Architecture for the City
Public Buildings in a Private Time
Architecture for the City: Public Buildings in a Private Time _ Nelson Mota
The western world’s understanding of a public space is chiefly connected with the idea of a democratic place. Further, public space is often synonym of freedom and opportunity for individual expression and collective performance. The Greek agora or the Roman forum are arguably the most canonical figures of public space. However, in this day and age, the dynamics of everyday life in an urban world increasingly populated with virtual actors challenges the cultural and political qualities that we associate with the notion of public space. The architecture of the city plays an important role in this process. As a repository of collective memory, it is a fundamental agent to activate the public spaces. Indeed, the transitions between public life and the domestic realm have been chiefly negotiated through timeless architectural devices such as arcades, gates, doors, windows or balconies. Now, they are being increasingly negotiated by glazed facades, Jumbotron’s, and smartphones.
The famous map of Rome drawn in 1748 by the Italian architect and surveyor Giambattista Nolli showed the interior of buildings such as the Pantheon and squares such as Piazza Navona as public spaces. In both cases, these were spaces of desire and conflict, places that expressed the struggles and contradictions of the life in the city. More recently, under the influence of the politics of the welfare state that ruled in Europe and North America from the post Second World War until the 1980s, architects were often challenged to expand the democratic civic space into the inside of public buildings. This was the heyday of the idea of open society, as Karl Popper put it. Now buildings – often seen as monuments or rhetorical devices of representation – are taking over the role of architectural types such as the piazza, the town square or the city commons as the main locus for social interaction and public representation. Public spaces are increasingly penetrating into private shells.
Narratives for Community Architecture
Narratives for Community Architecture _ Tom Van Malderen
Despite the current state of crisis concerning the value of public space, shared and common space is not shrinking, but expanding. In fact, we have a vaster volume of communal space to our disposal than ever before. However, with rising social conflict, the effects of worldwide migrations and shifts in global economic and financial interest, the traditional public space is increasingly under pressure and trying to balance its act between security and surveillance, participation and commercialization. To make matters worse, the omnipresence of digital space has overtaken the public space’s original position as the prime location for shaping culture, politics and civic conduct in general.
The article takes a closer look at eleven samples of new hybrids of shared, public and communal space that are developing outside the realm of the traditional public space. It explores how these projects each offer new insights about the definition – and possibly the redefinition – of what makes a place ‘public’; and how their designers endorse several narratives for an architecture of community and demonstrate that the sum of many more modest and smaller community inputs together can equally add value to the collective promise of a physical and tangible environment.