Lehrstuhl für Städtebau und Regionalplanung

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Performative Urbanism - Urban Architecture
A new type of cities is emerging worldwide today. Agglomerations are sprawling along the Mediterranean coasts or other hot spots of the international real estate market; with difficulty they may be recognized as cities. These cities correspond to new social formations in a very direct manner, providing habitation for a more and more individualized society. The effect is a dramatically forced urbanisation of landscape without any urban qualities, foam city, cities without public spaces. Privacy is something increasingly appreciated as a field, which demands protection, one of the sources of this process. How far do we want to adopt our cities to these contemporary social trends? Zoning of functions seems to get more and more dominant, far beyond the much-criticized modern city. In this highly dynamic process the urbanisation of the ‚inner periphery’ of cities may be one of the strategies, to provide emerging social needs with the appropriate city while caring for the public culture of a city society as well.

Public culture of cities is strongly connected with the field and character of public space a certain city may provide. Beside the need of a special recognizable character of place the generic urban character of public space concerning openness is essential. Openness as a precondition for urban quality is rather achieved by architecturally articulated space than by indifferent spaces. Openness is a character of successful architecture in general and of successful cityscape in particular. When within this openness we do not see arbitrariness, but a cultural claim for an exerted life and make this to the objective of a complex urban design, we have to act formatively.

Urban spaces as spatial intersection points of individual behaviour and as an expression of collective attitude must be capable of accommodating constant shifts. The balance between permanence and open developments has been a standard topic in urbanism ever since the ideology of functional specificity and neutral flexibility shipwrecked. Nonetheless, spatial development today is still shaped by these two factors. It seems that more than ever, transport structures, public buildings and infrastructure are complying to predominant, one-dimensional demands.

The subjective association with space is not only incorporated in architecture via the concept such as habitation in the sense of inhabitability. Much more so, it defines architectural reality in an amplified way through the performative operation of architectural practice itself. The spatial constellation of an apartment, a street, or a city is structured differently according to its occupant’s personal architectural experience. The connection of material composition and subjective association is the basis for any conceptualization of architecture. Architectural history embraces a rich repertoire of configurations of spatial formation and exertion. This differentiation cannot be fully anticipated in the planning phase. The real building or public space, through its correlation of materiality and specific patterns of action representing a characteristic conception, gives the specific processing of space a tangible direction, a typical condition. The individual level of experience of architectural reality remains left to the respective performative appropriation.

Performative urbanism concentrates on entirely different subjects and is not at all comparable to performance in everyday speech. We are aware, that designing a city scape is highly affected by economical forces to create spectacles and public performances. Cities are involved in this global competition for attention; they are forced to create spectacles in a cultural and political sense. Yet, this text does not concentrate on this aspect. On the contrary, here the term performance is applied as introduced by linguistics and semiotics. Performative urbanism refers to the entire character of architectural and urban space to create a full reality only while being used in a complex sense of meaning. Situative urbanism may refer to a similar approach, including cultural practises of urban behaviour and governance, referring historically to the situationist movement and its urban practises. Performative urbanism trusts in urban architecture, in the designing competence of the profession and in the power of architecture to create spaces of openness and performative experience by conciseness.

Sophie Wolfrum 2008

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