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Games We Play, courtesy of John Sturrock
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In a bid to get the world back up and running, cultural institutions, urban planners and even schools are reimagining their spaces to take advantage of the great outdoors.

Culture unbound

At the end of July, Kings Cross in London saw the opening of ‘Games We Play,’ the first exhibition from The Outside Art Project, a permanent outdoor gallery. The 26-acre space is made up of 15 movable displays featuring the work of acclaimed photographers and visual artists with benches and seating available throughout. In the future, they plan to collaborate with cultural organizations across the UK and other countries to host a rotating roster of exhibitions and events.

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WEB Weronika Gȩsicka Untitled 16 c Weronika Gȩsicka Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers Gallery
Games We Play, courtesy of John Sturrock (top) and Weronika Gȩsicka (bottom)
WEB Weronika Gȩsicka Untitled 56 c Weronika Gȩsicka Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers Gallery

A similar initiative is taking place in New York to encourage citizens to engage with art again in a safe way. Created by NYC & Company, ‘All in NYC: Public Art Edition’ is a list of outdoor exhibitions and public art displays that can be viewed throughout the five boroughs, with the involvement of 30 art institutions in just phase 1. Also prioritizing open-air space in New York is the Public Library’s new branch, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, which reopened in mid-July after 3 years of renovation. The new design includes a free public rooftop space, billed as the first for the city.

Urban terrains

Urban plans are also getting a fresh-air-friendly facelift. San Francisco’s Economic Recovery Task Force has introduced a new program allowing businesses to operate in parts of outdoor public spaces. For restaurants and shops, this means the option to expand onto sidewalks and market squares, permitted they keep streets clear so people can move around. Berlin’s once thriving night life is also turning to public space as tool for revival. Local authorities are said to be exploring the idea of turning the city’s large outdoor spaces into open-air venues for clubs and bars to rent.

In Liverpool, engineering firm Arup is supporting restaurants in reopening with their program Liverpool Without Walls. Designed alongside Meristem Design and the city council, the program is built around adaptable modular units which can be slotted together to provide new seating areas for public spaces. The units, dubbed ‘hybrid street furniture’ by Arup, feature plants and Perspex screens in the centre to keep appropriate spacing between people.

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Studio Stefano Boeri Architetti
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Back in May, Italian Studio Stefano Boeri Architetti and SON-Group partnered together to design a new urban plan for a COVID-resilient living district in Albania. The design imagines a space big enough for 12,000 residents close to the Tirana river. The walkable neighborhood prioritizes exercise and the outdoors, with extensive roof gardens and smart technologies to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Open-air education

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Curl la Tourelle Head

With governments around the world desperate to get students back into education, schools and colleges are exploring new ways of teaching outside. London Architecture firm Curl la Tourelle Head have designed tent-like structures for teaching outdoors. The idea sees a series of pop-up tents, marquees and portable bathroom facilities arranged to follow the two-metre social distancing rule. Georgetown College campus is opting for a similar model by building open-air teaching spaces to encourage outdoor learning.

In Kashmir, one school is taking students away from a campus altogether and straight into nature. Every day, the class walk past waterways and through forests to get to their new classroom – a spot of green open space beneath the Himalayas. The move is part of the Doodpathri school’s attempt to get youngsters back into a learning environment after months in lockdown.

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Curl la Tourelle Head
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Although the world may be a far way away from the “normal” we once recognized, adaptations like these highlight how design and creativity can play a crucial role in getting businesses and economies back on track, pointing to a new future with safety and outdoor space at its heart.

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