Civic Realism

fac_pub_rowe_civic_realismA civic place belongs to everyone and yet to nobody in particular. In Civic Realism, Peter G. Rowe looks at the shape and appearance of civic places, and at the social, political, and cultural circumstances that bring them into existence. The book is as much about the making and reshaping of civic places as it is about urban architecture per se. According to Rowe, the best civic place-making occurs across the divide between the state and civil society. By contrast, the alternatives are not very attractive. On the one side are state-sponsored edifices and places of authoritarian nature; on the other are the exclusive enclaves of corporate-dominated urban and suburban environments.

Rowe begins with an example of a civic place that has stood the test of time — Siena’s Piazza del Campo. To be a citizen of Siena is to participate in the life of the Campo. The Campo was and is real, with a realism that encompasses everyday life, occasional events, solemn occasions, and extraordinary celebrations. It is this sense of the word “real” that, together with “civic,” forms the design practice called “civic realism.”

Topics covered in the book include the role of the state and civil society in the constriction of civic spaces, aesthetic and architectural dimensions of realism, individual and collective uses of urban space. And how civic places constitute as well as represent the civic aspect of our lives. The examples, mostly from the modern period, include recent public spaces in Barcelona, several of the Grand Projects in Paris, neorealist projects in postwar Rome, contemporary transformations of the Manhattan grid, and Plecnik’s water axis in prewar Ljubljana.


    1. Reexamining the Public Realm
      An Organization of Public and Civic Life
      Siena’s Piazza del Campo
      Underlying Themes of Civic Realism
    1. Civic Realms and Public Places 
      The Urban Public Spaces of Barcelona
      Civic Interaction between the State and Civil Society
      Civic Place Making and the Parisian Grand Projects
    1. Realism and World Making 
      Strains of Aesthetic Realism
      Neorealism and Rome’s Postwar Development
      Definition of Architectural Realism
    1. Individual Spaces and Collective Places 
      Transformation of Space into Place
      Resistance, Manifestation, and New York’s Grid
      Accommodation of a Plurality of Interests
    1. Representation and Constitution of Spatial Meanings 
      Regionalism and Plans for a City
      Plecnik’s Water Axis in Ljubljana
      Constitutive and Representational Aspects of Public Domains
    1. The Practice of Civic Realism 
      The Civic, the Real, and the Specific
      Civic Realism as a Constellation of Conceptual Dimensions
      Toward a Well-Grounded Contemporaneity

MIT Press, 1997