Configurations of Public Space – debate and design

Description:As the object of desire for a vast array of urban constituents involved in the making of the city, public space is the subject of great scrutiny and debate. Yet its terms and definitions remain elusive. If we can be both more precise and expansive in its conceptualisation, we will have begun to re-imagine the emancipatory role that many claim for it. In this course, we will ask foundational questions of public space. What is meant by \”public\” and what is meant by \”space\”? Deceptively simple questions that have launched an industry of opinion. We will begin with a biased viewpoint that idealizes a democratic construction of the \”public\” as elaborated by Jurgen Habermas and Hannah Arendt, understanding democratic only in the basic recognition of a public that is created rather than given. We will then follow critiques and elaborations of these two theories that have been offered by political and social critics who call for the consideration of a public that is at once non-exclusionary and heterogeneous, and for a multiple of publics in constant flux. A line of feminist critique will be followed through the works of Nancy Fraser, Seyla Benhabib, and Iris Marion Young among others. We will review a postmodernist realignment of the public through these critics in search of the claims for a contested pluralism possible in city life. These critiques will help us to configure important concepts of public/private, the self, justice, and strong and weak publics relative to the understanding of public space. This line of investigation will occupy the first five classes.From this point, the class will transition into understanding current debates, designs, and critical practices in physical public space. The following four themes will be considered for two classes each:The Virtual The class will review the collisions between public space and media, telecommunications, and information technologies. Predictions both celebratory and dire will be presented. While some critics posit the erosion of the public sphere by information technologies (Boyer) others optimistically see the creation of a communicative ethos via such technologies. How do the narratives of loss surrounding both the public realm and public space endure alongside a ubiquitous net culture and global television audiences? And has this synthetic programming environment rendered urban life, \”the polis,\” obsolete (Kwinter) or has it reinforced its necessity? Among many others, projects for consideration will include media and Times Square, the publicity of MTV\’s TRL, OMA\’s Seattle Public Library, and recent public art projects of Scofidio + Diller.The SelfThis theme will address the construction of the modern self, occupant, or active participant in public space, and its evolution. Exploring the range of positions from the passive consumer of spectacle and space, to the active constructor of the public realm, we will reference Benhabib\’s concept of the \”embedded human self whose identity is constituted narratively\” as well as Gueze\’s reconsideration of the \”urban victim.\” We will review the role of the public activist, the actor upon the stage, through the actions and campaigns of Gran Fury, ACT-UP, and the Guerilla Girls, to the projects of Krzysztof Wodiczko and West 8 Landscape architects among others. Paid forWell before Charles Moore proclaimed in 1965 \”you have to pay for public life\”, the battle over the provision of public space and the role of the state in its delivery has been crucial to American urbanism. For a nation that capitulates every aspect of public life to a rampant capitalism, the fear of privatised public space seems misplaced if not futile. We will review the subtle degrees of publicness within the (economically) private realm, and investigate the fluidity of these two difficult terms (public and private) as well as the legal definitions surrounding each. Projects for conside