Negative Spaces And Its Effective Utilization Cultural Studies Essay


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Spaces, based on their usability can be broadly divided into public spaces and private spaces. A proper mix of each of them is fundamental in a successful. In many cases creating these spaces have unintentionally created unusable spaces known as Negative Spaces or Non Places. In fast growing cities like New Delhi where the need of the hour is rapid growth, designers and customers often foresee the creation of Negative Spaces. Spaces beneath Flyovers, area around the built are typical example of Negative Spaces which have minimal utility. Negative Spaces could either be planned as a part of the design or could be incidental. Though considered Negative the general public of a city like Delhi have made maximum utilization of them by either using them as squatters or for setting up temporary business prospects. These Non Places present in urban settlements like Delhi if put into use can not only improve the living of the people but allow in the more sustainable growth of the city.

Though Space utilization has been happening over the ages indigenously, a planned and systematic approach would approve to the context as well. Guidelines and methods to use these spaces would help in preventing the formation of the spaces in the first place. Designers should be made to work in synchronization so that Non Places can be minimized.

On the other hand is it certain that during creation of city formation of Negative Spaces is Inevitable? Are Negative Spaces part and parcel of designs? Would mitigating these mean that a city's buffer space is ignored? (Augé, 1995)


The presence of Open space in a design is as important as creating the closed spaces. In a growing country like India space constrains have influenced the perception of open spaces. Lack of open spaces has indeed changed the idea of public spaces. Designers have been forced to merge the interior with the open spaces in order to cater to the needs of unprecedented growth. This has resulted in a gradual shift of usage of spaces in general. Lack of planning has lead to creation of Useless Spaces or Negative Spaces. Open spaces can be classified into two broad categories, Open Spaces Formed and Open Spaces Created. (Gupta S. A., 2007)

Spaces that are free and open are meant to be the domain of all public activities. Public Space in a city is thus formed by the quality of space. Public Spaces that are made forcefully often transform into Negative or Unused Spaces. The urbanization and lack of planned public spaces have resulted in the Open Spaces formed or created, overshadowed by the built, road etc. The shift in priority of spaces has made the open spaces unusable.

Maximum usability of available land area has been the priority in most cases influencing the plans. Effort has been made to get maximum area covered under built due to dearth of land. The open space left out in many cases is unusable either due to its position or due to its size.

Designs are heavily dependent on the law of the land rather than the need and aesthetic.

The Lutyen's Delhi master plan is a classic example of planned open public spaces with the Central Park being the epicenter of public activities. The Blocks and the roads leading to the Central Park radiate from the park making it a successful public open space with minimal space wastage. (2163, 2009)

Varanasi is an example where the open spaces formed are much more organic in nature. Settlement along the Ganga has happened since 3000B.C. where settlement has taken place in phases. The open spaces crested between house each house was either used for another house or was kept as a space for public meetings. The organic nature of this settlement ensured that minimum space was wasted.


Negative spaces are created or formed when one of the following factors fail

Shape size and orientation of the space with the context

Relationship with the environment

Activities that the space is meant for

Lighting provided to the space

Formation of Negative Spaces from large open spaces being divided into individual spaces is a major factor. (SA 1669 Form and Space, 2008)


Formation of Negative Spaces is certainly not a new concept. It has been happening through the ages, with different factors influencing its creation. In the early times change of rulers also resulted in the formation of Negative Spaces. This was primarily because each ruler intended in creating a focal point of his own in the state. Therefore the previous capitals were abandoned and a new base was set up each time a ruler came into power. Therefore the present place was left which in time ruined and remained unusable. Ancient and Medieval Indian and Arab builders carved out the open or the void.

Open Spaces in a City was generally used as a street. The streets of Shahajahanabad are an example where the street is the open space for the public. All gatherings and meetings happened along the streets itself.

As time progressed and with decrease in the amount of available of space for architects and designers to move vertical. Thus an era of skyscrapers began. Although on one hand it allowed lesser usage of space on the ground with houses and offices stacked one above the other it also began to create a drift between the people and open space. People no longer were directly connected to the open or public spaces. This resulted in them being used less often making the space useless or Negative. Therefore the creation on tall buildings saved space but also lead to the formation of Negative Space. In India with growth happening in an unplanned manner, more than 80% of buildings are built my Non Architects. Surroundings and context is given least importance as the primary motive is taken care of one's' needs alone. (Gupta N. , 2001)


Crime is one of the major problems of Negative spaces. Spaces that are used less often are easy targets for criminals.

Easy accessibility for criminals

Vulnerability of targets

Escape routes

Unplanned settlements

-are some of the factors for crime. Places like Old Delhi are most vulnerable as they cater to the needs of the criminals. As architects minimizing the presence of Negative Spaces would give better security to the citizens of the city. Ways of minimizing crime in public spaces are by creating an activity which acts as public magnets to attract crowds. Installations, kiosks, pedestrian pathways are some of the solutions in mitigating crime in public spaces. Indirect methods of reducing crime can be done by maintaining a Natural Surveillance (sen, 1992)


The nature of work as architects used to focus on micro-development. On the other hand; town planners used to focus on the macro-development of the city. The overlapping of focuses is objectively to detail-up the development into more specific document. However, there is human error of an overlooked-space which occurred unintentionally. This is due to the execution of the development proposals are in the scale-down basis. On the other hand, in reality the end users' perception is at one to one scale. Consequently, there is human error due to the transition of scale from the reality to the development proposal and vice-versa in the development execution


There are variety of sizes and locations of those spaces elsewhere in the city. Some are spacious and some are smalls. The spaces in between buildings are mostly found in between, in front, at the sides and at the rear of buildings. Due to the variety of sizes and location of those spaces; the degree of surveillance also varies accordingly. The more surveillance area is, the more secure the space will be. If comparison were made between an isolated and an exposed area; the degree of surveillance was much higher for more visually-accessible area. Therefore, it is an advantage to allow pedestrians and end users to pass by or circulate around the space in between buildings. The activity of meandering around buildings can be programmed as part of the overall urban recreation development.

In perceiving spaces in between buildings, Alexander (1997) agreed that there are two different kinds of outdoor spaces: negative space and positive space. However, he regarded the outdoor space as negative when the space is a free space or shapeless without enclosure. For example, an outdoor space is positive when it has a distinct, definite shape of the surrounding enclosure. As definite shape of a room defined the quality of an indoor space, therefore the shape for outdoor space in between buildings is as important as the shapes of the buildings which surround it.


The reality of the existence of space in between buildings was due to many reasons such as unplanned space in the macro-development. The space became a left-over space in the execution of the city development. Those areas were uneconomical to be gazetted for any development. In most cases, this area was dedicated for passive green area by the local authority. However, at the actual implementation on site was a space without proper designation for public acknowledgement. Without proper designation of function has lead the end-users used the space for rubbish-disposal or short-cut walkway to access to the back lane.


The road, river and building set-back or reserved areas were also considered as negative space. Those spaces were owned by the local authority for future use such as road widening or river embankment. However, the function was not acknowledged to public and often misinterpreted as negative space. The space was left without poor maintenance caused the public to perceive the area as uneconomical space. Due to those misperceptions lead some of city end-users to occupy it creatively for charging public who park in this area. They benefited themselves as the parking manager by collecting charges from public.


The identified space in between buildings could be considered as a negative space due to its low-illumination. The level of brightness has been considered as one of the factors that contributes to the liveliness and deadness of the space. In night time, those unlighted space might risk the end users' safety. They were exposed to any possibility of crime in the darkness of the city night.


The non-illuminated and isolated spaces from pedestrian and vehicular circulation were beyond visual surveillance. The examples for this area were the rear of the buildings without island-access or basement parking. Those were another spot for crime scenes and negative activities.


The danger spaces in between buildings could be created due to its location and function but not due non-thoughtful design. Open and public space can be a hazardous space if located adjacent to high-risk zone such as open space around power sub-station, oxidation pond, accident-prone area, construction sites, electrical pylons, and deep monsoon drain. In most cases, those areas were dedicated for passive green area by the planning department of the local authority. To avoid public access those spaces shall be buffered and posted with safety signage for public consciousness of such spaces in the city. (haji, 2008)


Jan Gehl is a practicing Urban Design Consultant and Professor of Urban Design at the School of Architecture in Copenhagen, Denmark. He has extensively researched the form and use of public spaces and put his findings to practice in a variety of locations around the world.

His company, Gehl Architects - Urban Quality Consultants, focus strongly on the facilitation of public life in public spaces, often pushing the boundaries beyond common uses of the public realm. To Gehl, design always begins with an analysis of the spaces between buildings. Only after a vision has been established of what type of public life one wants to see flourishing, is attention given to the surrounding buildings and how they can work together to support public spaces. (Gehl, Project for Public Spaces, 2010)


My first book Life between Buildings was published 41 years ago.  Yet today in 2012 the book, and people oriented planning principles embodied in it continues to be much in demand.  I'm delighted and humbled by the staying power of these planning principles which is most recently exemplified by the great international interest in my latest book Cities for People. Already by 2012 this book will be published in 10 languages and a number of new versions are lined up for 2013.

Yet despite this praise and continued interest in the people oriented planning principles, places, districts and entire cities continue to be developed without any reference to principles along these lines.  This is not an issue of negligence, but of neglect. For over the past 50 years, none of those entrusted with building cities, neither architects, planners nor engineers have been trained to focus on looking after the needs of people.  The growing interest in my work from numerous professions and disciplines attests to the fact that this is thankfully changing.  There appears to be a genuine and powerful trend of politicians, technocrats and citizens alike beginning to demand that Cities become more livable, safer, healthier, and indeed more sustainable.

It is a great joy for me to see these timeless principles for caring for the life in the cities presented in a new format (animated film) and in a new context joining several Scandinavian colleagues at the New Nordic Architecture Exhibit at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, North of Copenhagen.  The principles illustrated at Louisiana are very much the same today as they were many years ago. People are still people.

It is equally a joy for me to see Gehl Architects continue to evolve these guiding core values and principles to many different types of projects and scales of intervention.  Working with partners around the world, this young, energetic and stubbornly optimistic team work to tailor and contextualize design, planning and research that builds upon the foundation established during the many years of research and dialogues.  This team is actively engaging in dialogue around the world with colleagues, clients and collaborators to add layers of meaning and new possibilities for application of these core values.  In doing so, Gehl Architects, as the other design practices featured in the Loisianna exhibit, continue to build upon a wider Nordic tradition for architecture and design that is rooted in a fundamental care and appreciation for the human being.

As we progress through the 21st century, I'm confident that the continued dedication of a new generation of city makers - from economists to social scientists to architects to business owners and politicians - that care for the city from a human centered perspective of the Nordic tradition will ensure that the cities of tomorrow will be much better for people than the cities of today. (Jangehl, 2012)


The JJ flyover runs from the Crawford Market area all the way to Byculla, jumping over some of the densest and most frantic neighborhoods of Mumbai. It is a mess of traffic above and a mess of traffic below. All accommodations are made for the car and truck, while pedestrians are left to fend for themselves.  While the flyover features prominently on all maps of Mumbai, the space beneath it is a curiously overlooked space.

Still, a host of activities happen here nonetheless.  In the mornings, informal markets spring up selling everything from chai to chickens, fish to fruit. Street children play games; mothers wash clothing, cook food and sell small goods in the tiny leftover spaces of intersections and traffic medians. In the evening, food stalls set up shop and laborers gather to share food and drink, some eventually falling asleep in the vacated parking spaces.

The flyover is considered dirty and dangerous. It is a space to rush through on your way from train to bazaar.  But, this need not be so.  We see the space under the flyover as having wonderful potential.  It is sheltered from the rain and from the heat of the sun.  Amazingly, it is also free of much of the politics, land tenure disputes and real estate speculation that plague much of Bombay. The flyover itself was proposed as necessary civic infrastructure. Why can't this idea be extended below as well?

What better place to open up a little room for the citizens of the city?

With a few small interventions and amenities, we believe that this patch of land could be completely transformed and that if given the chance, these slender patches of space would find a host of uses that would be constantly changing over time, responsive to collective need, present aspirations and seasonal calendar

Instead of parking, we propose spaces for play, for shelter, for community building, for worship and for celebration. (Stephanie Carlisle, 2011)

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After 'New World' and 'New Heimat', 'non-places' was the third in a series of group exhibitions in which the Kunstverein pursued the spectre of globalization and its effects. The first stage dealt with the changes in society brought about by migration and Diaspora; the second with cultural transfers between the so-called 'first' and 'third' worlds. In this exhibition the focus was on spaces and forms of architecture with which we are all familiar: generic chain stores in the confines of inner-city shopping zones, faceless suburban apartment blocks, or the stereotypical, box-like buildings on the urban periphery that shelter everything from software mavericks to prefab furniture warehouses: non-places..

Marc Augé, whose book Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1995) was an important resource for the show, describes the production of non-places as the most conspicuous characteristic of the Über-Modern, and sees an interplay between these new sites and old, historically situated ones: ' ... like the place, the non-place doesn't exist in pure form; it's more likely that new places are generated, relations are reconstructed within. Place and non-place are contrary poles; the place never disappears completely and the non-place is never fully established - they are palimpsests on which the confusing game of identity and relation finds its own reflection over and over.'

Friedrich Ludewig's Life engineering at Home (An Experimental Interpretation) (2002) examined another palimpsest, of exterior and interior. The architect's work is based on the idea that webcams are not voyeuristic windows into the private lives of their protagonists, as is usually maintained. Instead, the calculated camera perspectives create semi-public spaces - a phenomenon that Ludewig sees in reciprocal relation to the privatization of urban spaces previously defined as public. As he showed - using various examples from architectural history - this is not a fundamentally new phenomenon: the theoretical model best known as 'Klein's bottle' (a glass container whose long neck is bent back directly into its belly) illustrates the notion that transitions from inside to outside are in flux. This in turn corresponds with Augé's observation that the flow between our private and public spheres is increasing, that the two realms are becoming less subjugated to a particular location.

A break in the flow occurred in one of the few sculptural works found in a show clearly dominated by documentary videos and photography. In crude, ready-made materiality Olaf Metzel'sDrehkreuz (Turnstile, 1991-2) reproduces a principle of accessibility with which we are familiar from subways and public swimming pools. Since it was only possible to pass through this work in one direction, the visitor was (potentially) forced to wait. In this way the art consumer, who likes to regard himself an autonomous subject, is forced into a state of idle contemplation that can hardly be traced back to Kant's notion of 'disinterested satisfaction'.

'Maybe there is a substitute for experience', reads a poster included in one of Martha Rosler's photographs of airport architecture around the world (O'Hare, Chicago, 1986). Non-places can at least offer one type of experience: the surrogate. (Kuni, 2002)


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Gehl, J. (1971). Life Between Buildingas, Using public spaces . Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Gehl, J. (2010). Project for Public Spaces. Retrieved from

Gottlieb, N. (2011). Routledge. Retrieved from

Gupta, N. (2001). SA 1314 Aman and the City. New Delhi.

Gupta, S. A. (2007). Changing Perception of open spaces. New Delhi: SPA New Delhi.

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sen, a. (1992). Crime. News Delhi.

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