Urban Spaces

What factors contribute to the success of urban spaces? The Danish architect and urban planner Jan Gehl posed this question back in the 1960s when he first investigated the behaviour of people on the streets and squares of our cities. In his book “Life Between Buildings” (1971) Gehl distinguishes three types of outdoor activities: necessary, optional and social. His thesis is that the more a public space has to offer its users for spontaneous activities and unplanned leisure, the more social life will develop there.

In our current issue, we examine urban spaces that possess these qualities. The documentations illustrate the variety in which we encounter such spaces today: as a market hall, playground and community centre, pedestrian bridge and an inner courtyard on a university campus. We find urban spaces not only between houses, but also in, at and on buildings as well as along traffic roads. Many of these places are not only for unspecific pastimes, but have a clearly defined function and are based on a well-conceived spatial programme. Inter­disciplinary planning is usually indispensable for their success.

A nice example is the playground and exercise area on the roof of a car park in Copenhagen, for which Jaja Architects collaborated with two recreational facility design firms. Along the same lines, our essay examines how the fitness trend is increasingly conquering urban space, leading to ever-new design approaches and functional overlaps.

Of course, there is a fine line between that and overdesign or functional overload. Cities also need areas that simply offer space for contemplation, such as the Shoah Memorial in Bologna by SET Architects, which we also document in the ­current issue.

Harald Sommer takes us underground in his article for our technology section. Explaining modern strategies of urban rainwater management, he shows how these can be ­integrated into compelling open space design. After all, urban spaces not only need quality of life but also a future-proof infrastructure in times of climate change.
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