City Public Spaces In Architecture Cultural Studies Essay

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Based on the relation between space and architecture, a city can be divided into two parts of spaces: one is the architecture and its space within, called interior space. Another is the space between the surface of the architecture and its surroundings, also called open space.

The open space of a city can be categorized as public space, semi-public space and private space. Public space is open to all citizens for their common usage. Semi-public space is partially open to a certain group of citizens for their internal usage, for instance, governments, schools, factories and also not openly managed residence, like Opal. Private space is a personal space which is not open to public.

Interior space, open space and their interactive relations form our actual city. They together vessels almost all public activities.

Activities like family life, office work, trade, communication, interaction and teaching requires silence and enclosed environment, which usually carried out in certain interior space. While more social activities like tourism, leisure, transportation and sports, even though sometimes carried out in a stadium or shopping centre, mostly they are done in open space since people need to interact with nature and each other.

Because, in open space, people can both enjoy the excitement of activities, interaction and sharing as well as the calmness by observing scenery, sitting-in, and wandering.

This article mainly explains the public space in a city, its various forms including plazas, streets, green areas, bus stops, parking lots, etc. These prove to be of great importance to a city concerning its space design and humanization principle.

2. Key Problems Concerning --- the Design Of Public Open Space

Public open space is accessible to and shared by all citizens as a place for their daily life and social encounters. K.Lynch (1960) think, pretty, comfortable and orderly public space can reach this kind of demands --- achieve the people own value, promote the quality of people life and improve the develop of society. So creating this kind of activity with new meaning will need to elaborate on the public open space in high quality design.

One scholar in Britain thinks that the difference of city design lies only in good and bad, not right and wrong, which is only to be measured by time. Since city design ultimately serves for city life, thus it can only be examined by the quality of life rather than how it looks on a drawing. As more attention has been paid to environmental improvement in recent years, lots of outstanding city design concepts came up around the world, which in the mean time brought to us certain questions as follow:

2.1 The purpose of design-why design at all, as an image or a location?

As to the purpose of city design, there have always been just two ideas: to create image or to create location. The formal seeks dominance in visual perfection; emphasize characteristics in the outcome while neglecting social, cultural, economic and other factors. Gibberd has said in Town Design it is a design that centralizes power and wealth to reflect dominance hierarchy.

For instance, Osman reflects this specific feature in the mass reconstruction plan of Paris in 1853. Triumphal Arch, built to honor Napoleon's achievement, stands in the star-shaped plaza with 12 outward ray-like paths. Its geometrical pattern with commodious boulevards and buildings along side feels organized and beautiful, while ignoring city function and public life. (Figure 1)

Figure 1 Arc de Triomphe, Paris

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This "image-sought" design represents the essence of the Baroque kind of city design in the 18 century: its life subjects to its image. Other architectures under such influence include Chateau de Versailles of Paris, Washington Capital Territory, Australia Canberra Centre and so on. While The Imperial Palace and Tiananmen Square of China also share similar features. After the reform and opening-up, many large and medium sized cities in China have built new municipal hall with symmetrical layout and big square to show political image and boost economy. These extravaganza and "high standard" consumed huge land and money and received criticism from society. But we need to look back from history to view city design dialectically. Some of the image-sought city design did become classic and have now become precious cultural heritage through time, though then they were purely built to strengthen political power. So the now image-sought design could have become an "asset" to a city in the future so long the design is great. In the past 20 years, the main concept of western city design has shifted from creating-image to creating-location. (Mumford. F, 1968) Creating-location is a concept that focuses on accessibility and social usage, especially people's knowledge and understanding about space.

As Lynch (1960) thinks about, city design is more of a time-taught experience rather than a brain-storm product, it requires more research on people's preference and tendency rather than the physical form of environment. At the same stage Jacobs (1968) also mentioned that city can never be an art; cause art is the abstractness of life, while city is life itself. So more research and thoughts should be given to creating-location ideas given the current society considered.

2.2 Designed for whom-whole public or individual group?

Public open space is an important resource and asset to a city, so it should be shared by all citizens. But in recent years, some of the design and usage of city space have shown certain negativity in two aspects. For one thing, to ensure safety and convenient management, enclosure has been find inside city space like each huge castle that breaks down the city as a whole.

Take the Zhongguancun Science and Technology Central Area for a typical example. It harbours about 30 universities and institute including Peking Univ. Tsinghua Univ. and Chinese Academy of Social Science (Figure 2), each taking up huge space while rounding up and forbidding unauthorized entry to both men and vehicles, which not only burdens city traffic, but is also unfair to citizens since they can't enjoy the city space within each round-ups.

Therefore, to better follow the principle of city space design, restrictions on large-scale yet mono-functioned land should be strengthened. Providing various kinds of public open space such as green areas, central park, community plaza etc, is a more effective way to serve citizens as well as enhance relations and social harmony.

Figure 2 Map

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For another side, some individuals and small groups wantonly take up public space for private usage, endangering the yet little public space. Behaviours like illegal vending on pavements, illegal parking, illegal building, illegal commercial exploitation on green areas etc is quite common.

To prevent these behaviours, government have issued regulations and rule in different aspects to better manage and protect public space from being "privatilized".

3. People-oriented Design Principle of Public Open Space

As mentioned above, public open space is supposed to be open to city public, and people-oriented principle should be kept as much as possible, so that citizens can enjoy more public space and activity locations, which requires city space design to follow "people foremost" rule that can be put into several parts as below:

There's an interactive relation between people and environment, while behaviour is the medium in-between. Knowledge of people's behaviour and activity pattern is the key to good city design. Different groups of people of varied age, vocation, class, ethics and cultural background show different preference and behaviour patterns, while different districts, climate, time also have influences.

Take public square, usually know as "city living room", for example. Public square hosts various kinds of activities like gathering, memorial, show, exercise, leisure, wandering, browsing, entertaining, communicating and shopping, etc. These activities take place in different time and involving different people from different places, forming featured "square culture".

Some of the city squares in Europe have open-air café (Figure 3). In America there's even boxing match on city square. Therefore the design for city space should go in line with the physical, mental, behavioural and cultural needs of people, and seek diversity as well as tailor-made arrangement according to their preference.

Figure 3 Photos of Karl Johans Street (Karl Johans Gate)

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3.1 People-oriented standard to create sense of hospitality and humanity

Louis I. Kahn (2005) considers that the fundamental of a city is based on communication between individuals. City public space must follow "people-first" standard to make communication possible. "People-first" standard refers to certain suitability to people's eyes and senses when, usually, walking. Moreover, the layout of equipments such as bench, sculpture, and amusement facilities should play to the various needs by creating compatibility and warmth, especially to the care of children, the old and disadvantaged. Therefore, it's not about "the bigger the better", but how people feel sense of safety, comfort and warmth when inside a public open space.

3.2 Highlighting characteristic and feature, symbolizing regional culture and creating recognition and sense of belonging

Every city "lives" in certain environment, and bares different marks of history, scale, nature and culture. The changing space between natural environment and man-made environment forms public open space. Even in the same city, due to differences in scale and function, this public space still feels different from each other.

City design should avoid stereotype and copycat, but make use of existing natural, economic, humane, historic, geological resources by complying with topographic and climate condition to create a theme that combines different features.

Take the Italian square in New Orleans for example (Figure 5). By using traditional Italian parts and symbols and Italian map as surface pattern to highlight community characteristic which echos nostalgia of the Italians living in this community. This kind of design combines knowledge, art, interest and socialism which not only riches cultural meaning but also gives people strong sense of recognition and belonging.


People-oriented Principles Is The Core Concept Of Modern City Design. A city of democracy and modernism should create diverse and humane public open space for citizens to enjoy, which means the design should follow people-oriented principle and value behaviour pattern and preference to ensure comfort, joyful experience and safety. The ultimate purpose is, by improving quality of public space, to satisfy people's material and spiritual needs and boost social harmony. A successful design can only be determined by people and tested through time.