Thursday, 8 March 2012

Five ideas for Freo from...Neal's Yard, London

Dean Cracknell is the author of this post. He is a Freo devotee interested in creating interesting, diverse places for people and is a guest contributor to The Fremantle Doctor blog. Dean can be followed on Twitter by checking out: @city_pragmatist

Relaxing, it’s gotta be one of my favourite things to do. My wife thinks I am pretty good at it as well, especially when there is housework to be done. Relaxing in public spaces can be surprisingly difficult though. People have been living in cities for thousands of years, but I am often amazed how difficult it is to find a nice place to relax.

London is an amazing city, but relaxing is probably not a word too many people would associate with this metropolis, especially if you don’t like crowds like me. One of my favourite places to hang out though is Neal’s Yard. It is a small, intimate, triangle of space that is sheltered from the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden. For me, it is an outdoor lounge-room, with an interesting ‘wallpaper’ of buildings that enclose the yard.

My wife and I stumbled across Neal's Yard after negotiating a small alleyway, one of two narrow entrances to the yard. The yard has several restaurants and shops and we chose a small Italian cafe for a bite to eat. A few minutes after sitting down, a pianist started playing some soothing jazz-inspired notes and later one of the patrons got up to sing. I didn’t recognise the tunes, but thought what an awesome place!

After devouring some pizza and a coffee, I stretched back and wondered why there aren't more places like this? So what can Fremantle glean from Neal’s Yard? Here are my thoughts:

Contrasts in colours and materials

Contrasting colours and materials add life and interest to buildings. This seemed to go out of fashion with the rise of Modernist architecture. The High Priest of Modernism, Le Corbusier, believed that all buildings must be coloured all-white.

Freo can emphasise its ‘organic’ vibe and encourage contrasting colours and materials.

Vertical emphasis to buildings

Traditional architecture highlighted a vertical emphasis to openings and building facades. This is demonstrated well in this picture. See how the windows and facades are narrow and tall?

Next time you are walking in Freo’s West End, look for the vertical emphasis to traditional building facades. Contrast this style with the horizontal emphasis seen on most buildings built from the 1950’s onwards seen in other areas.

Lots of greenery

Street trees and greenery are very important for softening urban spaces and making them feel comfortable and appealing. There is greenery all around Neal’s Yard, with bamboo, trees, green walls and even a green roof.

I say the more trees and greenery in Freo the better!

Spots for people to relax and talk

People watching is a favourite urban pastime.

Pedestrians slowly wander through Neal’s Yard on their way to other parts of Covent Garden, which provides colour and movement to the scene. People attract people and successful places supply spots to linger and watch the world go by.

Simple, cheap, effective furniture

Great places need not be expensive. I think there is a tendency to over-engineer and over-plan public spaces. Neal’s Yard has made wonderful use of simple, inexpensive materials.

These are a few of my ideas for Freo. What do you think makes a great place to hang out?

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