Reclaiming Thresholds

Reclaiming Thresholds, Nov 2018

A recent visit to Wuhan (October 2018) for the Great Rivers forum and a walk through the local market area reminded me of the importance of thresholds in Asian culture. A colleague and art curator was very attracted to the small stools that the shop keepers were perched on. Devised out of waste material these oddities were dotting the shop fronts through the length of the street punctuated at items with benches that were part of a more organized streetscape.

But most people chose the discomfort of their odd perch than the spacious and seemingly more comfortable bench. A lesson or two for us as landscape architects on how people choose where they wish to rest, usually close to the entrance of their shops but also not far from other shopkeepers so they can indulge in their conversations though a long day.
Thresholds have held a particular significance in Asian cultures for signifying a space which is not completely public bit not private within thereby adding the richness of conversation, social mingling and speaking across houses and shops to catch up on local gossip.

Most contemporary housing and modern shops have given up this idea which until recently could be associated with the traditional markets and housing but not to be found in the urban design today. However, a new wave of recognition of the value of a threshold to the urban streetscape, social vitality has brought it back into popular memory through place making endeavours being undertaken in many parts of the world.

It is therefore no accident that Wuhan is going to be hosting the Placemaking Congress in a few days. Hope the thresholds and their significance continues to find pride of place in our new and reinvented cities.