Year of Gathering: Citizens First, Designers Second

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
6 min readJun 25, 2020
Seattle Year of Gathering Event © Trevor Dykstra
Seattle Year of Gathering Event © Trevor Dykstra

By Sally Khomikh

On Tuesday, June 23rd, we held our second virtual Year of Gathering event on the topic of “Finding Joy in Our Public Spaces.” We brought back two collaborators, Benjie de la Pena and Barbara Swift, to discuss trust and safety, graceful cohabitation, letting go of judgment, and thinking about the usability and longevity of public space initiatives. Benjie’s term, the “better normal,” kindly asks us to let go of new and old constructs and adapt to focusing on sustainable and simply “better” overall habits of engaging.

Seattle Year of Gathering Event © Trevor Dykstra
Benjie de la Pena & Barb Swift © Trevor Dykstra

Benjamin de la Pena (Benjie) — founder of Agile City, author of the newsletter Makeshift Mobility, and board member at Project for Public Spaces — and Barb Swift, FASLA, landscape architect and founding member of Swift Company were both panelists for our Seattle event: Rethinking Public Spaces. At this event, we discussed rapid densification and complex development issues facing Seattle, as well as unique opportunities for partnership between private and public spaces. In this follow-up, we revisit the critical need for public space with a new lens.

During what is an unprecedented time of both a global pandemic and a rise in widespread civil unrest in response to systemic racial injustice, how public spaces have been used in the past is no longer evident in our day-to-day lives. Barbara raised three questions that served as the foundation for the discussion.

  • Why and how do we design spaces?
  • For whom do we design spaces?
  • How can we change the lens in which we engage with each other in these spaces?
Cherie Flores Garden Pavilion at Hermann Park © Nic Lehoux

Love = Joy

Benjie so eloquently stated that love and joy are relational. “America has a history of loving things and using people,” he said. In this time of uncertainty, we’re seeing a change in the way we think about relationships, social engagement, and space. It is evident that Americans are…

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Designing buildings that inspire connection and wonder in every person who experiences them.