VO Theories of public space


Theories of public space I – Actors, institutions and spatial dimensions

VO 280.032 by Sabine Knierbein

Link: TISS

Virtual seminar room: Link


General information

This English language lecture (VO) „Theories of public space I – Actors, institutions and spatial dimensions“ will be offered by Dr. phil. Sabine Knierbein as part of module 11 „Urban culture, public spaces and markets: Economy and Innovation“ which is offered during three three-to-four-days block events by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space (SKuOR) in Vienna and Budapest. We encourage students not only to actively participate in our courses via debates and interactive learning formats, but to bring in and develop their own ideas and critiques.

Master students (late Bachelor or early PhD), international students as well as students working interdisciplinarily are warmly welcome. This course is held in English language, therefore english language skills are required, readings will be groupwise in English and partly German. Participants of this course are warmly recommended to take part in the other courses of module 11, namely 280.033, 280.038, 280.039 and 280.040. Please register for module 11 via TISS registration (registration at VU 280.038) until 9th of March 2011 (2pm) and send a short 1A4 page statement of motivation to info@skuor.tuwien.ac.at. Single-course registration directly at the Kick off Meeting on 8th of March (starting 4 pm) or personally at SKuOR office after 7th of March.

Dates and places

Wednesday 14:00 – 15:30, starting on 16.03.2011. Participation in kick-off meeting, 8th March 2011, 4-6pm, Karlsgasse 13/1, Seminar Room 1 obligatory.

For further dates and places go to TISS


Subject of course

Since the 1970s public space has been promoted to be one of the central fields of action of urban and open space planning and of designing actors coming from landscape architecture, urban design, spatial planning and architecture. In other disciplines mainly agitating in the fields of social science such as urban sociology, ethnology or law public space is dealt with as self-confidently as in planning practice and in urban politics. But one discrepany is manifest: All these actors talk about very different public spaces . Consensus on the individual meaning of public space is reached only occasionally. Some understand public spaces as built places, as urban morphologies whereas others deny any material expression of public spaces. But how can we imagine social spaces and built , sometimes even well-designed spaces as two sides of the same coin?

The existing diversity of theoretical approaches from different disciplinary backgrounds shows that there are basic disquietudes regarding theories on space, the role of institutions, their mechanisms and resources as well as regarding the players involved to be found behind the meta-concept of public spaces. To put it in a more palpable and concrete way: This course asseses public spaces from a perspective that considers them as societal processes which day-to-day sediment as constructed and designed space. Who thus influences these continuours production of public space and in which way? Where do planners, where do designers locate themselves as part of societal processes? Which strategies are they familiar with and what kind of interests on behalf of other social players are planners and designers nowadays confronted with?


Aim of course

It is the aim of this lecture to acquaint students from the fields of planning and architecture as well as interested students from other disciplines with the diversity of approaches to public space. The course aims at enriching students‘ conceptual repertoire regarding a contemporary object of planning, a policy field demanded in manifold ways and  a challenging design task. In this sense, the dialog bridging various disciplines is one of the main basic features of this course offered.

By choosing an interactive lecture format the lecturer intends to impart knowledge regarding the professional handling of public spaces as sociohistoric processes in the European City and regarding the logic of action brought in by those actors and institutions which constitute public spaces. A general reflection of our spatial understanding shall be stimulated by linking approaches to understand publics, publicness and publicité to theories of space. The lecture serves as thought-provoking impulse which also contains minor exercises and stimulating debates. At the same time, this lecture provides space for free thinking and for progressive and prospective discussions on the subject matter.


Skills to be provided during the course

– Develop reading skills

– How to analyze texts with tools of architects and planners, i.e. mainly graphics and texts.

– How to develop a critical understanding of texts by discussion inputs.

– How to realize the concrete to the abstract: From social practice in public spaces to theory on public spaces.


Teaching approach

Students are required to organize voluntary reading groups (interdisciplinary and intercultural) á 3-4 people, thus basic reading of texts can be organized jointly and distributed within the groups. You will be offered a room where you can meet on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm (before the lecture starts) to read respective texts which will be made available there.


Material, skills needed to attend the course

Texts provided by digital reader and self organized internet and media research.

This course aims at students willing to read basic texts in preparatory manner and to contribute to discussions.



oral examination in groups



English literature

Augé, Mark, (2006 (1995)) Non-Places. An Introduction to Supermodernity, Verso, London

Carmona, Matthew (2008) Public space ? the management dimension. Routledge. Oxon. Pp. 43-80, 199-214

Hajer, Maarten and Reijndorp, Arnold. In search of new public domain. NAi publishers. Rotterdam. pp. 1-17, 73-108

King, Anthony D., 2004: Spaces of Global Cultures. Architecture Urbanism Identity, Routledge, London/New York

Knierbein, Sabine (2009) Shaping central public spaces. Design-related coalitions in Berlin and in Rio de Janeiro. In: Eckardt und Elander (eds) Urban Governance in Europe. BVV Berliner Wissenschaftsverlag. Berlin, pp. 173-202.

Lefebvre, Henry (2009 (1974)) The production of space. Blackwell Publishing. Malden

Lofland, Lyn (2007) The public realm. Exploring the city?s quintessential social territory. Transaction publishers. London, pp. 1-24, 179-227

Low, Setha and Smith, Neill (2005) Politics of public space. Routledge. New York. Pp.1-16

Madanipour, Ali (2003) Public and private spaces of the city. Routledge. London. pp. 1-5, 108- 135, 229-241

Madanipour, Ali (2010) Whose public space. International case studies in urban development. Routledge. London. pp. 1-16, 237-242

Milgrom, Richard (2008) Lucien Kroll. Design, difference, everyday life. In: Goonewardena, Kipfer, Milgrom and Schmid: Space, Difference, Everyday Life. Routledge. London, pp. 264-282

Mitchell, Don (2003) Social justice and the fight for public space. Guilford Press. New York. pp. 1-41, 227-237 Rieger-Jandl, Andrea, 2006: Architecture and Culture. Building in the Tension of Increasing Global Interaction, NWV, Wien/Graz

Shields, Rob (1999) Lefebvre, Love & Struggle. Routledge. London. Pp. 1-7

Watson, Sophie (2006) City publics. The (dis) enchantments of urban encounters. Routledge. London, pp. 1-19, 169-173

Zukin, Sharon (1995) The cultures of cities. Blackwell. Oxford. Pp. 1-48

German literature

Altrock, Uwe und Schubert, Dirk (2003) Öffentlicher Raum. Einige Klarstellungen und Entwicklungsperspektiven. Jahrbuch Stadterneuerung 2003. Universtitäts-Verlag der Technischen Universität. Berlin.

Bihler, Michael A. (2004) Stadt, Zivilgesellschaft und öffentlicher Raum. LIT-Verlag. Münster.

Fessler Vaz, Lilian, Knierbein, Sabine und Welch Guerra, Max (2006) Der öffentliche Raum in der Planungspolitik. Studien aus Rio de Janeiro und Berlin. Verlag der Bauhaus-Universität. Weimar.

Häußermann, Hartmut, Läpple, Dieter und Siebel, Walter (2008) Stadtpolitik. Suhrkamp. Frankfurt am Main. Huning, Sandra (2006) Politisches Handeln in öffentlichen Räumen. Leue Verlag. Berlin

Huning, Sandra (2006) Politisches Handeln in öffentlichen Räumen. Leue Verlag. Berlin
Knierbein, Sabine (2010) Die Produktion zentraler öffentlicher Räume in der Aufmerksamkeitsökonomie. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Wiesbaden.

Schmid, Christian (2005) Stadt. Raum und Gesellschaft. Henri Lefebvre und die Theorie des Raumes. Franz Steiner Verlag. München.

Schubert, Herbert (2000) Städtischer Raum und Verhalten. Zu einer integrierten Theorie des öffentlichen Raumes.Leske + Budrich. Opladen.

Selle, Klaus (2003) Was ist los mit den öffentlichen Räumen? Analysen, Positionen, Konzepte ; ein Lesebuch für Studium und Praxis. Dortmunder Vertrieb für Bau- und Planungsliteratur 2003.

Scharpf, Fritz W. (2006) Interaktionsformen. Akteurszentrierter Institutionalismus in der Politikforschung. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Wiesbaden.Opladen.




Roberts, Brian (2008) Performative Social Sciences. Forum Qualitative Social Research. Volume 9, No. 2, Art. 58

May 2008. URL: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/377/822 (latest access 08/03/2010)

Battisti, Martina and Eiselen, Tanja (2008). Insights Through Performative Approaches. Volume 9, No. 2, Art. 44

May 2008. URL: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/378/824 (latest access 08/03/2010)


Koob, Dirk (2008) Sachen gibt’s …?! Ein Survival-Kit für angehende Phänomenologinnen und Phänomenologen. Forum qualitative Sozialforschung. URL: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/426/922 (latest access 08/03/2010)


General requirements + further comments

80% of presence required

addressed to master students (as well as late bachelor and early Phd students) in the fields of planning, political science, landscape architecture, sociology, geography, cultural studies, etc. working language is English, yet reading groups shall be formed where German language texts also will be dealt with.