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Public Buildings as Infrastructure Investment

Creating the places that foster and enrich communities

October 7, 2019

A road leading to the Library of Congress is surrounded by greenspace and protected by bollards
Public buildings make up an important part of a community’s infrastructure.

In a polarized political climate, one thing that unites people of all political stripes is the belief that infrastructure spending would be positive for the country. A $2 trillion infrastructure bill introduced in the spring, with strong bipartisan support, was put on hiatus for political reasons shortly after. Although the current political situation makes it unlikely a large infrastructure bill will be passed soon, infrastructure continues to be a priority, however unglamorous, for municipalities and states across the country.

What is public infrastructure?

Public infrastructure is anything in the built environment owned by a branch of government. This includes buildings, paving, sewers, tunnels, electrical lines, and many more items.

Public infrastructure is built for many different reasons, and can be administered by the city, county, state, or federal government.

An aerial view of a highway at night gleams with the streaked lights of moving cars
People often think of highways and sewers when considering public works.

Examples of public infrastructure

  • Transportation: bridges, roads, ferries, airports, etc.
  • Power and energy: the power grid; stations; solar, water or wind installations
  • Emergency services: police and fire stations, temporary emergency infrastructure
  • Education: schools and universities
  • Health: public hospitals
  • Politics: government buildings, courts of law
  • Recreation: community centers, parks, historical sites, national landmarks
  • Water: sewers, water processing, water supply, drainage
  • Communication: telephone and communications networks

What is the difference between public infrastructure and public works?

“Public infrastructure” and “public works” are terms that often refer to the same set of public assets. However, the term public works often carries oblique reference to the economic stimulus and employment that arise from infrastructure projects.

Buildings as public infrastructure

Examples of public buildings are schools, community centers, libraries, courts, information centers, washrooms in parks, government buildings, and public housing. Each of these places connect people to each other in ways that define and support community.

A 2017 survey by the American Institute of Architects shows that 83% of Americans recognize their public buildings part of infrastructure. Buildings that are open to the public create the sense of place, the common living-space, within a city or town.

Top considerations for public building projects

The restored Roman Colosseum at sunrise
The Colosseum is an ancient example of a building built by government for public use.

Public buildings as landmarks   

Often, large public buildings like central libraries, government buildings, and courthouses are designed by cities to reflect the priorities of the people and governments of the time. Public buildings are therefore often a living record of the community that constructed them.

Some of the world’s most iconic architecture are public buildings. The Colosseum in Rome was constructed in 70-80 AD as an amphitheater that displayed gladiatorial combat and political executions to the Roman people. Over the millennia since its construction, it has been repurposed away from its original violent purpose many times. It’s now the most visited tourist attraction in Rome. The White House, the Capitol Building, the NYC Public Library: all these buildings are instantly recognizable and carry a sense of place.

In the more recent past, public buildings are often built reflect new values of sustainability and inclusion. They tend to be less massive: the need for more projects diffused across a city means that any one building gets less funding than the projects of previous eras. Yet they can still be architecturally significant and create a substantial impression. One such build, the central library in Vancouver, BC, was designed to be based on the Colosseum. Yet the design, and all subsequent upgrades, have been made with modern sustainability in mind. In Canada, it was one of the earliest public buildings to feature a green roof in order to manage water, temperature, and air cooling.

Accessories to infrastructure

At Reliance Foundry, we provide solutions that help make places people want to be. Our products are designed to guide traffic and provide beautiful aesthetics—while creating safety for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. Public spaces are centrally important to our mission, and we keep an eye on the trends and movement within the industry. Our decorative product lines provide touches that highlight the aesthetics of a place, like decorative bollards, lighting bollards, or tree grates. Other products are designed to slide into the background, like our trench drains or DWPs, providing services in an unobtrusive way. Yet all these small choices in infrastructure add up to a clear sense of place.

If you are involved in an infrastructure project and want to discuss the range of stock or custom options available, please get in touch.

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