Institutional Place-Making

Institutions help give a place its unique identity. They come in many shapes and sizes and types. There are schools, museums, playhouses, photography centers, fitness centers, parks, playgrounds, daycare centers, bike shops, coffee shops. The “invisible hand” of capitalism can design, implement, and organize some of these on a sustainable basis – but very few. Most require leadership, a “coalition of the willing”, and financing that goes beyond investment with the normal paybacks and returns on capital.

Moreover institutions that can create a sense of place need planning, so that they are symbiotic and not redundant.

A master plan for institutions is every bit as important as a master plan for physical design.

Institutional Place-making
Place-making is normally a phrase which is attributed to physical place. But institutions are places too, and they need to be designed with as much care as physical places.

Institutional place-making can be approached from the standpoint of a physical place, or from the standpoint of a virtual place.

From the vantage point of a physical place
From a physical place, such as Serenbe, obviously place-making is about building a vibrant community. No matter how beautiful or sustainable or well-thought-out the physical place is, every community will be made more vibrant by the institutions that are a part of it. Again, using Serenbe as an example, the Blue Eyed Daisy is a bit hard to imagine as an institution, but is it? Architecturally, there is no doubt in the minds of Serenbe residents that it is a place.

The question arises: what is the institutional master plan for a physical place? No one questions the need for a master plan for a community. In Serenbe, Phil Tabb laid out a brilliant master physical plan, and continues to evolve it, update it, etc. In like manner, Serenbe needs an institutional place-making master plan, and is creating it and evolving it every year. The emergence of the Serenbe Playhouse as a major institution that brings joy to Serene residents and non-residents alike is just one example of institutional place-making. The Serenbe Institute, The Photography Institute and the Chattahoochee Hill Charter School are other examples.

From the vantage point of a virtual place
Any institution must choose – will it be in one physical place, or many? Will it have a virtual presence and a physical presence? If yes, which will be the stronger component? Amazon, for example, skews its institutional place-making to virtual. Starbucks, as a second example, skews its place-making to be physical.

Will the institution be designed to appeal primarily to local sensibilities or to global sensibilities? McDonalds clearly strives for a global appeal, as do most well-known global brands. Starbucks, again, is a counter-example – of a global brand that strives to present itself as very local.

The point is that institutional place-making architecture is a very real need. Good institutional place-making has an architecture all its own. It starts with a master plan, and evolves into governance issues, technology platform issues, unit-business-model issues etc. Doing it well for any physical place makes that place really special. Doing it poorly is recipe for disaster.

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