Have you ever thought about the architecture of winter? What makes a city a good winter city? After spending a few months in Europe just as the weather was starting to change, I noticed that cities in the Netherlands and northern Germany have a way of taking urban dwellers from warmth to cold without them hardly noticing the rapidly dropping temps. Cities there tend to know exactly how to extend the period of comfortable outdoor space and are currently looking at more ways to make winter a time of pleasure vs. one of dread.
As we dined in an outdoor cafe in Eindhoven initially not thinking twice about it, it was only halfway into our meal that it dawned on me that it was 45 degrees and we were eating outdoors and feeling quite cozy. Looking around, I noticed we were seated beneath a large canopy with plastic side partitions separating our cafe from the next, along with several large heat lamps scattered throughout the space. It also helped that this cafe was packed with warm bodies, as residents embraced the concept merrily, sipping and slurping and laughing and chatting. This cold rainy day wasn’t about to stop them from living life. Eindhoven wasn’t about to give up the pleasure of dining outdoors simply because summer was over.
Of course, there’s more than a space heater in an outdoor cafe that makes urban winters more enjoyable. Outdoor markets, beverages sold streetside such as hot mulled spice wine (it sure kept me warm!), street performers playing (vs. disappearing until Spring), lots of passages and arcades to take shelter in, and of course, the residents dressing accordingly. Here in the states, particularly the northeast where I live, people are always complaining about how cold they are as they stand before you in jeans, a sweater and a wool over coat. No wonder. They are still dressed as though it’s Autumn. If you want to get the most pleasure out of winter, layer up! Invest in quality gear – a hat, gloves and a scarf, and get outside and move around. Take up a winter sport. Hiking in the forest, cross country skiing, even sled riding on a regular basis makes winter fun.
Another observation while in northern Europe, the locals view winter as just another season that has it’s ups and downs, not a time to go completely inactive by heading home directly after work and staying there until we wake again the next morning to return to work yet again. In some cultures, simply gathering around a table with candles, a big meal and good conversation with friends and family help to make the winter season more of a pleasure. I know my friends in Germany do this often in the winter, and after partaking in such gatherings myself, it’s something I’ve vowed to do here in the states with my own crew.
What got me started on this subject was that moment mentioned earlier whilst in Eindhoven when I realized I was outside eating on a very cold rainy day. When I returned to the states, the Nov/Dec AB issue was waiting in the mail which covers the very subject my husband and I chatted about while flying home – what makes a city a good winter city. AB explores this subject in depth, along with additional coverage on designing a winter city (from an architect’s perspective) and there’s even a feature on what the locals would do to make Boston a better winter city.
Here’s what some had to say, “Taking a page out of Providence’s Waterfire evenings, imagine a Fire and Ice walk along the Rose Kennedy Greenway, where large-scale ice sculptures interspersed with braziers would illuminate a romantic walk. Have stops along the way where small choirs could sing – Boston has an unbelievably large number of choruses. Hot chocolate, hot cider, and fleece earmuffs could be sold by vendors under heaters.” – Diane Georgopoulos FAIA for AB.
When it comes to winter, I think the key is to avoid giving in to negative thinking, ‘getting through it’ or ‘passing by the time as quickly as possible’. Afterall, this is your life we’re talking about and no one should be on a race to make it pass by more quickly! You want to enjoy each day that you have been blessed to exist on this planet. The key is to find ways to make the best out of the weather so that you can enjoy each and every snowflake. If you live in a cold climate, what does your city do to keep its residents happy, tourism somewhat alive, and spirits high? What are you planning to do this winter to make the season fun and interesting? Any home projects, fitness plans, career goals, etc.?
Oh, and if you don’t have a copy of Architecture Boston, which covers this very subject in depth, try to get your hands on a copy soon.
(image from one of my favorite photographers, simply photo. you can purchase her lovely postcards shown above on etsy.)