What is public space for?
Still from Cinema Paradiso
For about four weeks, we’ll focus on design in public — more specifically, you will propose designs that contribute to a communal public experience. Brown Prof. Bonnie Honig writes of the importance of public things… giving a theoretical basis for why public space and public things are important.
“The existence of public things — to meet each other, to fight about, to pay for together, to enjoy, to complain about — this is absolutely indispensable to democratic life.”
Your task is to propose or install a project that encourages interaction between people. Public art does not demand interaction; but public ‘design’ may. The journalist Mónica Guzmán can help us connect this prompt to politics: “Talking WITH people we don’t understand instead of ABOUT them is the most important thing we can do for our democracy.”
As noted in the video launch of Harvard Design Magazine’s issue dedicated to “Public”, public space had to be defined as such, and requires continual use and protection. I would argue that it needs continual re-imagination, attention and habitation. Quoting myself from Mold Magzine, “being in public helps to knit you into a community that is in continual need of your creative attention.”
Artists and designers are necessary in this regard. From a recent exhibition at the Walker Art Museum:
“The imagination creates the future,” writes Lewis Hyde, professor and author of the book The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.1 This explains why we think of artists—whether “fine” artists or designers—as futurists.”
Public space, as one place that people of all income levels can participate in, is as important as ever. In the period after the start of Covid, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist wrote in the the Guardian
“When the situation is under control, [we] need to go into communities with art which don’t usually have access to it. In this time of crisis, it’s important that museums think about how they can go beyond their walls and reach everyone.”
Show and tell
- John will share some examples of design for public space.
- “Public” are.na channel
- Refer to this map with some locations that you can see on your own (and may choose)
For Week 7
You have two weeks to identify a public space to work with. Choose more than one if you’re unsure. Choose a site for its particular qualities and affordances. In class, show us photographs, maps and/or other documentation of the site. What happens there? What do you hope would happen there? Who is there (that you know of)?
- “Democracy’s Necessary Conditions”, Democracy in Despair, Bonnie Honig
In class: Slider bars
For our third method activity, you will work with the form of the slider bar. Slider bars have a range between a minimum and a maximum. Create a minimum of 20 slider bars for various scenarios. Define the minimum and maximum as a way to stretch how we think about those scenarios.
Show us results from your slider bar activity as a way of stretching your conception about what you can do in your site.
Outings to Davey Lopes Recreation Center, State Capitol, DWRI Letterpress, Peace & Plenty Park, Mary Elizabeth Sharpe Park, North Burial Ground, The Wild Place, and we’ll take a ride on the R Line.
Final review of project
- Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, Walker Art Museum, 2011
- “Theory of the Derivé”, Guy Debord
- Neighbourhood Index
- Politics of the Everyday, Ezio Manzini
- “The New Rules of Public Art”, Situations
- This is What Democracy Looked Like Alicia Cheng. Princeton Arch. Press. 2020
- The Nightmare of Participation Markus Miessen. Sternberg Press. 2010
- Designing in Dark Times: An Arendtian Lexicon Eduardo Staszowski and Virginia Tassinari, editors. Bloomsbury, 2021.
- Common Ground? Anthony M. Orum and Zachary P. Neal, editors. Routledge, 2010
- Community and the Politics of Place Danniel Kemmis. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1990.
- Developing citizen designers Elizabeth Resnick, editor. Bloomsbury, 2016
- The Politics of Public Space Setha Low and Neil Smith, editors. Routledge, 2006