Building in section. The first floors are empathic spaces for everyone

The first floor is the most extroverted part of the house. Life at a height is hidden from unnecessary views. Instead, public and commercial spaces located at human height invite passers-by to communicate. We visit them most often in our daily affairs, through them we have a conversation with the City. Are they equally accessible and safe for everyone? Unfortunately no. Therefore, the struggle for inclusiveness and awareness of protection criteria continues. We discuss the potential of floor No. 1 together with architect Oleksandr Kumeik.

Is tradition the key to urban diversity?

Buildings can grow as high as we want, we may well like the endless "forest" of skyscrapers and spires when we look at the city from observation decks or top floors. When we descend from heaven to earth, we would prefer to see a friendly and proportionate space in which you do not feel like a helpless insect.

The most active interaction between the inhabitants of the city and its stone soul takes place below. Whether the development is perceived as human-centered, how useful and accessible the spaces with different types of purpose are, largely determines the active facade and ground floor.

The ground levels are responsible for the entrance group and the accessibility of all premises in the buildings. The zone near the facade plays the role of a "seam" between the building and the street, capable of increasing the number of functions of the space with public access and diversifying the urban landscape.

Street in Lviv. Photo: Natalia Kvitovska / Unsplash

Traditional architecture is a mirror of daily practices. It is convenient for those occupations and everyday life that have accompanied people for centuries. We lived and left this world, fought and worked, sculpting from all this noisy hives of houses, streets, shopping areas, walls and roads.

Modernism, which became the biggest challenge to traditional perception, was both the architecture of big dreams and dreamers and a way to overcome existential traumas. By trying to give the community a new future "from a clean slate" — a well-planned, functional, international one. But after walking in its spacious, but emotionally inert corridors, trying this crystal-clear syntax in practice, an ordinary person of flesh and blood felt... cold.

Postmodern architecture exists not so much in style as in time frames. She is inspired by all the experiences of the past and therefore has many faces, but it seems that she has stopped molding a person as both a superman and a "little cog". At least the architecture that today acts consciously and plays on the side of good.

The concept of the 15-minute city, concern for the diversity and human scale of the urban environment, interest in mixed-type development with its motto "Live, work, play", the use of local materials - all these searches resemble the "reinvention" of known formulas, but on a more sophisticated level . This is a conscious appeal to the organic past of many cities - craft, trade, pedestrian. With public spaces that encourage communication and strong connections between communities.

A 2000-year-old mural depicting "pizza". In the house in Pompeii, where the painting was discovered, there was a bakery. Photo source:

The first floor is the most extroverted part of the house

Active floors became a common urban attribute long before the architectural definition of mixed-use appeared.

Already in the days of Rome, there were large cities, life in which strongly resembled modern life. Not all free Romans were lucky enough to luxuriate in their own villa, many had to rent rooms in profitable island houses. In the most common type of insula, artisans' workshops, shops and restaurants worked on the first floor. These spaces sometimes had a kind of terrace, which today we would call a facade area.

A typical institution of commerce was a tent. Craftsmen lived in it, made shops and offered them to visitors, later the functions were narrowed exclusively to production and trade.

The tabernacles had a spacious separate entrance and large windows on the facade, which were closed with shutters after the end of the working day.

Shops on the streets of Pompeii. Photo credit: John SY Lee/Flickr

With the development of logistics and trade, buildings with an artel or shop on the first floor, and public or private spaces on the second, became common in many medieval cities.

As an example, we can mention the Italian broleto shops, the two-story construction of the craft quarters and shopping rows. Glazing, which began to be widely used after the technology became cheaper, allowed customers to spend more time inside, counters moved away from the entrance. After all, from the XVII–XVIII centuries. commercial spaces began to be equipped with transparent storefronts and facades.

A typical rental house, in particular in Ukrainian cities, in addition to residential premises offered to tenants, often included office premises and shops on the first floor.

Commercial premises on the first floors of a residential building in Kharkiv, 1920s. Photo source:

Thus, the trend towards mixed-use architecture, or mixed-use development, which was finally formed at the end of the XNUMXth century. in contrast to the "cutting" of urban spaces into separate residential, commercial and industrial parts, is absolutely not accidental. The mixed approach involves two models - horizontal, when within the same district we have public and private buildings of different purposes, but in a proportion that satisfies the needs of the community, and vertical - when different missions can be realized in one building thanks to floor planning.

Market street in Kemeralty. Izmir, Turkey, 1956. Photo: Hüseyin Özdal/Pinterest

This is how we see most cities of respectable age, especially their historical part. In the "old city" public and private are always closely intertwined, there are many magnets for the eyes, and that is why we find it so attractive.

In conditions of mixed-use development, there are many forms of interaction with the first floor of buildings. It is more interesting to live in such a city

Variety is the brain's antidote to boredom, and we find environments that are somewhat "chaotic" interesting. But in quotation marks, because it is not about a real mess, but about a living landscape with changes in forms, distances, and accents.
In the conditions of monotonous high-rise buildings, it is the variable functionality of the lower floors and the interspersing of low-rise buildings that provide the variety desired by people.

This is an urban polyphony in which you can find new and new tones.

"I am a good place to live in" and "I... am..." are the architectural language of a balanced urban space and architectural "stuttering" in the conditions of radical urban zoning. Drawing by architect Leon Krieu. Image source:

Perfectly wrong "Charlestown" and not only him

If a traveler from past eras were shown Poundbury, an experimental satellite of the British city of Dorchester, he would most likely be satisfied. And not only him - in 2023, according to the edition of the Sunday Times, the city, which has turned thirty years old, has been identified as one of the best places to live in the south-west region of Britain. Poundbury began to build at the initiative of the then Prince, and now King Charles, known for his fiery criticism of modern architecture, and should be fully completed in two years.

Aerial view of Poundbury, Dorchester. Photo: Finnbarr Webster/Getty

The author of the master plan was a well-known anti-modernist architect, winner of the Driehaus prize Leon Creates. The Luxembourger defends the principles of traditional urban planning, is a supporter of the concept of "new urbanism", aimed at increasing the quality and level of empathy of the urban environment and improving living conditions. The key to success in the theory of new urbanism is the search for points of intersection between the modern world, which is rapidly changing, and the architectural heritage and traditions that have already been formed. Kree does not respect the sky, lobbies for mixed use of territories as opposed to strict zoning, advocates densification of buildings, pedestrian accessibility, etc. With Charles, they formed a real compliance.

A fragment of the map showing commercial and service establishments already operating in small Poundbury. Photo source: (screenshot)

The project in Dorset has been called a "royal dystopia", a "filming set", a "museum" and a "monarchy's place of worship", and it received its fair share of negativity. However, an American-Canadian architect Witold Rybchinsky after inspecting the city described it as follows: "There is much more to Poundbury than might appear to bilious modernist critics. The city does not seem anachronistic, utopian, or elitist. Nor is it a middle-class ghetto. Poundbury embodies social, economic and planning innovations that can only be described as radical.'

One of the streets of Poundbury, a facade with an establishment of commerce. Photo: Finnbarr Webster. Photo source:

Not to condemn or exalt the project, it is interesting to consider it in the context of testing how ideas work. In other words, the British had an opportunity, and they experimented in a small suburb. What came of it?

Poundbury became a newly created trade and craft part of Dorchester, where traditional techniques were cited in a new way. The project meets the goals of sustainable development and the zero-carbon policy. Features include mixed low-rise buildings with active facades, lack of a clear planning structure, designed to prevent monotony and slow down traffic. Rybchynsky figuratively called this layout "a rabbit's maze with streets in the shape of a dog's leg and crooked alleys." Whether it is better or worse than the cities and districts that we have seen in our lifetime, whether it is "Vozdvizhenka, who was able", or a cozy cube of a European traditionalist, or a truly radical viable innovation - time, residents and guests of the city will decide.

Important priorities of Poundbury are 10-minute reachability of services, strict control over the design code and the level of visual noise. Everything is in focus: from the number of road signs and chimneys to the typology of signs (four fonts and letter sizes are defined). The infrastructure of the city should provide work for people employed in small businesses - retail trade, manufacturing of goods, and in the service sector. The city is not represented by large food chains and retail giants, instead, local farming, cooking, and handicrafts are cultivated. At the final stage, Poundbury will be home to six thousand people, currently there are about four thousand residents. Almost 300 enterprises and institutions, which employ 2600 workers, are already operating.

The philosophy of active facades in Rybalsky residential complex. Photo source:

Good or bad, Ukrainian cities cannot be called a "rabbit maze". In the "Handbook on the reconstruction of cities", published in 2023 by the office of urban projects "Urbanina", data on types of buildings, problems of designing and using urban spaces and ways to solve them are organized. In our cities, estates and quarters are combined, units of free development with different heights. Each type offers different opportunities to activate the first floors. Yards and spaces of estates, low-rise or blocked residential buildings are most often exploited by the owners themselves. It is difficult for such streets to become centers of attraction. However, if an establishment or service with accessible access appears in the middle of the building, its local popularity is guaranteed.

In high-rise buildings, especially if they border busy streets, pedestrian areas or squares, creating active facades with separate entrances is good for everyone: both the community, because the quality of the space and the choice of activities increases, and institutions, because they will have a profit. Therefore, it is advisable to include such opportunities in new projects at the planning stage or take them into account during the reconstruction of the old fund.

Reasons for ignoring the potential of the active first floor according to the experts of "Change Agents". Image source:
Consequences of ignoring the potential of the active first floor according to the experts of "Change Agents". Image source:

A separate chapter was devoted to the topic of active first floors in the manual on urban planning and optimization of the urban environment "Kyiv Standard", created in collaboration with the company and the multidisciplinary team "Agents of Change". Experts point to such advantages for residents as the availability of services, additional lighting for the yard and the safety of the surrounding area, new opportunities for communication.

The obstacles to this, according to the "Agents of Change", are:

  • uncertainty during design and construction about how the floor will be used after the building is put into operation, what types of businesses will be provided and under what conditions;
  • unsuccessful or outdated planning decisions that do not correspond to business needs (which forces the facade to be adapted, and it rarely has an attractive appearance);
  • lack of marketing analytics (which establishments are lacking on the territory and nearby, which special conditions will attract the right tenants);
  • the territory of the residential complex is closed and access to the house is difficult.
The schemes created as part of the development of a strategy for the Lypka area in Kyiv demonstrate the functional load of different floors in the building. Image source:
The schemes created as part of the development of a strategy for the Lypka area in Kyiv demonstrate the functional load of different floors in the building. Image source:

Spaces for everyone are realities for Ukrainians

From historical excursions and city walks, let's move on to the most irritating characteristic of spaces — their accessibility. For Ukraine, it is about not too impressive previous experience, and about the fresh trauma of the ongoing war.

Oleksandr Kumeiko, architect

According to the chief architect of Kumeiko Architects and Edelburg Architects Oleksandr Kumeik, despite the fact that some regulatory requirements and terms specified in the DBN still require clarification and refinement, architects are serious about the inclusive component of the objects and spaces they work with.

"Among my colleagues, I see full understanding and attention to the problem. For Ukrainian architects, the development of inclusive solutions is not a topic for discussion, but a working issue that needs to be worked out," the architect notes.

"For the Ukrainian architects with whom I communicate, the development of inclusive solutions is not a topic for discussion, but a working issue that needs to be worked out," Oleksandr Kumeiko

"Fifteen years ago, as I remember, there was no talk of comprehensive work on the development of planning solutions or adaptations for groups with reduced mobility. Most of the actions were reduced to the arrangement of ramps, - Oleksandr recalls. — Later, the structure of approval of project documentation changed, norms began to be given more attention at the examination stages. At the same time, the norms have existed for a long time, with the difference that earlier they were quite tolerant of the actions of developers, and this gave the latter room for double interpretations or failure to fulfill the requirements in full. The result was conditioned by the level of social responsibility of the customer — somewhere the norms were implemented to a certain extent, somewhere they looked for ways to avoid doing it. Now, there are no "no-do" options, especially in new construction, and all parties have heard this. After the amendments to the DBN four years ago, they really take into account the needs of each of the less mobile population groups.

In terms of terms, I still run into people getting confused or not fully understanding the definitions, mostly imagining inclusivity as a list of options for people with disabilities and/or those who use wheelchairs,” Kumeiko adds.

Photo source:

At times, the Latinized name seems to act as a spell of oblivion and creates a distance for the general public to understand the word, rather than the specialists and activists pushing for change. Inclusivity, or inclusion - the ability to involve everyone in the interaction without exception, in relation to spaces and premises - is accessibility, equal opportunities for use. The concepts of barrier-free and barrier-free solutions are also often used, that is, those that form a society without restrictions and make the environment comfortable for everyone without exception.

People with reduced mobility according to the current definitions include people with disabilities, temporary health disorders, those who experience difficulties during independent movement, orientation in space, receiving services and information, pregnant and elderly people, people who carry baby carriages. It's actually all of us, depending on one or another life span.

The Latinized name acts as a spell of oblivion, creating distance for the general understanding of inclusiveness

DBN B.2.2-40:2018 "Inclusiveness of buildings and structures", valid since April 2019, replaced the previous DBN B.2.2-17:2006 "Buildings and structures. Accessibility of buildings and structures for the less mobile population groups", and those are still Soviet VSN 62-91 "Designing the environment of active life with regard to the needs of the disabled and the less mobile population groups".

Using the example of the names of the documents, we can see how the vocabulary and attitude to the question changed.

Despite the fact that the current DBN came out after hundreds of changes, and in parallel with them, the improvement of the norms on landscaping was carried out, it is likely that they will be supplemented in the near future.

A platform lift capable of moving up curved stairs and turning a corner. Automatically folds when not in use. Photo source:

"Some things in our country are done out of spite," states Oleksandr Kumeiko. — Now society has a great demand for changes. There are people - military and civilian - who will not allow their rights to continue to be ignored. There is the state, public organizations and unions that protect the interests of less mobile groups, and there are Western partners. I see the problem not so much in the construction of new objects and their compliance, but in something else. For example, in what is defined by the norms as "reasonable accommodation". This is an individual planning decision, which should provide users with reduced mobility a minimum standard of accessibility after reconstruction or technical re-equipment of the house. At the same time, the document does not provide any legal specifics or interpretation of "reasonableness". Then what is considered a really smart device, and what is not? There are a huge number of such cases.

We have a lot of architecture already built where previously there was no opportunity or will to envision the options that are required today. There are buildings that do not meet any standards. If we analyze the cases regarding the entrance group, in a number of cases it is possible and expedient to arrange the same ramp in a building with a large adjacent territory, for example, in an office or administration. However, there are situations when the house is located on a pedestrian street or within a dense historical building. If there is a height difference between the paving level and the entrance of 1-1,2 m, a ten-to-twelve-meter driveway should be built. According to DBN, this will be correct, but it will contradict common sense.

For example, there are many old buildings and rather narrow sidewalks on Sahaidachnoy or Kostyantynivska streets in Kyiv. If all facilities there make "proper" ramps, it will be regulated and good from an accessibility point of view, but it will look bad. In Europe, they don't do that, instead they look for other functional, but aesthetic solutions. For example, the stairs are equipped with lifting platforms or hinged platforms that rise at any angle and can be adapted to any stairs. When not in use, they are raised and do not take up much space," says the architect.

Oleksandr Kumeiko: "What is considered a really reasonable adaptation of the building, according to the DBN, and what is not?"

Platform system and staff call button. Photo source:

Oleksandr Kumeiko continues: "Before changes were made to the DBN, terrible things happened, and various isolations were considered a reasonable adjustment. We all remember the buttons to call the staff in pharmacies, it's nonsense, but it was considered a way out. If apartments on the first floor were transferred to the non-residential fund, it was not possible to obtain permission to build an entrance group, the only alternative was a ramp.

There is a building on Beresteyskyi Avenue in the capital, where there are a lot of such premises. Long ramps without a cover, completed on the green zone, lead to the entrances. Most likely, they meet the requirements for dimensions, slope, width, etc., but only a very physically fit person can use them.

There are interesting paradoxes. According to current requirements, in new buildings, all entrances must be designed in such a way that they can be used by groups with reduced mobility. And if, for example, the building already exists? Someone will say: then let's decide that it is "reasonable" to make inclusive not all, but one entrance. But isn't it written that way either? And suddenly the building was built a hundred years ago and has structural features? Both inspectors and executors may have many questions.

There are some weird solutions in the documentation, but at least they are clearly outlined. For example, it is assumed that public spaces of two or more floors, even if it is a small non-residential space built into the existing structure, should be equipped with at least two elevators. It seems to me that there should be some alternative here, but the requirement has no other interpretations. In all new projects on which my team and I work, we try to take into account these and other specified norms. Thanks to clear wording, we do not argue with experts.

I want to emphasize one more point: under modern conditions, during the design and construction of new facilities, there are no difficulties in laying down all the necessary solutions for inclusion. They are also not expensive."

Reconstruction of the Children's World shopping center, visualization. The location of the complex has been a traditional shopping place for residents of the densely populated massif since the 1960s. Photo source:

"There are still many tasks ahead of us both in the field of understanding and in the practical implementation of the requirements for inclusion, but I am sure that they will be able to be implemented within the next five to ten years. We will not turn from this path, Oleksandr Kumeiko continues. — According to my assessment, many public buildings that have been built in Ukraine recently already have the necessary inclusive qualities. Shopping centers in the capital include Ocean Plaza and Lavina Mall. Knowing the authors of the project of the Respublika Park center, I have no doubt that everything is as it should be with its premises.

Currently, I and the specialists of "Edelburg Architects" are involved in the reconstruction of the Kyiv Children's World shopping center on Darnytsia. In the development and supervision of this project, the team complies with all current requirements to ensure barrier-free, comfortable use of spaces. It is not only about the entrance group, but also about the dimensions of the aisles, the number and type of elevators, the distances between the toilets and the optimization of customer routes, etc. — because, for example, in contrast to inclusive solutions, marketing moves for commercial premises often include options when the visitor has to move past as many windows and shops as possible, because this additionally stimulates his consumer behavior."

PRAGMATIKA.MEDIA: Why do you think it is that we have gaps in our knowledge about inclusion and acceptance and are still behind the same Western practices? Should we really blame the past for this? What should change?

Oleksandr Kumeiko: Of course, there is experience from other countries that is useful to learn from. However, one should not think that anywhere in the West or in other parts of the world the situation is perfect. There, too, many questions about access remain, especially in small or isolated settlements.

Yes, all retail, commercial premises, shopping centers - both new and not so - are either designed from the very beginning in compliance with the requirements, or retrofitted. For a specialist, it is interesting to study these possibilities of smart adaptation abroad. To look at folding platforms, at platforms that move along the wall with a different angle of inclination, at how pedestrian crossings are arranged. All these solutions have been used in Western practice for decades.

It is worth understanding: inclusiveness is not only about rights and dignity, but also about economics and care. Businesses don't wait for someone to force them to implement a solution, they care about the customer. They do not think about how to save on construction or furnishing, but about whether a customer will visit their establishment, whether the building or premises are friendly enough for groups with reduced mobility.

Inclusivity is not only about rights and dignity, but also about economics and care

Let's remember that European nations are aging, the percentage of elderly people is increasing. They want to continue to lead an active life, visit institutions, use services, not limit themselves in movement, but they may have age-related problems with the musculoskeletal system or fatigue. Special transport, electric scooters and wheelchairs for groups with reduced mobility are very popular in Europe. They can freely move around the city on them. I hope that in Ukraine we will also come to this.

From my travel experience, the best situation is seen in the world's megacities, the so-called networks: the same London or New York, in all major cities of the USA. I was once impressed by Melbourne, I noticed that after several days of active movement around the city, it seems that I never once set foot on the threshold. It was quite a strange experience because Australia is far away and there are not many people living in the country. The implementation of the principles of inclusiveness in Japan is adequate, but in the southern, more provincial part of the country, it is weakening, despite the population and large cities.

Returning to London, there are still underground stations that are not equipped for mobility groups. Whether the stations are equipped is indicated by icons on the diagrams. The user can arrive at a certain stop, but will be limited in the options to go up to the city on his own. The British subway is 160 years old, there is a dense building above, which is in private ownership, so elevators - and other options are inappropriate - are not always realistically equipped.

Photo: John T / Unsplash

Regarding the attitude scores... I think there is a global difference in the type of social contract, the relationship between the government and the people. Now we are independent and defend our independence, but for a long time we lived under the Soviet flag, under the influence of that system. There are big differences in the paradigm of priorities and perception of human value. In the West, everything that is done is done for people, we have the opposite experience. When a person realizes his importance, he becomes freer and wants to communicate, participate, do something with each other. When people are sent the signal "We don't need you", public activity freezes. We are now eradicating the paradigm of the past. I am sure that new scenarios are not lost on us. There are changes, and we would like to hope that the government's position, updating of laws and regulations, control actions will prevent a further shift.

The facade of the specialized prosthetics and reconstruction clinic Superhumans Center. Photo: Superhumans. Photo source: © Virgin

Summing up the conversation, it can be considered encouraging news that in the new architecture, which will also appear as part of the post-war reconstruction, inclusive solutions are implemented with a high degree of probability. At the same time, in cities and villages with an old architectural fund, where there are no or few new buildings, and the infrastructure is not sufficiently developed, a huge layer of problems regarding accessibility and barrier-free environment will remain. The only option for improvement remains the same smart device.

Another productive thesis is the ice of silence regarding the issue of the inclusion of skresla. The existing changes do not suit everyone, and we are waiting for an update of the state normative documentation and legislation in accordance with the current requirements of today, real steps in the implementation of the norms.

According to UN monitoring data, as of July 2023, 15993 civilians were injured during the full-scale war in Ukraine. Among the injuries received from shelling and artillery, explosive injuries predominate - they most often lead to temporary or permanent limitation of mobility and disability.

Research by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) records that almost 80% of Ukrainians have relatives or acquaintances who were injured or killed as a result of Russian military aggression. We are aware that these data are incomplete, because it is not always possible to collect them from the temporarily occupied territories and gray zones on the battle line.

According to the State Statistics Service, there are about 2,7 million people with disabilities in Ukraine. About 73 young Ukrainians have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). New and new numbers can be given about people with functional impairments of vision and hearing, musculoskeletal system, and the elderly.

We have allowed discriminatory and prejudiced attitudes, ignoring each other's rights, to exist for too long, and it must not continue.

"If you cannot find objects in the city with which you interacted, you are not at home. You are a foreigner," — Arna Machkich

Concluding the topic of inclusivity, I would like to mention one more thing that he talks about Arna Machkich, a Dutch architect of Balkan origin, author of the book "Deadly Cities and Forgotten Monuments". Arna's experience is the war in Bosnia and the destruction of the city of Mostar. In her studios, she explores the issues of identity, the mechanisms of attraction and alienation of social groups and refugees and talks about it in the language of design. According to Machkich, when architecture is "killed" during wars, they destroy not only the physical shell of the city, but also the human experience associated with it. Spatial landmarks disappear, previously familiar buildings acquire a new appearance or purpose. Because of this, when cities change after wars and upheavals, they seem to cease to be homes for the people who lived in them. A person should see himself in the city. An accessible environment is an opportunity to create memories. It is impossible without inclusion, barrier-free.

"What, how can we create cities where every resident can identify themselves?" Machkich asks.

Past and future dimensions of security

Entrance to the capital railway station. Photo source: (X)

The city of Shibam in Yemen is included in the list of UNESCO's architectural heritage thanks to its unique clay "skyscrapers". "Manhattan of the desert" became such because of security challenges - constant raids of nomadic tribes. Hemmed in by walls, the city could only expand upwards, building horizontally would make it more open during attacks. Stables and warehouses with supplies were placed on the first floors of the buildings to survive the siege. The upper floors were residential, often connected by bridges and equipped with terraces, which turned the blocks into a vertical labyrinth. You could save yourself in it during an attack.

Shibam's idea can be described as follows: altitude = isolation = safety.

Once, the architect Leon Krieu already mentioned in the text in an interview with an Australian urbanist Nikos Salingaros spoke quite provocatively, calling the skyscraper complex of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed as a result of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, a martyr that suffered a whim, in particular because of its scale. According to the architect, the tragic events of 9/11 should have influenced the general perception of architecture and the idea of ​​the feasibility of high-rise buildings.

In the conversation, Krieu compared the ratio of the floor area of ​​the Pentagon building to one of the Twin Towers and the scale of the damage caused by the explosions.

“If the World Trade Center were housed in four-story traditional building blocks, consider the question: How many airplanes would it take to cause the destruction of the total square footage? I predict that the number will be equal to about 160 Boeing-737 aircraft, not two...", the architect summarized.

Both theses can be perceived in different ways. One thing is clear: humanity and architects have searched and continue to search for practical scenarios that would ensure a comfortable community life. Under the influence of historical events, riots, and social unrest, attention to the safety characteristics of premises may increase or recede into the background.

Facades of Soborna Street, Mykolaiv, 2022. Photo: Sasha Maslov/

Spaces, to reveal the inclusive potential of which we put so much effort, become hostages of their openness when aggression appears in communication. Accessibility turns into vulnerability.

We can recall the shop windows of commercial premises in Ukrainian cities covered with plywood sheets, for example on Sobornia Street in Mykolaiv, the country's longest promenade with dozens of shops and cafes. During the months of attacks by the Russians, Soborna turned into a wasteland where the air seems to ring. Some premises were damaged by shelling, other establishments were closed. The lively aura of the street, which used to be a magnet for residents and guests of Mykolaiv, has completely changed.

In occupied settlements, the premises on the lower floors are the first to be looted and damaged by the enemy.

During social protests in the countries of Central Europe, commercial premises and establishments with storefronts fell under the "hot hand" of the crowd. Broken windows, painted and broken signs, stolen goods - the price that owners and tenants paid for the accessible location of their premises on the streets through which the protesters moved. Theft remains a banal attribute of today, but this scale of looting and chaos was difficult to include in the expected business risks. As noted by some foreign publications, in the summer in France, the financial losses of businesses due to protests reached 1,1 billion dollars. So far, everything has been completed with repairs after the wave of unrest subsided, but this clearly does not inspire the owners.

Shop windows after street protests in Strasbourg, France, 2023. Photo source:

Accessible public spaces with large crowds can become a lure for criminals or terrorists, large storefronts and "aquarium" halls of hotels, shopping and exhibition centers seem critically fragile in the event of an attack or explosion. How can architecture respond to security challenges? Will we have to sacrifice communication and openness?

Even at this stage, one can notice differences in the attitude to the protection of public spaces in different countries, depending on the system, the "climate" within society, and relations with neighboring countries. Somewhere we enter almost any institutions and establishments without delay, and somewhere we stop in front of metal detectors and go through an inspection of things to get into a regular movie theater.

According to architect Oleksandr Kumeik, constructive or planning solutions that could significantly increase the level of safety of the spaces of the lower floors are either unacceptable to the owners themselves, or are economically unreasonable.

"For shopping centers, starting from the second floor and above, the outer walls can be deaf in general. Translucent facades are not a necessity. You and I remember how hypermarkets and construction centers are organized - their shop windows are not located in the outer wall of the building. All communication with the buyer and visitor routes are organized internally. Therefore, the upper floor can be protected better, although in this case the external perception of the building will suffer.

The lower commercial level should be open a priori, in many cases it is street retail. Commercial premises built into residential buildings - restaurants, cafes, shops - especially if they are located on passing streets, provide for the possibility of working with the buyer from the outside, - explains the architect. — Usually these are the most visually interesting premises on the street, they attract the attention of buyers with a window display. If we make them deaf or, for example, with small windows or bars, we will get spaces that are economically unattractive for both the owner and the potential tenant."

"Means that could be applied to increase the strength of the glazing in the event of an explosion are economically unreasonable," Kumeiko continues. — Armoring of glass, which can theoretically protect against debris, is an extremely expensive venture. So much so that instead of implementing it everywhere, it is more expedient to maintain one's own army. Help the military so that the enemy cannot even try to harm. These expenses will be more justified than "strengthening" of architectural projects.

Operating in a broader sense, when do we have a sense of danger? When there are threats, as now. However, considering the entire life cycle of the country, this difficult period is not even a second of time. Residential buildings are designed with a service life of at least a hundred years, wars, even the most violent, last less. Is it appropriate to turn a public or residential building into a fortress so that it remains a fortress for a century?".

Oleksandr Kumeiko, architect

PM: Should we prepare ourselves for the fact that spaces will become less user-friendly in the future? For example, there will be mandatory security lines at the entrance to public buildings or separate premises for inspecting things, taking into account possible terrorist threats. We can remember how public spaces became "overcrowded" during the pandemic.

OK.: Apart from the framework and superficial inspection of things, personnel control, nothing new was invented in the world. We understand that these are not architectural solutions, although in cases where the inspection line cannot be organized indoors, it is located in an external temporary structure.

This arsenal has long been used in Europe and the USA mainly in prominent places, near world-famous objects, and in Eastern and Arab countries - generally everywhere. Not only where the political system is unstable or danger is close, but also in developed countries, such as Qatar and the UAE.

Now it seems that we are passing this test for the first time. Unfortunately, conflicts and wars with the possibility of attacks occur in the world all the time. If, under these conditions, there was a need to secure visitors to public spaces in a different way, people would have long ago invented it and implemented it in the world. It seems that the only way to make spaces more friendly is to "dissolve" all the terrorist organizations and regimes that pose a danger.

Norms for building or predicting special solutions do not currently exist for us, specialists, except for those we use for banking, judicial institutions, and penitentiary institutions.

Despite all the circumstances, I think there are no prerequisites for the building to turn into an outpost now or in the future."


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Cover photo: Oleksandr Zvir / Unsplash