Encountering the Public
Public spaces are part of the public sphere. They are the places where similarities and contrasts are generated. This is where we experience a sense of community and feel part of a society, whether as active participants or anonymous observers. Public spaces are the places where we celebrate together, where we share ideas and opinions, where we do business, meet old acquaintances and make new ones. This includes both the physical space of a city and the media sphere.
The public space is a collection of various affordances in the sense of prompts. Coined in the 1970s by psychologist J.J. Gibson, the term “affordance” describes a relationship between living beings and their environment. Applied to urban situations, these calls can be interpreted as a mixture of offers and suggestions for action that lead to a relationship between individuals and their environment. Depending on how these are presented and designed, individuals feel with their respective prerequisites and wishes addressed and spoken to. The physical urban space is at the centre. This can be directly used physically to take care of everyday needs and to experience social bonds. It also represents a multi-layered juxtaposition between what one desires, what one wants to be and what one wants to experience. This interaction generates exclusion and inclusion, participation and refusal.
The public space is divided into different levels of complexity: a chair alone invites a person to sit, while a table with several chairs encourages interaction. Following this principle, an urban space offers room for encounters and lingering, for movement and friction, and for economic and social exchange. The design and composition of the physical environment determine the character of the stimulus.
Against this background, various challenges arise with regard to the differentiated design of the urban public sphere. Different structures should coexist in order to enrich each other and create a complex relationship. On the other hand, it can be assumed that an excess is to be avoided to prevent disintegration into the individual aspects. The public sphere of a city and its anonymity should offer opportunities to meet others as well as to discover and challenge oneself.
We should examine where the fine line is between monotony and exclusion on the one hand and weariness and excessive demands on the other. Furthermore, it must be clarified in this context whether it is more conducive to the potential of a place if certain offers are directed at everyone, or whether it is not rather the interplay of the most diverse factors relating to individual sub-groups that gives rise to a complexity that allows a place to succeed as an urban public space.