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Public Space: Who Is It Really For?


Last week Museum of Architecture hosted a discussion around Public Space and Neighbourhoods, with the central theme being what is the responsibility of architects and public organisations to shape and define how these spaces are used and consequentially how we behave in these spaces, perhaps playing a role in public social engineering? The spaces available to us do affect how we behave as a society, so how much responsibility should architects take?

Giles Charlton from the landscape architecture practice Spacehub specialising in landscape and public realm, talked us through the quite futuristic and ambitious multi-layered plans for the Goodsyard in Bishopsgate featuring an elevated park in a the hyper-urban environment between The City and Shoreditch. As London’s skyline become elevated, so it seems will its parks! John Edwards from the charity organisation Living Streets founded in 1929, ensuring that Britain’s streets are pedestrian friendly, explained how they work to make sure that these public spaces that we all use daily are adapted to changing needs in society. From installing zebra crossings and cycle paths to the introduction of the Highway Code, this organisation has been fundamental to how we navigate and subsequently how we behave as soon as we step out of our front door.

Torange Khonsari from art and architecture practice Public Works explained how they work with communities to define and shape public how space can be used and appropriated by creating interventions as catalysts for community engagement within specific environments. Public Works are very much led by how architects and designers can and do inspire and influence uses of public space using their playful interventions to ask quite fundamental questions about civic society.

The discussion amongst the panelists wasn’t conclusive as their output is quite different, however the reassuring commonality is the interest in how people can both influence and engage with the spaces they create (although how much they are listened to and what impact these conversations actually have is debatable). Any non-architect would think this should be obvious, but this discussion highlighted the fact that this is often not the case, especially in economically driven urban development. If developers and the architects they contract worked more closely with practices such as Public Works to understand how specific communities and neighborhoods engage with the public space where they live and work, I believe we would very quickly see the social impact without this necessarily affecting their profit margins.

A couple of exmaples of suprising successful public spaces:

Kings Cross Granery Square designed by Designed by Townshend Landscape Architects, is not only the playground for St Martin's students and patrons of the rather high end restaurants on the square but has become a veritable community space for local families to enjoy the canalside and fountains.

Jardins d'Eoel in Paris designed by Michel and Claire Corajoud bringing a natural environment into a super urban cityscape. Although this is the most modern looking park, it is used extensively used by the the incredibly multicultural communities in the surrounding areas. Each community has appropraited different sections of the park for their own gatherings and although they are not nescasserily mixing, they are united by the public space provided by the park.

#musuemofarchitecture #architecture #publicworks #spacehub #livingstreets

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