Town squares are the pulsating heart of a community. More and more, new public plazas and transformed squares are emerging all around the world as a sustainable way to enhance urban liveability. They are meeting points, spots to gather for social, cultural and political activities, and urban spaces to hang out, play and connect. Discover 10 of the most inspiring city squares of the modern age.
Outstanding architecture, centralised locations and clever use of space: modern city squares impress with their creativity, beauty and multifunctionality. Alive with year-round programmes, performing stages and activities, the best squares offer a thriving multi-use urban space for all ages and are treasured by residents and visitors alike. The re-emergence of the public square provides new anchors to downtown development. Whether they are newly built, redevelopments of neglected urban spaces or a fresh face to a historic plaza, we have picked some of the liveliest and most inclusive modern city squares that are worth having a look at:
Platz der Deutschen Einheit in Hamburg, Germany
Everything about Hamburg’s new concert hall Elbphilharmonie, its public plaza and forecourt (Platz der Deutschen Einheit) is fascinating. The sound is as good as the building looks. Its crowned glass roof has entirely reshaped Hamburg’s skyline. And the elevated plaza provides 360-degree panoramic views of the harbour city, while the forecourt hosts the “Elbphilharmonie Concert Cinema”, a free screening of (live) concerts. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the Elbphilharmonie was inaugurated in 2017 and has fast become one of Europe’s most popular attractions.
People’s Square in Shanghai, China
Re-built in 1993 on what was once the city’s racecourse, the People’s Square is Shanghai’s largest public space in the heart of the city. The square boasts a 320-square-meter water fountain, 36 lights with stereo sounds and is surrounded by the City Hall, the Shanghai Museum and the Grand Theatre. The most extraordinary happening of the square comes to life on the weekends, though: the People’s Square marriage market, where hundreds of parents try to matchmake their unwed offspring by showing off their child’s best attributes and important finer points (such as height, weight, and education).
Mauá Square in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Before being remodelled for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the area of Rio’s Porto Maravilha had a reputation for being unsafe and abandoned. Fast forward a few years after the games, it is now the place to be: the Port region has become a recreational and cultural hub, with locals and tourists strolling, resting or gathering to eat, drink and enjoy Rio’s revitalised harbour site. In the midst of this bustling precinct you find the Praça Mauá, the heart of the Port area and the epitome of modern urban design.
Indautxu Square in Bilbao, Spain
It is avant-garde in style, surrounded by trees, benches and modern streetlights as well as featuring a big playground for children – the Indautxu Square ticks all the boxes for the successful multifunctional use of an urban space. The 2006 overhaul of the square provided the pedestrians with a new attractive space for leisure and recreation by constructing underground carparks and reducing the number of car lanes. With its Guggenheim Museum and other distinguished urban developments, the Basque city proves again and again that it is a top destination for Modern Architecture aficionados.
“The Park” in Las Vegas, USA
The Las Vegas Strip is famous for its unlimited entertainment possibilities. Since 2016, The Strip also shows off a spectacular public space with cutting-edge yet sustainable and contextual design. Corporate investors have created a dynamic pedestrian hub to meet up, eat out or simply hang out. Prolific shade structures help to temper the desert heat. Water features and desert plantings decorate the plaza, and different seating options invite people to stay, connect and relax before hitting up the next epic show on The Strip.
Bedok Town Square in Singapore
The first in a series of new town plazas that are currently being built in Singapore, Bedok Town Square has struck a chord with the locals: since its completion in 2016, Bedok residents have been able to enjoy outdoor movie screenings, community arts and cultural activities, mass yoga classes, and music performances right at their doorstep. Due to Singapore’s tropical climate, the new hub is partially sheltered with huge overhead fans, seating and dining options. The other part boasts an al-fresco space. Singapore continues to plan and develop more urban squares to foster community ties within its neighbourhoods.
Sechseläuten Square in Zürich, Switzerland
The decision for the 2014 transformation of Sechseläutenplatz was based on a strategic decision to further improve Zurich’s quality of life. The parking lot was replaced by an underground car park, providing more space on the historical square for pedestrians to stroll around or sunbathe on the movable chairs, while kids play in the waterworks or scoot around. Hosting a selected number of city events, temporary stages for cultural performances or a Christmas market with an ice-rink, the redesigned square has achieved its main objective of becoming an inviting place for everyone, all year around.
Líber Seregni Square & Park in Montevideo, Uruguay
With the capital’s economic growth over the past decade came also a new appreciation for the need of urban spaces. Located in the heart of a central barrio, Plaza/Parque Líber Seregni opened its gates in 2009 and is divided into three sectors: a park with native and exotic plants, a plaza that includes an esplanade and a fountain, and a recreation area offering a basketball court, football field, skate park and a children’s playground. Formerly an unused, forgotten space, the park-plaza has become a much loved public recreational space in Montevideo for a great variety of cultural and recreational activities.
Burj Khalifa Tower Park in Dubai, UAE
Dubai is famous for its shopping malls, extraordinary buildings, and creative recreational offerings. With its residents spending approximately 80 percent of the day indoors, the development of public spaces may not have been top of the list for the city. In recent years, things have slightly changed, however. The Burj Khalifa Tower Park may not be your usual urban space, but then again, is Dubai famously known for doing just conventional? Burj Park not only offers unobstructed views of the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa and the spectacular Dubai Fountain, it also features plazas, gardens, pools and promenades that invite pedestrians to stroll, relax, watch the fountain show, or attend a festival.
General Gordon Square in London’s Woolwich, UK
London is enjoying an unprecedented boom in new public places as a planning legislation demands additional gathering, seating, entertainment and strolling spaces for all. In a bid to rejuvenate Woolwich Town Centre, the transformation of General Gordon Square was unveiled in 2011, offering a green open space with terraced lawns, wide footpaths, and a mirror pool incorporating bench seating. Prior to the facelift, General Gordon Square was known as the “smokehole” due to the fumes escaping a nearby railway tunnel. The new square offers an urban oasis in the heart of Woolwich and is an ideal venue for free outdoor screenings.
Over the next 20 years, more than 2 billion people will migrate to cities. With the growing number of urban dwellers come many challenges: congestion, pollution and a shortage of housing and recreation options, to name a few. So how will our transportation infrastructures keep up? Where will everybody live? Will there be enough jobs for everyone? In our ‘Future Cities’ series, we explore what type of innovations are helping cities to become more sustainable – and liveable.