Phase II – 2014

2014 Urban culture, public space and ways of life Everyday life and scientific insights

The social production of lived space ranges from meaningful experience in everyday life to scientific insights. It connects and consolidates further themes from the second funding cycle – the material focus on resources and the mental focus on knowledge in the production of space. Each (technical, aesthetic) innovation, every (academic) advance occurs in a social environment, and thus cannot be understood as separate from the social circumstances of a particular (urban) society. At the same time, public space represents the inevitable interface of research on cities in the tensions between emotion, experience, and affect, and between the boundaries of rationality, the symbolic production of meaningful places, and the accumulation of cultural capital. In architecture and planning, however, there is little systematic reflection on academic advances that bring social innovations to the fore and generate a direct increase in quality of life for people in public space. Also missing are epistemological arguments linked to spatial theory with different knowledge bases in public space, from everyday life experience through to the abstract academic study of complex social unrest. The theme for 2014, “Urban culture, public space, and ways of life – Everyday life and scientific insights”, offers the possibility of dealing productively with the further implications of the understanding of public space in urban research and related areas in a post-disciplinary manner within the exploratory realm of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space (SKuOR).

Further, urban-cultural observations of emerging cultural practices might serve as a challenge for urban policy and an inspiration for urban economics in places where everyday city life unfolds colorfully: the public spaces of cities. With a view to civil unrest in various cities around Europe it becomes clear that there are many opportunities for research on public space as a seismograph for new directions in architecture and as a vehicle for the transformation of established planning cultures.

Generally scientific approaches to public space remain within their particular discipline. Researchers often use pre-determined methodologies to make the subject more manageable. To date researchers have neglected to explore the manifestation of societal complexity through urban development at the micro level in public space either conceptually or materially. The essence of urban research, in its diversity of approaches and wide range of possible methods, supports future advances in knowledge from concrete built materials to abstract social processes. Public space as a research subject must therefore be understood not as an epistemological minefield – due to its complex nature and the way it cuts across disciplines – but rather as a epistemological opportunity (postdisciplinarity). Radically differing phenomena of urban development can be seen here in their mutual entanglement. For researchers, this means a systematic turn to everyday urban life with its paradoxes and dilemmas, with the opportunities and possibilities of social emancipation in the everyday that the boosters contributing to the previous insights generally attribute, in an idealized manner, to the European city.

In contrast to urban planning, urban research thus needs to critically question constructs and expert knowledge on urban culture and public space if the intention is to hone questions asked according to their societal relevance and develop methods based on themes from urban ways of life, in order to produce scientific insights about changes in social practice, lived space, and the social production of space that are manifested in cities.

New spheres of scientific insight within urban research concerning public space and urban-cultural approaches need to be delineated. It is also important to establish a connection to future applications of newly acquired expertise in architecture and planning that cuts across disciplines. The potential of the linked topics of urban culture and public space to produce academic insights seems particularly great due to recent social changes (see, for example, the protest against the train station project in Stuttgart or the protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo in the wake of the Arab spring), including in other fields of urban development practice (e.g., project management, project development, communication, and public participation in architecture and planning).