Experiments in Public Freedom

As places that accept and encourage multiple representations, cities need spaces to enable unregulated, temporary, and spontaneous events. Due to their role and meaning in the construction and definition of the public realm, public spaces are expected to embody a well-defined character and gravitas. Due to the multiplicity of publics, however, these spaces must engage with temporary, overlapping, and often-contradictory sensibilities and occupations. The design question that emerges is, what type of character and gravitas can be achieved with temporality and spontaneity?

This design theory seminar presents an amalgamation of views from different perspectives (architecture, art, landscape architecture, urban design) that coalesce around six spatial conditions that are useful for conceptualizing and designing spaces capable of promoting cultural diversity, social acceptance, and individual spontaneity. Through this amalgamation, this course explores containment, neutrality, blankness, normalcy, anarchy, and amnesia as conditions that can open up public space.

Despite their potential, these spatial properties are usually underestimated as they seem to lack aspects of what is generally considered essential for designing successful public spaces: site specificity, sensibility to local aesthetics, sociocultural appropriateness, permanent and fixed identity, etc. Consequentially, these spatial properties are controversial and they are generally labeled by designers of the built environment (architects, landscape architects, urban designers) as incompatible with the making of places. It is precisely due to these so-called deficiencies, however, that these spatial properties can be instrumental to imagine spaces that enable constant recirculation of multiple temporary publics rather than permanent forms of regulation, identity, or appropriateness.

The course is composed of six sections, one per spatial condition. Each section comprises a lecture by the instructor around a constellation of references (projects and texts) to be discussed in class. For each section, students are asked to analyze an environment of their choice (building, landscape, open space, etc.) that demonstrates the design techniques used for achieving and implementing the spatial condition being discussed. At the end of the semester, students are asked to assemble these six analyses into a design primer for the enabling of public freedoms.

The first meeting of this course on Friday, January 27th will take place in Piper Auditorium.