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  3. Nikos Salingaros: 'Contemporary Public Spaces Are Designed For Lifeless Beings, Without Any Sex Or Sexual Desire'

Nikos Salingaros: 'Contemporary Public Spaces Are Designed For Lifeless Beings, Without Any Sex Or Sexual Desire'

Nikos Salingaros: 'Contemporary Public Spaces Are Designed For Lifeless Beings, Without Any Sex Or Sexual Desire'
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Nikos Salingaros: 'Contemporary Public Spaces Are Designed For Lifeless Beings, Without Any Sex Or Sexual Desire', © Diego Hernández
© Diego Hernández

Within the framework of Espacios Oscuros research project, focused on observing and analyzing the experience of sexual diversity in public spaces of Santiago de Chile, architects María González and José Tomás Franco spoke with Nikos Salingaros, a mathematician and thinker known for his alternative theoretical approach to architecture and urbanism. Salingaros promotes design focused on human needs and aspirations, combining rigorous scientific analysis with a deep intuitive experience.

Our cities are, for the most part, hostile to the sensibilities of their citizens. (...) Almost everything has been aligned, standardized, emptied. So, how to meet different people, and how to expect a mix between strangers?

In this interview, Salingaros not only questions the way in which architects are designing the private and public spaces of our cities, ignoring –perhaps unconsciously– the human being in its diversity, but also suggests the emergence of a series of private community spaces that would be supplying the needs of expression and appropriation of all the inhabitants of the city.

Do you think that heteronormativity has influenced the way in which our cities and public spaces have been planned, designed and/or inhabited, historically and nowadays?

There is a profound history here that goes much further than heteronormativity, because it is about the essence of human beings. Our contemporary public spaces are designed for lifeless beings, and above all, without any sex or sexual desire. It was not like that in the past, by the way. Historical and vernacular public spaces were open to all types of people, and encouraged random and loving encounters of all kinds.

At the moment when these are replaced by the private space of shopping centers and other places of controlled commerce, the possibility of free mixing of individuals is lost. And of course, the architectural models that come from large-scale trade are also standardized. The architecture itself, tied to this idea, is usually an architecture that can control the user.

The fractal structure in the built environment has also been lost, which implies a variety of spaces of different sizes but interconnected. It is the opposite of the open square, designed as an abstract object.

To what extent do you think that our cities and their public spaces facilitate the expression and free appropriation of all their citizens?

As I said, our cities are, for the most part, hostile to the sensibilities of their citizens. The environment built today is not human scale, nor are the areas of buildings that are favorable for pedestrian traffic. Almost everything has been aligned, standardized, emptied. So, how to meet different people, and how to expect a mix between strangers?

All the intelligence of our contemporary planning has been channeled into developing ways that guarantee the isolation and separation of different types of people: from social classes, to different ages and sexual orientations. It forces us to move by car, traveling from a private and hidden personal space to another hidden and personal space.

© José Tomás Franco
© José Tomás Franco

Do you think there are urban models –or even specific architectural types– that are more favorable in allowing free expression and appropriation of all the people who inhabit public spaces?

I may seem nostalgic, but the urban squares of the 19th century are ideal for mixing people of all types. They have the attraction in their partially fractal structure.

However, an urban plaza does not function as a meeting place without a pedestrian feeding of people who come from the surrounding and nearby blocks of the city. In many places some squares may have survived, but not the residences originally arranged around them. In this way, the square is isolated from the pedestrian network and accessible only through the car. The problem is how to link private rooms with public spaces, with a free network of largely pedestrian traffic. And we also need that its design avoid the promotion of control, except in emergencies.

To what extent are architects aware of the importance of the profound observation of the human being –and its diversity- for the development of projects that favor the inclusion and freedom of expression of citizens?

The architects of today, with very few exceptions, ignore the human being. Forget about details such as diversity when the city is planned to exclusively satisfy extractive global capital. The role of the human being in this approach is to be a pawn; a pretty stupid consumer insect to not realize he is in a prison.

Everything I see –even in the pages of ArchDaily– is an architecture of exclusion. And the damage is made even worse because the architects of these repellent buildings tell us lies and invent dreams in their descriptions. Perhaps only they believe them, because they are not usually based on a reflexive observation.

© José Tomás Franco
© José Tomás Franco

How do you think, then, that people are expressing themselves and inhabiting their city in spite of this contemporary model that goes against their own freedom?

To avoid control individuals have had to create or find options that serve them. First, by retiring into private community spaces that present an attractive quality and also seem to have no risk for them. And second, by appropriating the spaces discarded by this system –forgotten and deteriorated zones of the city– to create a network of meeting places outside the central control.

Associated with this, a series of other issues appear. For example, an act of rebellion against the totalitarian system and an expression of the need for biophilia in our daily environment is expressed through graffiti and urban art. In addition, the computer revolution gives us an effective way to connect different people, hidden from the central power, through the private meetings managed by social networks.

Finally, in times of challenge, people who feel marginalized are beginning to invade the public spaces in which they have previously been rejected, as a manifestation of their complaint.

© José Tomás Franco
© José Tomás Franco

* This interview is part of the Espacios Oscuros research project, currently underway and focused on observing and analyzing random public spaces that have allowed the expression of members of the LGBT+ community in the midst of the dominant urban norms. Follow the progress of the project here.

About this author
Cite: AD Editorial Team. "Nikos Salingaros: 'Contemporary Public Spaces Are Designed For Lifeless Beings, Without Any Sex Or Sexual Desire'" [Nikos Salingaros: 'Los espacios públicos contemporáneos son diseñados para seres sin vida, y sin ningún sexo o deseo sexual'] 04 Apr 2019. ArchDaily. (Trans. Franco, José Tomás) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/914267/nikos-salingaros-contemporary-public-spaces-are-designed-for-lifeless-beings-without-any-sex-or-sexual-desire/> ISSN 0719-8884

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