VO Public spaces theories

Theory of Public Spaces  I – Actors, Institutions and Spatial Dimensions

VO 280.032 by Dr. cand. Knierbein

Course, 2009S, 2 hrs (Introductory Course) 
Course language: German

Downloads: VO 280.032 (M11)


Comment: Dialogue


This course will be offered by the newly founded Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space (SKuOR) and will be delivered within the framework of Module 11 during the summer semester of 2009. Although it is primarily aimed at students of spatial planning and architecture, those from other disciplines are also welcome.

Aim of the Course

The aim of this course is to acquaint students from the fields of planning and architecture, as well as those from other disciplines, with the diversity of approaches to public space, as well as to sensitize their conceptual repertoire as regards the ubiquitous object of planning, the challenging task of design and a field of policy that is often the subject of discussion. Interdisciplinary dialogue is, in relation to these issues, one of the basic features offered by this course.

By choosing a lecture format that has the form of an exercise, the lecturer intends not only to impart knowledge regarding a professional approach to public spaces as processes, together with the logic which underlies the actions of those actors and institutions involved, but to stimulate a general contemplation of spatial understanding. Information and thought-provoking impulses will be processed and applied in the form of exercises, while the possibility of a combined course format shall offer the opportunity for further discussions of the subject.

Content of the Course

Since the end of the 1970s ‘public space’ has been one of the central fields of action in the planning and shaping of the urban environment within Europe’s cities; it involves such disciplines as urban planning, landscape urbanism, landscape architecture, as well as architecture and design. In other disciplines, mostly drawn from social science – such as urban sociology, ethnology and law – the notion of ‘public space’ is dealt with as self-confidently as in urban development policy and planning practice. But one thing is manifest: All these actors talk about very different ‘public spaces’. There is rarely consensus on what is meant by the term. Some understand public space as built-up areas, as a spatial morphology, whereas others would deny the notion of any materiality. But how can we imagine social space and urban space – the creation of which is sometimes quite costly – as two sides of the same coin?

The diversity of theoretical approaches with different disciplinary backgrounds reveals that there are basic debates hidden behind the meta-concept of public space regarding theories on space, the role of institutions, their mechanisms and resources, together with the actors involved. To put it in a more tangible and concrete way: the course focuses on understanding public spaces from a perspective that considers them as societal processes which ‘sediment’ as designed, constructed spaces. Who influences this daily ‘production’ of public spaces and in what ways? Where are the planners and designers located within these societal processes? What strategies are they familiar with, and with what other social actors’ interests are they confronted?