Undegraduate Thesis
Riga Technical University
/Mgr.arch. Egons Berzins
Bachelor Thesis — Public Participation in Urban Planning and Architecture
Public Participation in Urban Planning and Architecture is my Bachelor Thesis in Riga Technical University.

My passion for socially-conscious architecture has always inspired me to seek opportunities to learn about how architecture can be used to have a positive impact on people’s lives. In high-school, I conducted research exploring the reasons for Riga’s increasingly alarming abandon of its architectural heritage. As an undergraduate student later on, I participated in a project in Russia, which focused on participatory design. Inspired by this experience, I developed my Bachelor’s project around exploring and prioritising the needs of the local community. Therefore, when the time came to write my Bachelor’s Thesis, I already had a clear idea of what I would like to research.

Since I had personally participated in projects that involve public participation, it was evident to me that only theoretical research and case study researches would not be enough to provide new and meaningful conclusions. Due to the subjective nature of these events, I used an in-depth observational method which required me to take part in the very process I researched.
Challenge
The aim of the bachelor’s thesis was to explore how public involvement in the design process can improve public welfare and the quality of the environment, provide a more in-depth understanding of the ways of public participation, as well as the role of architects in public participation processes.
Idea
Nowadays, architectural projects must be able to satisfy not only the wishes of the client or the intent of a particular architect, but also to create a social contribution to society, therefore public participation in the creation of the spatial environment becomes an important part of the architectural design process. Public participation ensures that the expectations and needs of the broader public are also taken into account in the development of the environment. Involving the public makes it possible not only to achieve a higher quality environment, but also to promote various socially important processes.
Execution
In Chapter 1, I studied and analysed various researches on the role of public participation in the urban environment, as well as its impact on the social and environmental quality.

In Chapter 2, I explored public participation examples and case studies in Latvia, summarised and systemised the most common forms of public participation and carried out a public survey on public participation processes.
Based on my theoretical research, I developed a set of criteria for analysing, evaluating and improving the quality of public participation events.
I then participated in three public participation events concerning relevant and large-scale territories in Riga — discussions on the development of Riga Historic Centre and the development of Zakusala territory, as well as an EU co-founded cooperation project in Mukusala, aimed at improving and creating new planning and partnership models in the Baltic Sea region.

Afterwards, I analysed these public participation events using the set of criteria I developed in order to evaluate their quality and propose improvements.
Result
Based on the research I gathered and the analysis I carried out, I determined that public participation can serve as a tool for improving the social, functional and aesthetic environment.

Based on my practical research, I concluded that architects play a major role in involving the public in urban planning—their contribution to public participation processes is qualitative information material, as well as the ability to integrate the wishes and needs of society into planning and projects.

In addition, I developed a set of criteria for analysing, evaluating and improving the quality of public participation events which can be used by local municipalities, as well as architects and urban planners, to improve the quality of public involvement.
Challenge
Creating a quality living environment in an existing urban environment is a challenge in itself. This is due to the struggle between historical heritage, public functions of the city, as well as the privacy of the living environment. This is very much apparent on the banks of the Zunda Canal, where industrial inheritance, intensive educational and business developments, as well as an increasing need for housing can be observed together.
Idea
One of the key elements that makes a living environment desirable is the presence of a healthy and happy community. The inhabitants of the Zunda Canal area vary from local fishermen to international students. My main goal was to create an environment that would respect this diverse community and allow it to evolve and grow, as well as creating a desirable environment for potential residents and visitors. Therefore, my proposed designs involve creating both luxury and co-living residences, small scale fisherman docks and private workshops and extensive public promenades. My vision proposes the Canal as the connecting link between these diverse inhabitants.
Housing
In order to maintain a human-friendly scale, I designed the residential area at a maximum height of 4 stories (12m), while also positioning the buildings in a way that allows the waterfront to be seen at all times. In order to ensure easy access and to keep the inner housing area as private as possible, I situated the public functions on the boundaries of the site. Student and senior housing is situated next to the main traffic street, which helps create an acoustical and visual shield from the street, while also rendering the buildings easily accessible by foot and public transport.
De-segregation
Affordability was also a key goal of mine. Because the residential area includes residences mainly for small households and families, I wanted to make sure that they are available to a wide spectrum of people. And so in order to avoid the area simply becoming financially unobtainable for the neighboring communities, I propose a considerable number of living units as co-living residences that would include shared amenities reserved for students and the elderly.
The Waterfront
I chose to design the waterfront as a public promenade consisting of various public and commercial functions that would face the canal, such as shops, cafes, and water sport rentals. I also wanted to create a social link between the two neighboring universities, and so the three pedestrian bridges are designed to serve not only as a physical connection to Ķīpsala, but to also connect RISEBA and RTU Universities. The floating cafe and sauna is an example of this link, promoting the exchange of knowledge between the students of the two universities.
The Unfinished Bridge
I repurposed the unfinished bridge—which currently lingers above the main traffic road—as a pedestrian and cycling path, which now also serves as an observation deck overlooking the area. The descent from the bridge is designed to be intertwined with various commercial functions, and ultimately leads pedestrians and cyclists towards the waterfront. In addition, the residential area and waterfront are finally accessible from Pārdaugava as well.
The Factory
I propose to develop the industrial area and its adjacent waterfront to cater to the interests and habits of the local fishermen. In order to maintain its rural vibe, I located the private docks and sheds to be alongside the canal. As for the abandoned industrial territory, I proposed reusing it as a workshop area where students and locals can exchange tools and services.
Result
I was happy to create a proposal that is based on my research which explores issues in contemporary urban development. As a result, the project prioritizes the needs of the surrounding community, and considers factors in urban mobility and environmental sustainability. It was also a valuable opportunity to explore regulatory enactments, as well as to design a proposal that takes in account the planned development of its surrounding territories.
Challenge
Creating a quality living environment in an existing urban environment is a challenge in itself. This is due to the struggle between historical heritage, public functions of the city, as well as the privacy of the living environment. This is very much apparent on the banks of the Zunda Canal, where industrial inheritance, intensive educational and business developments, as well as an increasing need for housing can be observed together.

Idea
One of the key elements that makes a living environment desirable is the presence of a healthy and happy community. The inhabitants of the Zunda Canal area vary from local fishermen to international students. My main goal was to create an environment that would respect this diverse community and allow it to evolve and grow, as well as creating a desirable environment for potential residents and visitors. Therefore, my proposed designs involve creating both luxury and co-living residences, small scale fisherman docks and private workshops and extensive public promenades. My vision proposes the Canal as the connecting link between these diverse inhabitants.

Housing
In order to maintain a human-friendly scale, I designed the residential area at a maximum height of 4 stories (12m), while also positioning the buildings in a way that allows the waterfront to be seen at all times. In order to ensure easy access and to keep the inner housing area as private as possible, I situated the public functions on the boundaries of the site. Student and senior housing is situated next to the main traffic street, which helps create an acoustical and visual shield from the street, while also rendering the buildings easily accessible by foot and public transport.

De-segregation
Affordability was also a key goal of mine. Because the residential area includes residences mainly for small households and families, I wanted to make sure that they are available to a wide spectrum of people. And so in order to avoid the area simply becoming financially unobtainable for the neighboring communities, I propose a considerable number of living units as co-living residences that would include shared amenities reserved for students and the elderly.

The Waterfront
I chose to design the waterfront as a public promenade consisting of various public and commercial functions that would face the canal, such as shops, cafes, and water sport rentals. I also wanted to create a social link between the two neighboring universities, and so the three pedestrian bridges are designed to serve not only as a physical connection to Ķīpsala, but to also connect RISEBA and RTU Universities. The floating cafe and sauna is an example of this link, promoting the exchange of knowledge between the students of the two universities.

The Unfinished Bridge
I repurposed the unfinished bridge—which currently lingers above the main traffic road—as a pedestrian and cycling path, which now also serves as an observation deck overlooking the area. The descent from the bridge is designed to be intertwined with various commercial functions, and ultimately leads pedestrians and cyclists towards the waterfront. In addition, the residential area and waterfront are finally accessible from Pārdaugava as well. The Factory
I propose to develop the industrial area and its adjacent waterfront to cater to the interests and habits of the local fishermen. In order to maintain its rural vibe, I located the private docks and sheds to be alongside the canal. As for the abandoned industrial territory, I proposed reusing it as a workshop area where students and locals can exchange tools and services.

Result
I was happy to create a proposal that is based on my research which explores issues in contemporary urban development. As a result, the project prioritizes the needs of the surrounding community, and considers factors in urban mobility and environmental sustainability. It was also a valuable opportunity to explore regulatory enactments, as well as to design a proposal that takes in account the planned development of its surrounding territories.