
Childs wants to see communities strengthened through the planning of a civic place. He takes into account the design implications of vehicles, electronic media, structures, public safety, public art and the natural environment.
Just as cities and towns in warm climates need to create places to escape the heat, cities in cold climates must make accommodations, as well. Designers, planners, students and developers will make use of Childs’ bioclimatic chart explaining comfort zones with sun, wind, humidity and evaporation. The rest of us will get the idea when reading how the University of Alaska campus builds an ice wall in winter to shield the campus from winds. In the summer, the wall disappears to allow the flow of summer breezes.
Childs, a registered architect in New Mexico and Washington, is also the author of “Parking Places,” (McGraw Hill, 1999). The architecture program’s first Fulbright scholar, he is spending the spring semester in Cyprus, in consultation with the University of Cyprus on the development of their new architecture department and to conduct research on public spaces.