African Public Spaces?

What is public space in African? Does it exist as we may presume? At the current, we are analysing and comparing urban life and presumed public spaces in selected segments of four African cities to map what we know about these cities. It is a first step in deepening cross-cultural understanding: An exiting start of a new exiting scientific journey along Dakar in Senegal, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Maputo in Mozambique, and Lusaka in Zambia.

Image by Vaggy Georgali
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Architecture and the City

The Architecture and the City: Public Realm/Public Building research group of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology focuses on questions regarding the mutual relationship between the city and its public realm. This is a relationship that can only be considered in socio-cultural and economic context. The idea of the public realm here refers to an intermediate ‘space’, which facilitates and mediates between different groups of inhabitants and individuals; the idea of the public realm as the space of (ex)change of ideas, opinions and beliefs of the different groups of users. Therefore, the architecture of the city and its actual qualities form the main framework of this research. Within this context urban blocks, as interface between architecture and urban design, and public buildings are seen as crucial architectural elements. Their functioning and organisation are physically, symbolically, socially and economically fundamental to the city. As such they form a domain both of architectural convention and experimentation. In terms of research and design methods architectural typology, typo-morphology and research-by-design hold a central position in our group’s approach.

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The Curse of Bigness

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.

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Design of Public Space

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.
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Interiors: Urbanism or Not?

The Department of Urban and Regional Planning of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya organized the second International Ph.D. Seminar on Urbanism and Urbanization in Barcelona, from June 27th-29th, 2005. Using the name of Urbanism and Urbanization, the seminar focused on the key epistemological issue of the interface between the ongoing processes transforming the contemporary city, the practice of “making the city” through urban design and urban planning, and the research on urbanism studying them. The presented papers showed the possible contributions that researches in urbanism can make in order to develop an urban knowledge (a set of concepts, models, devices, guidelines, design tools…) engaged with the transformation and improvement of the city and the urbanization processes. Public Interiors: Urbanism or Not? clarifies the urban design role next to the architectural design role concerning the design task of interior public space. From out of the viewpoint of public space, the design of public interiors is a dismissed task for urbanist. By systematic analysing different types of interior public spaces, such as the arcade and the mall, through time, the evolution of their different contemporary urban design tasks becomes clear. In general: If the position in the city and the urban context are highly relevant, the conclusion is that the urban design task is just as crucial. Although designing interiors is traditionally the task of architects, in the case of interior public space it is therefore high time to share that task with urbanists.

Harteveld, M.G.A.D. (2005) Public Interiors: Urbanism or Not? In: Martí Casanovas, M., M. Corominas i Ayala, J. Sabaté Bel and A. Sotoca García (eds.), II PhD Seminar: Urbanism & Urbanization, Volume I. Barcelona: ETSAB, pp. 219-230

The framework of the Urbanism & Urbanization Seminars enabled PhD candidates to present either short papers (ten-minute presentations for starting researches) or full papers, like the above (twenty-minute presentations in a plenary session) in order to be discussed and refereed. The participation of academia from universities representing very different contexts contributed to rich debates. Different universities contributed to the seminar: MIT, TU Berlin, U Girona, Princeton, U Coruña, USB Venezuela, SAD Oslo, Aalborg U, U Newcastle, UCL, UR Montevideo, UPC, KU Leuven, IUAV and TU Delft.

European Publicity

In October 2004, the cities of Delft and Antwerp were the scenes of the EAAE conference and the ‘European City’. This conference, organised by the Delft University of Technology and the Antwerp Higher Institute of Architectural Sciences Henry van de Velde, focused on the interaction between ‘architectural interventions’ and ‘urban transformations’, both now and in the past. The typological evolutions of the arcade and the mall exemplify this interaction and as such are put forward in the paper European Publicity, Learning From the Evolution of the Interior Public Space. They both illustrate how interior public spaces came to acquire their dualistic nature: both city and building, both urban and architectural design. By learning from their history, the contemporary design tasks of public interiors can be understood and (re)defined.

At a certain point in the evolution of public interiors, buildings can become part of the city or else parts of the city can become buildings. The result is confusion. Disciplinary borders do change, but the key force behind the current confusion is twofold: urbanism defines new types of public space while architecture defines them as new building types. It is both.

From the perspective of interior public space, the European city need not be content with enclosed autonomous projects, hence an independent architectural approach with its focus on the interior programme, climate and experience only, like in the case of some malls. This forecasts ’empty boxes’, abandoned objects, such as emerging in North America. The position in the city and the urban context are highly relevant, and thus is the urban design task just as crucial. Although designing interiors is traditionally the task of architects, in the case of interior public space it is therefore high time to share that task with urbanists. This is what we can see in the other case of arcades too.

Harteveld, Maurice (2005) European Publicity, Learning from the Evolution of the Interior Public Space. In: Claessen, Francois en Leen van Duin (eds.), The European City. Architectural Interventions and Urban Transformations. EAAE Transactions on Architectural Education No. 25. Delft: DUP, pp. 223-231

About the European Association for Architectural Education
The European Association for Architectural Education (EAAE) is an international non-profit association committed to the exchange of ideas and people within the field of architectural education and research. The EAAE aims at improving the knowledge base and the quality of architectural and urban design education. It is a bi-lingual English/French association.
Founded in 1975, the EAAE has grown in stature to become an institution fulfilling an increasingly essential role in providing a European perspective for the work of architectural educationalists as well as concerned governmental agencies.
The EAAE counts more than 100 Active Member Schools in Europe from the Canary Islands to the Urals, representing almost 5000 tenured faculty members and more than 100000 students of architecture from the undergraduate to the doctoral level. The association is building up associate membership worldwide.