There are some who glorify the state or quality of bigness. This seems to be something characteristic of the modern age – the first hosannas began to resound around the dawn of the metropolis. We see it in the writings of Louis Sullivan and in the statements made by Le Corbusier. They like buildings to be big. Bigness is their quality. The notion of ‘bigness’, as pushed forward more recently by among others Rem Koolhaas, is based on complete disconnection between the interior and the exterior. “Bigness is no longer part of any urban tissue”, he thinks. Context – the relationship with the building’s surroundings – is supposedly irrelevant. Nonsense! His theorem is contradicted by studies of existing cases. When a building exceeds a certain size and becomes a large-scale structure, public interiors are created. The increase in the number of people using both these indoors and the outdoor space links big buildings closely to their surroundings, more then do small-scale buildings, and thus far from being isolated, big buildings become more connected. In their urban environments, the interaction becomes visible and multi-level or privately-owned public space is created within big buildings. New public interiors extend the outdoor network and thereby give the building a fine-meshed structure. In essence, as the interiors become more public, the small scale is introduced into the building. The building may be big purely in terms of size, but in many ways it is quite as diverse as any part of the city.
In the city today, we meet in public atria and shop in malls, we move along covered walkways and go from street to street by taking shortcuts through the buildings of a city block. In recent decades, the amount and proportion of public space within urban buildings has steadily increased, with much of it forming part of a larger interior and exterior pedestrian network. Yet, although interior public space has become an important constituent of the contemporary city and of our urban experience, it is rarely designed as such. Prompted by this disconnection, Maurice Harteveld has followed different leads to examine contemporary urban design in relation to public interiors. Through this research, he has documented in particular the urban analyses and architectural designs of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, in which interior public space is accorded significant and multiple roles. Ideas pioneered by Venturi and Scott Brown have become absorbed within architectural practice, notably their use of the Nolli Map introduced in their 1972 study of Las Vegas. Similarly, the concept of the ‘rue interieur’ seen in their earliest projects, has matured in their later work to include an internal street imbedded in a network of urban public spaces and pathways, both interior and exterior. However, although they refer to interior public space frequently in their writing, Venturi and Scott Brown have yet to describe their views on it in any great detail; a more focused examination that the following dialogue between Maurice Harteveld and Denise Scott Brown seeks to provide.
The design of the public space is one of the fundamental assignments for professionals involved in urban design and planning. Constructing and (re)forming the network of public space is even conditional for any kind of urbanity. It includes more than just the lay-out and beauty of spaces, as the design of public space has to be able to facilitate new kinds of usage, preconditioning any plausible development of multiple and complex use, and in general housing the dynamics for social change and exchange.
In explorations of the notions of public space, public interiors are generally seen as undemocratic and more private spaces. This is based on the Roman distinction between publicus and privatus, but making public space, as a public case, refer primarily to res publica. – On the other hand, there is a related Roman public law that deals with the common interest of urban society, and could include cases of interior public space. Most sociological research in contemporary daily life reveals these spaces as public. For urbanism, this research can be seen as the social context, because the urbanist is primarily focused on the city: the civitas, and not the whole societas. More specifically, for urban designers who deal with public space, it traditionally means focusing on the outdoor space, and although this is almost always synonymous with the public domain or publicly owned space, I believe that public space can be more than this. For urbanism this means there is a need for new understanding and an extension of the design task..
On Routing and Orientation in City Centres
The chair of Urban Design at the TU Delft is participating in the Spatial Metro project on routing and orientation in city centres. This project focuses on the improvement of city centres. Other partners are the cities of Norwich, Bristol, Rouen and Koblenz, the University of East Anglia, the School of Environmental Sciences and the School of Computing Sciences, the University of Koblenz and the Swiss Pedestrian Association.