Places of Celebration: The foundation of community spirit

Celebration is an expression of community. Whether we are celebrating shared traditions, skills or achievements, the focus is on bringing people together. As we look back on the recent festive season and look forward to more public gatherings once vaccines are rolled out across the world, we also reflect on enCity’s commitment to building community in the distinctive designs that have transpired.

For urban designers and planners, celebration is often referred to as place-making. This is the cornerstone of a strong design. Place-making can put heritage and culture at the core of a community by highlighting significant features or referencing traditions and beliefs. It can mean foregrounding a project’s unique qualities and features through urban form and spatial planning or creating spaces for these specialities to take centre stage. It can also act to strengthen community by creating new spaces for gathering or shared amenities that foster serendipitous encounters. All these elements are forms of celebration, and manifest differently in each project. Here, we look at three such examples.

In Vietnamese traditional values, nature is central, even sacred. Mountains are held to represent the divine, while water represents the common and everyday. As such, mountains are revered, while community functions and celebrations are often held on or around a water body. enCity’s award-winning North Dalat masterplan draws on these traditions, weaving through elements of Dalat’s French colonial heritage to celebrate the harmony of Asian and European planning principles. 

North Da Lat District – Perspective by enCity 

The city of Dalat was built by the French in Vietnam’s central highlands. Built around a central lake, it was designed as a colonial resort town to take advantage of the cool highland climate, and today is a destination for tourists and locals alike. enCity’s project sits north of old Dalat, in a peripheral suburb of the town. In reference to the old town, North Dalat is also built around a lake, where the town centre is anchored by a waterfront hotel and public plaza. From this point, a central public spine winds through the town, linking key community spaces and destinations within new and existing communities. The plaza becomes a convivial space for gathering and events that looks out across the water, highlighting its significance in local community life. 

The celebration of Dalat’s ethnic culture and European heritage comes together in the sequence of public spaces that lead to Langbian Peak. One of the highest and most sacred mountains in Vietnam, Langbian Peak has a history in town planning. It is the beginning of the Dong Nai River, the longest river in Vietnam and the eastern boundary of Ho Chi Minh City. It is also the anchor point of Gia Dinh Citadel‘s original central axis (the first formal establishment of a government seat in Ho Chi Minh City), which today leads from the former Presidential Palace along Le Duan Boulevard to point towards Langbian Peak. In the European tradition, boulevards are used to create a sense of procession leading to a significant monument. Here, this is utilised to highlight the centrality of nature in Vietnam’s urban planning tradition. A public boulevard and boardwalk lead to a lookout point, framing views over Langbian Peak. Below the lookout, the site drops steeply off towards the valley below, while the boardwalk soars above the cliff, seeming to reach up towards the mountain. Two planning traditions come together to convey the message: the mountain is the monument.

Hai Duong Sports Town celebrates another form of identity: local specialties and skills. Historically one of Vietnam’s water towns in the Red River Delta, the town is best known today for their proficiency in table tennis. This rather unique specialisation is used as the anchor for an urban revitalisation project that draws on the town’s built heritage to create a vibrant and distinctive urban core. 

Hai Duong Sports Town

The two most important buildings in town – the main stadium, and the table tennis centre – sit at the apex of a linear sports cluster, which runs through the town along a landscaped canal. In contrast to conventional stadiums, the buildings are designed to be porous, creating a continuous public space network along the corridor. This strategy also brings the buildings into daily use from all parts of the community, making them central to public life and creating a sense of public ownership and pride. In this way, a unique and interesting feature of Hai Duong has come to define the town’s identity and inform a distinctive urban form. 

Features that shape identity, such as culture, heritage and specialties can always be found in existing towns such as Dalat and Hai Duong. The designer’s role is to seek out these characteristics and give them form and expression in the urban realm. When it comes to a new development, however, this process takes on additional weight. The role of the designer grows beyond design, requiring them to imagine and shape the identity of this new community.

This was the challenge in Binh Duong Science & Technology Industrial Park. While anchored by industrial and research and development facilities, the vision for this community was of a vibrant, forwarding-thinking township. To shape this, the urban design clusters shared spaces and amenities within a civic centre, with public corridors extending from the centre through the district. The library and auditorium frame the main square, with the sports complex sitting beyond. These three anchor programmes overlook the intersection of two canals. The wider of the two canals is known as the Celebration Bay, where a floating stage for events and performances is surrounded by wetland planting, which helps to regulate water quality. The narrower canal extends to the north of the site and is intended for activities such as dragon boat racing and sports festivals. Beyond the Celebration Bay there is a central park and a golf course, with views over the rubber plantations beyond in a nod to the site’s historic context. A test track for autonomous vehicles and other mobility products loops around the perimeter of the park and connects to the adjacent R&D cluster, creating a public showcase space where innovation can be enjoyed and celebrated by everyone. 

STIP Binh Duong – Perspective by enCity

Together, these features form the civic core, where shared spaces and amenities host large gatherings and events, but also foster the smaller, day to day interactions that build the real fabric of a community.

These places of celebration are crucial to a successful project. Just as physical infrastructure provides services and access, they are the social infrastructure that provides a framework for community to grow. Far from decorative, their function is in the psychology of place-making. A town without a sense of place is merely a cluster of buildings; a community without a shared identity is merely a group of people living in proximity. Celebrating shared values and unique assets is the foundation of community spirit and local identity, and both are fundamental in ensuring the success and longevity of a master planned development.

Heather Banerd & Elizelle David (enCity)