Still feeling the glow from “Introducing Gerhardt Fjuck,” and figuring I had dipped too often into the bottomless well of Monty Python’s “Architects Sketch,” I happened upon a piece from Kristen Richards’s ArchNewsNow by Emily Nonko on the website Fast Company. It is a serious laugh riot: “The community hub of the future isn’t a library or a shopping mall, it’s city hall.”
Seriously? The writer wonders that so few municipalities around the world have felt the need to transform their city halls into “community hubs.” In contrast to “the monumental city halls of yore, with echoing corridors and forbidding facades,” Nonko applauds those architects and planners who are reconceptualizing the staid old idea of city hall and
replacing it with something more human and playful. To their mind, city hall is a space for citizens to act out democracy alongside their elected officials—and perhaps grab a coffee or see a show while doing it. In the face of global unrest, online polarization, and the increasing commercialization of public space, city halls are quietly becoming the communal living room of the future.
Nonko moans that places like Kiruna, Sweden, 95 miles north of the Arctic Circle, have taken the lead from more stick-in-the-mud places like the United States. She notes that Kiruna City Hall has no guard station and you don’t have to sign in. Berlin’s national assembly has a glass dome by Norman Foster from which Germans can look down (their noses?) at their representative government at work. Democracy! Transparency!
What if local government stepped up and invested in a living room for all its citizens? What if our city halls welcomed us in, not just to submit paperwork or gawk at architecture but to celebrate, protest, peruse artwork, sunbathe, and read, right alongside our elected officials?
Nonko’s article goes on and on, with laugh line piled atop laugh line, for why indeed shouldn’t government be fun? Maybe some civic constituencies want municipal cafés and cinemas to compete with private tax-paying enterprises beyond the walls of city hall. Perhaps, after paying their taxes or attending in person their representatives’ latest follies (maybe viewed from above such shenanigans are easier to perceive!), citizens just want to stick around to embrace the inner child of their democracy. Sounds reasonable to me!
No. A thousand and one reasons leap up, waving their arms for attention in the competition for why city halls do not have cafés, cinemas and tanning salons within their capacious walls. Nonko ignores them all, and the result is a humorous tour-de-force that, long as it is, rewards perusal. Have fun!