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Why Landscape Designers Will Be Key to the Future of Our Cities

For most people, spending time outdoors in well-designed public spaces is one of the highlights to city life. Why, then, do we spend comparatively little time and money on designing them? In this article, originally posted on Metropolis magazine as "Designing Outdoor Public Spaces is Vital to the Future of our Cities" Kirt Martin, the vice-president of design and marketing at outdoor furniture designer Landscape Forms, makes the case that landscape architects and industrial designers working in the public realm are key for our cities' health and happiness.

All of us treasure our time in outdoor spaces. So why do we devote so little of our attention to their design?

As a designer in the site-furniture industry, I am always curious about the value people place on the outdoors. I like to ask people I meet to describe a great city like New York, Chicago, or Paris and what they most remember about being there. Or I ask them, if they won $25,000 to spend on a dream vacation, where they would go and what they would do. Their fond memories of a celebrated city or an escape into the wild often have little in common, except for one thing: Their most memorable and meaningful experiences almost always revolve around the outdoors.

The House Opera Project: Help Fund a New Public Space in Detroit

A new project in Detroit aims to repurpose a vacant house into a public performance space – but it needs your help. House Opera is the result of a collaboration between V. Mitch McEwen and her partner at A(n) Office, Marcelo Lopez-Dinardi. After McEwen purchased a vacant, stripped down house from the city of Detroit two and a half years ago, the two began removing elements of the “house” in order to transform it into an open theater space, meant to showcase Detroit storytelling.

Joined by Detroit curators and community organizers, as well as design and art collaborators from around the country, the project has received a $10,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant to fund half of the project. But support is needed to fund the other half. They have launched a fundraiser, which ends on July 2, 2015 12:59 AM, and donations can be made here. Learn more about the project after the break.

How EPM Group Is Reclaiming Medellín's Infrastructure as Public Space

With a high-density population and a history of internal armed conflict, the city of Medellín in Colombia lacked substantial public space, but had an overwhelming amount of industrial infrastructure in place. But as profiled by The Architectural Review, recently architects and urban planners of the EPM group saw this imbalance as an opportunity, and so in the uninhabited patches of land surrounding over one hundred fenced industrial lots, the UVA or Unidades de Vida Articulada (Units of Articulated Life) program was born. Including initiatives to build public classrooms, launderettes and cafés, the UVA projects were conceived together with the local population through a series of workshops, where every resident was invited to express their vision for the new public square through writing and drawing. Medellín, existing at the convergence of several hills, provides a wide variety of unique landscapes for architects to experiment on - and through the UVA projects, EPM Group demonstrates how architecture can empower a community from the first day of design. Read more about how this project will continue to instigate positive change at The Architectural Review.

Renzo Piano on the Whitney Museum and the Value of Public Space

Throughout his career, Renzo Piano has designed dozens of museum buildings becoming the most prolific museum designer of our time. Yet, it has been some time since one of his designs has been as widely discussed and analyzed as his latest, the Whitney Museum in New York. In this interview, originally published on The Value of Architecture as "A House for Freedom: an Interview with Renzo Piano," David Plick speaks with Piano about the many inspirations of the Whitney Museum, from the previous Whitney Museum by Marcel Breuer to the neighboring High Line, the city on one side and the river on the other.

Renzo Piano is the great champion of public space. Whether the visitors and citizens of the city are aware of it or not, he improves their quality of life by sharing with them a living space designed specifically for the cultivation and dispersion of ideas and the enrichment of civic life. He’s the architect who cares about the individual’s experience of a building, who cares about how people interact with the space, and how the space then interacts with the world. At the Whitney Museum of American Art, much like the Centre Pompidou, or Beaubourg as he would say, he showed this by including a large area in front—a “piazza” he calls it—for people to meet, congregate, chat, and even loiter. He’s somehow simultaneously innovative and selfless. And because of this, he can masterfully fuse form and function, creating beauty for himself because he loves it and thinks it will save people, yet it all means nothing to him if he can’t share in this emotion with others.

The Relationship between the Whitney Museum and the Southern End of the High Line. Image © Nic Lehoux © Nic Lehoux © Nic Lehoux © Nic Lehoux

6 Finalists Announced for ULI’s 2015 Urban Open Space Award

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has selected six finalists for the 2015 Urban Open Space Award competition, which recognizes public spaces that benefit and revitalize their surrounding communities. This was the first year that ULI expanded the program to include global submissions.

“The submissions from this year are representative of how quality urban open space has become more than just an amenity for cities,” said jury chair Michael Covarrubias. “The international diversity of the projects is reflective of how developers continually work to meet global demand by the public for the inclusion of healthy places in cities.” See all of the finalists after the break.

Newly-Launched Gehl Institute Seeks to Revolutionize Urban Public Spaces

The Knight Foundation has announced the launch of the nonprofit Gehl Institute, led by Gehl Architects' Jeff Risom. With the Foundation's financial support, the Institute strives to boost urban livability by increasing public engagement and economic opportunity through the reformation of public space. A series of studies will investigate the behavioral effects of streets, parks, and plazas on their occupants. The results, coupled with community involvement in the planning process, will be applied toward developing “people-first” public spaces that respond to their unique contexts. Through this approach, the Gehl Institute hopes to foster a new design field that addresses the widening social and economic concerns that accompany urbanization. For more information, visit gehlinstitute.org.

Has Technology Diminished Our Understanding Of Public Space?

In an article for the Washington Post, Philip Kennicott argues that "technology has scrambled the lines between public and private." He questions whether, in an age of "radical individualism" spurred on by our fascination with solitary communication, our collective understanding and appreciation for the public, civic space has been diminished. Kennitott foreshadows that "one thing is certain: We will live in more crowded spaces, and we will increasingly live indoors, cocooned in climate-controlled zones with a few billion of our closest friends" as rapid urbanisation merges with the changing climate.

Nonprofit Group ACDU Seeks to Transform Abandoned D.C. Trolley Station

The Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground (ACDU) has taken on the task of revitalizing an abandoned trolley station beneath Dupont Circle in the Northwest quadrant of Washington D.C. The nonprofit organization recently signed for a 66-month lease of the property with the District of Columbia’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Within that timeframe, the group will transform the space into a permanent cultural hotspot capable of hosting performances, art exhibitions, and other public functions. Learn more, and contribute to the ACDU’s Fundable campaign for this project, after the break.

Christmas Lights in Madrid: Brut Deluxe's MOON Through the Lens of Miguel de Guzmán

Miguel de Guzmán, a noted photographer and Spanish audiovisual producer, has shared with us one of his most recent works. MOON is the lighting project by Brut Deluxe that has taken Madrid's Gran Vía, delivering a perfect urban setting for the year-end celebrations. This context is also the location of a new film by Imagen Subliminal, who has already delighted us in the past with audiovisual proposals for projects like The POP-UP House and Casa del Espinar. The full Moon, after the break.

© Miguel de Guzmán © Miguel de Guzmán © Miguel de Guzmán © Miguel de Guzmán

Opinion: It Doesn't Matter Who Owns Public Plazas

When it comes to public space, many assume that while truly public space is always good, "privately owned public space" is always bad. However, in this article originally published by Metropolis Magazine as "A Plaza is No Guarantee of Democracy," NBBJ's Carl Yost argues that the distinction is not so binary. As architects, it's our job to smooth over the difference between the two, while we're at work - but most importantly while we're not.

The past few months have seen the opening of high-profile projects with contested public space. The Leadenhall Building, London’s “Cheesegrater,” rises above a public plaza that the Financial Times called “problematic,” with “an astonishing array of defensive measures to make it clear that while it may be open to the public, it is still ours” (that is, the landlord’s). In New York, the World Trade Center plaza has taken fire from critics, both domestic and international, who chafe at restrictions on visitors’ behavior.

It evokes the debate over “privately owned public space,” or POPS, that arose during Occupy Wall Street, when protesters camped out in Zuccotti Park, a Lower Manhattan plaza that is privately owned by Brookfield Office Properties yet must remain open to the public. Many rightly pointed out the restrictions that POPS pose to free speech and assembly, when owners can evict people they consider unwelcome.

Alcohol and Urbanism, a Case Study: Breaking New York City’s Open Container Law

Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Image © Rennie Jones
Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Image © Rennie Jones

If there is one thing to be learned from the unsuccessful prohibition period of the 1920s, it is that we, the people, will go to great lengths to exercise our right to drink alcohol in the company of others. Our determined forefathers could have simply enjoyed a small-batch bathtub brew in the comfort of their own homes, but instead they established a system of secret places to congregate and consume collectively, even under threat of federal prosecution. Though it is no longer a felony to consume alcohol, New Yorkers are still pushing the legal limits of drinking with others, challenging the open container laws that prohibit public drinking.

Drinking is a recreational activity. It is a means of stepping beyond the realm of normal perception and seeing things differently, in the metaphorical sense (though sometimes a literal one). It is an act of recreation and repose, the parallel of peering at passerby from a park bench. In New York City, as in most of the United States, it is illegal for any person to possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage in any public place, “except at a block party, feast or similar function for which a permit has been obtained." Rarely do individuals have the resources for a block party or occasion for a full-scale public feast. More likely, they simply seek to crack open a can with neighbors on their front steps or with friends in Central Park, thereby enjoying a beverage in one of the country’s most vibrant and diverse public spheres for a mere penance. Unfortunately, that is not a legal option. Even the outdoor space we own is not completely open to our discretionary use: a resident cannot drink on his own stoop because it is “a place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access."

Results of the 2014 European Prize for Urban Public Space

The results of the 2014 European Prize for Urban Public Space have been announced. The prize organized by the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) rewards both the designers and the facilitators (such as councils or community groups) that have contributed to the best urban interventions of the year. The award is given for ingenuity and social impact, regardless of the scale of intervention, meaning that small, relatively unknown practices can rub shoulders with some of the best-known practices in Europe.

See the 2 Joint Winners and 4 Special Mentions after the break

La Lira Theatre / RCR Arquitectes. Image Courtesy of RCR Arquitectes + PUIGCORBÉ arquitectes Masterplan for Marseille’s Vieux Port / Foster + Parners. Image Courtesy of CCCB Islamic Cemetery in Altach / Bernardo Bader Architects. Image © Adolf Bereuter The Braided Valley / Grupo Aranea. Image © Jesus Granada

TED Talk: How Public Spaces Make Cities Work / Amanda Burden

Amanda Burden, former animal behaviorist turned New York’s chief city planner, has discovered what makes cities desirable: great public spaces. During her time with the Bloomberg administration, Burden oversaw the fruition of the city’s most transformative public projects, including New York’s beloved High Line. In the video above, she reveals the many unexpected challenges of planning (and maintaining) parks people love, and why it is so important for cities to have great public spaces. 

How to Design Out Democracy from Your City (A Dictator's Guide)

In this tongue-in-cheek "Dictator's Guide to Urban Planning", the Atlantic explores the various ways that public spaces, and cities as a whole, have been used to suppress uprisings and bolster the control of authoritarian governments. Covering everything from Baron Haussmann's 19th Century Paris to the recent revolution in the Ukraine, the article reveals the fundamental relationship between public space and democracy. You can read the full article here.

Reviewing RIBA's City Health Report: Could Le Corbusier Have Been Right?

The RIBA's recent report "City Health Check: How Design Can Save Lives and Money" looks at the relationship between city planning and public health, surveying the UK's 9 largest cities in a bid to improve public health and thereby save money for the National Health Service. The report includes useful information for city planners, such as the idea that in general, it is quality and not quantity of public space that is the biggest factor when it comes to encouraging people to walk instead of taking transport.

Read on for more of the results of the report - and analysis of these results - after the break

Janette Sadik-Khan: NYC's Streets Are Not So Mean Anymore

Janette Sadik-Khan demonstrates how paint, lawn chairs and a bit of imagination can quickly transform city streets, creating immediate public and commercial vitality. Sadik-Khan, listed as one of Business Insider's "50 Women Who Are Changing the World," is responsible for re-purposing 26 acres of dense New York City car lanes into pedestrian-friendly space. "More people on foot is better for business," she says. Despite commanding a two billion dollar budget, her economical approach as commissioner of NYC's Department of Transportation are testaments to her design sensitivity, relying on rapid-testing and regular iteration to expand the city's public domain.


Turks Paint Public Walkways in Protest

Last June we covered some of the anti-government protests that were taking Turkey by storm - but the Turks are still making headlines! Last week, one Istanbul resident decided to paint a derelict public stair only to find it hastily covered up by government workers. In an act of “guerilla beautification” and silent protest, people across Turkey have once again taken to the streets to paint their stairs and public walkways in rainbow colors. For the full story, check out this article on The Lede by Robert Mackey.

The "Open House": From House to Theater in 90 Minutes

"Open House" is artist Matthew Mazzotta's latest invention: a compact, faded pink house that unfolds into a ten-piece outdoor theater that seats nearly 100 people. Facing a raised earthen stage, it's a public space made from the remnants of a privately owned blighted property. Reversing the loss of public space that the city of York, Alabama has experienced, Open House has transformed a wasted ruin of a house into an outdoor theatre open to various community events.