7 Public Open Space Design Strategies

Public plazas are often considered to be the “living room” of a city. They not only provide a resting space in between the hustling roads and buildings but also act as the community’s social interaction space. 

Most people who use plazas are workers and residents from the nearby buildings. But oftentimes, people passing by pause to rest here for a short time too. Designing public open spaces is primarily designing a landscape to fit the needs of all users.

In order to design a successful plaza, there are a few factors to keep in mind.

  1. Unobstructed separation from the roads and surrounding buildings
  2. Seating spaces
  3. Climatic factors
  4. Features
  5. Food stalls
  6. Inclusiveness
  7. Open to all categories of people
Designing Open Spaces

1. Unobstructed Separation From Roads And Surrounding Buildings

Different types of users avail a plaza. The people who stop to rest, vendors, people from the nearby buildings, and pedestrians make up most of them. It is important to make sure none of their movement is obstructed.


The height difference is a simple solution to this problem.

  • Separate spaces for the different types of users can be allotted with slight height differences between each.
  • The height should be appropriate so that it doesn’t become a cause of discomfort.

Materials And Colours

Another effective method to segregate spaces is to use different materials of different colors for each.

2. Seating Spaces

The provision to sit is the most important part of open space or a plaza. It is, in fact, almost a prerequisite. In most successful plazas, the seating spaces occupied up to 10 percent of the total area. 

Physical Comfort

Ideally, all seating spaces should have proper anthropometry, with comfortable back and armrests. But this is not always possible. But there are certain basic rules to follow for comfortable seating.

  • Proper height of seating surface (preferably 0.45 meters).
  • The area should be shaded by the sun.
  • Prevent water splashing and logging.

Social Comfort

Social Comfort is also as important as physical comfort.

  • Give people the choice of sitting alone or in groups by providing different types of seating.
  • Hedges and other flat surfaces can be used as multi-purpose tables or chairs depending on the height.

3. Climatic Factors

Sun and Heat

It’s common knowledge that given the heat in India, people tend to avoid sunny spots.

  • Study the sun path diagram for the site and devise strategies according to the needs of the site.
  • Provide good shading with seating underneath.
  • Add water or cooling features which contribute to both aesthetic and functional purposes.
  • Use materials like stone which have poor heat conducting qualities for the seating and other features.


Although not necessarily needed for a plaza, a windy space is surely a bonus that increases the number of users, especially on a sunny day.

  • Make sure to select a spot where the wind paths are not blocked by the surrounding buildings or other structures.
  • Avoid designing structures in the plaza that obstruct winds.
  • Seating and resting spots should preferably face the wind direction.

4. Features


Trees are one of the most attractive features of open space or a plaza. 

  • The canopies provide well-needed shade and cool the areas underneath.
  • Seating areas can be arranged around trunks.

Water Features

Water features not only add to the aesthetic appeal of the plaza, but if the conditions are met, they also help cool the area. They also facilitate evaporative cooling.

  • Remember that water efficiency can be encouraged by reusing or repurposing water throughout the site.
  • Different water features include fountains, waterways, waterfalls, pools, reflective pools, and water tunnels.
  • Proper signs and measures should be installed to prevent accidental drowning or electrocution.

5. Food Stalls

The provision of food kiosks and snack bars is the best way to increase activity in a place like India, where street food is extremely popular.

  • Supply shaded seating and table areas.
  • Provide clear separation for the areas allotted for shops and for the people to avoid congestion and blocking of paths.
  • This separation can be done by providing height or material differences.

6. Inclusiveness

If circulation and amenities are planned with everyone’s needs in mind, the place is fit to function more easily for everyone.

  • Drinking water and other facilities which are low enough for wheelchair users are also perfect for children. Adults can also use them.
  • Pedestrian paths that are made easier for the differently-abled like ramps, handrails, and steps of gentle pitch are easier for everyone in general.
  • Make sure to design for all instead of segregating different spaces for the same purposes.

7. Open to all categories of people

This is another form of inclusivity. Public space should be open to all kinds of public.

  • Avoid practicing hostile architecture (putting spikes, glass, and other kinds of obstructions to discourage the homeless and vagabonds from using the space).
  • While designing the space, make sure to analyze the requirements of all kinds of users. This includes the less fortunate too.

A good open space offers a breath of fresh air when you want to take a break from work or while walking down a street on a hot day. It also helps improve the livelihood of the vendors and street hawkers, as well as provide a resting area for the homeless. This is why it is extremely important to analyze the needs of all the users before designing an open space.

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