Interdisciplinary Centre

Why do traditional planning instruments often fail to strengthen public spaces as social spaces? What exactly is “public” about public spaces and how can culture in cities contribute to stimulating processes of social exchange and social confrontation?


The Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space contributes to the teaching and research activities of TU Wien. It achieves this by establishing and strengthening academic networks at the European level as well as intensifying the dialogue between the municipal administration and Vienna’s universities.


As part of the Faculty for Architecture and Planning, the Interdisciplinary Centre has been established as a new horizontal institution featuring a dialogical structure. Its aim is to discover existing potentials in fields such as urban culture and public space as well as to connect and pool their content in a synergetic manner within the framework of the given teaching and research focus.


Research interests

Why do traditional planning instruments often fail to strengthen public spaces as social spaces? What exactly is “public” about public spaces and how can culture in cities contribute to stimulating processes of social exchange and social confrontation? How can varying research perspectives on public space be combined in a way that spurs insight and be made fruitful for theory and practice by means of cultural studies approaches? To what extent are everyday social life in the cities and the political expression of civil society’s protests on urban streets and squares linked to their built form and the planning visions and studies for cities?

International Visiting Professorship Scheme

By establishing the Visiting Professorship of Urban Culture and Public Space, the Faculty of Architecture and Spatial Planning at TU Wien has taken up these challenging issues at the interdisciplinary interface between planning and design disciplines and social sciences. This professorship has received material support from the City of Vienna between December 2008 and February 2018. Initially planned for three years, the program was successively extended two times over six years. In the year 2018, a guest professorship will be offered by the TU Wien in order to bridge between the previous funding scheme and a new programme that will likely come into being through the support of an international partner (starting approx. October 2018). Guest lecturers as well as local personnel within TU Wien have been supported with these funds in the total amount of 100,000 € per year. Since June 2015 an additional program exists to supplement the endeavors for accentuating the importance of public space at the faculty’s level: Future Lab Oeffentlicher Raum has been instigated to multiply the insights and impacts of City of Vienna Visiting Professorship for Urban Culture and Public Space between 2015 and 2017.

Horizontal institution

The purpose and mission of the Visiting Professorship is to develop a novel approach towards public spaces, thus contributing to enriching the current teaching and research spectrum at European universities. Thus, the current spectrum of research and teaching in European universities will be expanded and enriched, given the obvious relevance of the social and political significance of public space and different cultural practices.To this end, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space has been set up as a central platform for cooperation. This is supported by an internal TU working group of different colleagues in different disciplines, the dean, and the study deans of the Faculty of Architecture and Planning, as well as the Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre. This committee makes recommendations concerning the centre’s activities and advises on the appointment of visiting professors during the respective expression of interest process. On a project-by-project basis, small coalitions are formed based on current topics of research on urban and cultural approaches and knowledge alliances for the planning and design of public spaces.

Central questions

In what way exactly does the current interaction between civil-society players, state institutions and markets determine the social production of public space? Which are the tasks assumed by the planning and design disciplines in this context and where is there further future potential for students of architecture and spatial planning faculties to assume, above and beyond their traditional qualifications, an active design and steering function in these societal processes? To what extent can cross-cultural actions in planning and architecture be designed in a context-sensitive manner in light of the increasing internationalization of the spheres of action?

Special challenges

Public spaces are dynamic societal processes, and thus relational spaces with built expression, which only analytically can be divided into spatial “levels” in a very rigid understanding of space. Three areas of learning directly related to architecture and planning strategically intervene in these processes: urban design in the tensions surrounding the material production of space, urban planning in the context of the mental production of space, and urban research as a microcosm for the spatial understanding of societal practice, and in particular of the production of meaning. The areas of learning are deliberately defined broadly in order to pre-empt an undesirable narrowing of certain disciplines and subject areas of the same name. Because nowadays planners design just as much as designers plan; artists research, and researchers engage in creative activities. The triad thus corresponds less to disciplinary preconceptions, institutional boundaries, or actor-related self-perceptions, but rather shifts the focus to the actual behavior of individuals and groups in the areas of tension surrounding urban development. It is therefore the special task of the dialogue-oriented academic teams at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space to combine, in their research and teaching, the local view of the  Vienna context with the exchange of academic knowledge at the European level into two areas of learning that promote insight: know why (urban research, theory) and know how (urban planning, urban design, practice).


Public spaces as societal processes

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space (SKuOR) is a horizontal institution at the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at TU Wien dedicated at identifying connecting characteristics between urban research and urban planning and design, between practice and theory regarding the thematically combined fields of urban culture and public space. In collaboration with luminaries and experts from different disciplines and countries, we try to explore how public spaces work as societal processes in urban environments. They ‚sediment‘ as constructed or built spaces, for instance taking the shape of designed or constructed projects, in which cultural aspects are increasingly imbedded by diverse players with a manifold spectrum of interests. In order to gain inspiration for content from such fields as planning theory and practice as well as spatial theory and urban research, the parent body at TU Wien agreed to a three-year program based on a conceptual approach proposed by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sabine Knierbein:

Urban culture, public space and urban society – civil society, state, markets (2009-2011)

Urban culture, public space and urban development – resources, knowledge, ways of life (2012-2014)

Urban culture, public space and the education of urban professionals  – past, present, future (2015-2017)

Urban culture, public space and housing (2018)

Interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and postdisciplinary perspectives

An initial premise of the program is to make allowances for the complexity of the subject: public space is, after all, not only a field of different disciplinary perspectives but a social sphere of varied expression as well as the assertion of interests which could not be more diverse. Additionally, analysis of opportunities with regard to the simultaneous difference and distinction of actors in public space, and structural agendas set by planners and architects, illustrate the complexity of the subject of urban culture. This understanding rests on the premise that processes of producing public spaces almost always involve actors from various institutional spheres within society – civil society, the state and the markets. These actors and institutions many times have a direct steering and shaping effect on public space. Thus as city planners, urban designers, and urban researchers, they influence the physical and mental as well as the social and cultural production of space in a systematic and limiting way. They have only a restricted effect on the actual cultural and social public life that unfolds in public space. The extent of their effectiveness in public space is all too often overestimated by some, while others come close to denying it. It is therefore necessary on the analytical level to find a postdisciplinary approach that enables processes of production of urban form to be understood within a relational understanding of space, and thus to bridge morphology and social processes. To this end, perspectives on public space in the sense of the above-described fine line between built outcomes and the social processes of production are to be honed. With the “interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, postdisciplinary” triad, varying approaches to the systematic use of a plurality of perspectives are addressed across divisions within the university (interdisciplinary), between scholarship and practice (transdisciplinary), or developed out of the complexity of the object (postdisciplinary). It is essential to condense, sharpen, and clarify knowledge about public space from different sectors according to their socio-political relevance in the sense of progress in scientific insight.

Know Why and Know How

The second premise of Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space’s work is the combination of know why (theory) and know how (practice). In terms of application and implementation, the knowledge generated from socio-scientific urban research is confronted with aspects of urban design and planning in order to train future graduates in fields such as planning and architecture, together with other spatially relevant disciplines. Students learn how to distinguish between the logic of the two approaches which sometimes run in a contrary direction but which are nevertheless intertwined, and light is shed on the advantages of both approaches, following which – after necessary reflection – their competent use is facilitated. How can planners and architects, as actors in this social conglomerate, intervene in processes in order to upgrade the quality of public spaces during their formulation and thus make their creative contribution to the social alignment of interests in cities. Finally, and in terms of a democratic urban society, the question remains as to the basic normative attitudes and technical stances on which planning and design should be based and founded.

Explorative approaches and space production

In this area of conflict the use of explorative approaches in urban design, urban planning and urban research is the basis for the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space’s future work, constituting its third premise. This concerns the issue of social innovation in planning and research, together with the question as to how innovations in research and teaching methods (e.g. spatial filming, action research, serious games, …) may trigger changes in the approach to spatial problems. This consideration is invariably based upon a reflection as to the various types of understanding of space which cause and are influenced by the actions of people. The use of explorative methodical approaches in urban research and urban planning should therefore be understood as a plea for a permanent reflection on spatial concepts in theory and practice, the necessity of which becomes manifest with a critical glance at the area of conflict between perceived, conceived and lived (public) spaces of contemporary cities.


Monday    10.00 – 15.00
Tuesday    10.00 – 15.00
Friday    10.00 – 15.00

Use of the library by appointment only.
TU Wien’s library catalogue is available here.
To obtain further information, please contact
+43 (0) 1 58801-285021
or info(at)







TU Wien
Faculty of Architecture and Planning
Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture & Public Space
future.lab | E285-02

Karlsgasse 11 | Top Floor
1040 Vienna | 

T +43 (0) 1 58801-285 021
E office(at)


Via public transport: Karlsplatz/Resselpark via underground U1, U2, U4. Paulanergasse via Tram 1, 62, or Badener Bahn. From the airport: Take CAT Airport Train or S7 and change at Landstraße for U4 to Karlsplatz, or take a regional OEBB train to Wien Hbf and change for U1 to Karlsplatz.