Physical public space of our cities is strongly connected to of all the crises the world suffers recently

Europe, Architecture, Shared Vision

Michal Šourek

Czech Technical University in Prague,

Faculty of Civil Engineering, Department of Architecture

In summer 2020, the Earth is in a state of  turmoil: the Covid-19 pandemic, an economic crisis as a result of the pandemic, climate crisis, political crises or crisis developments in a number of important regions, and a global housing crisis are challenging our world. This paper  suggests that  public space is strongly connected to of all the crises. The malfunctioning or specific changes  of a particular public space  can be a substantial contributor, and often the decisive agent of the crises. Obviously, the roots, not the symptoms should  be treated to solve the problem: the perspective of the physical, most often urban public space shows to be more promising in this regard comparing to the virtual public realm of traditional media and information and communication technologies. In respect to physical public space, a special responsibility is placed on architects and architectural advancement; subsequently,  challenges arise. The perspective of Europe - the most promising political, social, and cultural project of the present, shows to be embedded in physical public space, too: the perspectives of Europe and architecture, extremely promising and challenging at the same time,  appear to be inherently interwoven.

The World 2020

The end of modernity, perhaps the peak of the modern age was supposed to herald in the end of history [Fukuyama 1992]. However, the inevitability of technical, and therefore social and socio-cultural progress [Snyder 2018] has yet to been confirmed; in Russia, progress has not brought about a functional democracy, but a kleptocratic oligarchy, and in the USA an oligarch was elected president.  The criticisms of the pace of mitigating the negative externalities of economic, social, and cultural developments have been taken over by civil disobedience movements, first in Great Britain, and soon after throughout Europe and  elsewhere around the world. Advancement in knowledge determined the course of history from the very beginning of industrialization: it is this advancement to which humanity owes its unique rise in terms of standard of living and quality of life. Does the advancement in knowledge in its historical role alternate with the socio-political principle of eternity, which places one group of people in the center of a cyclical chain of victimhood that… erases responsibility for the things that follow through the knowledge that the enemy is coming no matter what we do? Proponents of the politics of eternity spread the conviction that the government cannot help society as a whole but can only guard against threats. Progress gives way to pessimism and doom. [Snyder 2018]

  In the language of numbers: has the Human Development Index reached such unprecedented levels worldwide and in every country just to be rendered irrelevant and replaced by the Sustainable Development Index, according to which the star pupils include Cuba, Albania and the Dominican Republic, ahead of outsiders like Denmark, Switzerland and Germany, not to mention Norway and Sweden? This question, which has been more a rhetorical one for most of the people on Earth, those living both in rich and in poor countries alike, was suddenly presented in a different light in 2020 by the media image of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic: people in the countries of the wealthy north have been more likely to die as a result of Covid-19 by an order of magnitude higher margin per million inhabitants than those in the poorer and the poorest parts of the world: exceptions – if any – may be related to systemic deficit of national healthcare systems, but most often, poor national or regional health management is due.

  In Wuhan, China in December 2019, the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 may have jumped , from a bat, badger or snake to a human, or perhaps escaped from a laboratory. By March of the following year, the coronavirus was on all continents except Antarctica. The reluctance of governments to take responsibility, together with  media have created a picture which has influenced the course and public perception of  the pandemic. The pandemic has closed businesses, l left public spaces empty, and locked-down the population of most countries around the world in a home-quarantine,  resulting in a global financial and economic crisis, unprecedented in terms of its depth and speed. During summer 2020, most countries in the wealthy north cautiously believe that the peak of the epidemic is over. A question arises: "What now?" It is becoming increasingly clear that the need to cope with the coronavirus epidemic has created a unique opportunity to capture in a truly comprehensive way the three pillars of sustainable development - the environment, social structures and values, and the cultural capital of society (that includes the economy). The opportunity can be seized,  lost, or even misused.

  When locked down in quarantine, we realized, albeit intuitively, how significant public space is to us as individuals, and to society: let us seize the consciousness acquired as the bottom-line to restore our attention to physical public space.

Architecture and Built Environment: State of the Art

Regardless of  answers to the previous questions, the reference of architecture and the built environment, as well as of the architect´s profession is worth querying. Studios aspiring to  commercial success adopted willingly the catchwords of agendas of popular movements addressing salvage of the planet: they made them categories of the quality of architectural and construction solutions and whole projects. Wood is used in projects as it has been declared an effective carbon-trap. In the desert of Oman, fossil-fuels filling stations are being built that claim to be carbon-neutral due to their ability to handle rainwater. Having  repaired and re-used parts of  a full-glazed curtain wall of a London commercial building instead of applying a new one, the planners declared the reconstruction carbon-neutral, aside from the heating, cooling, and ventilation technologies and their carbon-balance.

  In the European cultural realm, sustainability, resilience, circular economy, adaptive re-use, and frugality have been considered essential properties of architecture and construction a long time before activists and managers of salvage of  climate change, and the planet have “discovered” them. Introduced explicitly in [Ten Books] On Architecture, firmness and commodity, structural and functional adequacy are firmly anchored already in Vitruvian triad; in the history of architecture until today, their validity as an imperative has never been questioned. There is no better protection of an architectural opus against decay and extinction than gracefulness of form, adequacy, and balance of all parts of the work, maintained Alberti in the middle of the 15th century in De re aedificatoria [1988 [1485]. Since the Renaissance at the latest, more probably  since the Hellenic period, the circulation of forms, and also physical architectural elements is a method of architectural creation: the "invention" of industrial heritage or its creative and productive seizing respectively made adaptive re-use a phenomenon.

  Firstly, modern buildings with a neutral, even balance of energy consumption and CO2 production have been designed and implemented a long time before the birth of the adolescents blaming today the architects and engineers of the buildings that they are endangering the future of today´s young:  the mantra remains the reference to the "fact" that buildings account for forty percent of global CO2 production. Subsequently, the governments of all the countries of the world are being accused of laziness, which they show, among other things, to the development of built environment (and probably also to architecture and architectural advancement  within it): "how dare they disrespect scientific data and not stop such development"? What about other scientific data [Daniel 2019] showing a six percent share of construction in global greenhouse gas emissions - with a four-and-twenty-percent share of agriculture, forestry, and other land uses, not to mention 35% energy, 21% industry, and 14% transport?


Sustainable Development, Anthropocene, SARS-CoV-2

Our house is on fire [Thunberg 2019]. Those who extinguish are allowed everything - that's why firefighters have axes: to prevent the spread of fire, even at the cost of destroying parts that are still healthy but endangered. Governments must regulate at any cost the activities that create the added value they live from.. They must do this, immediately, otherwise it will be too late - the externalities of (less than) three hundred years of industrialization have to be healed by the same tools that produced them: mechanical and technological, and social and political engineering. Meanwhile, the externalities of human existence not only devastate the biosphere, they also sign up in geochronology: the Anthropocene comes instead of the Holocene. [Crutzen 2000]. The Anthropocene is a project of waste and of the built environment: recent and past waste, archaeological excavations, the built environment of any age and any physical and moral condition that is what humanity writes into the Earth's stratigraphy. If the Anthropocene is real and inevitable, if we cannot "back off"  as suggested by the environment activists and opportunists, then why not let it be characterized by the built environment rather than by waste. Alternatively, is it the case that we  do  not wish to back out of it?

  The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus surprised those who thought that the people of the wealthy north were not "dying" of epidemics long ago: virtually all of us. And this surprise - not the absolute or relative numbers of coronavirus victims, stopped the world and caused a financial crisis. Surprise and speed: more than the speed with which SARS-CoV-2 spread among humans around the world, the crisis caused the speed with which information about the spread of coronavirus spread. The surprise and reluctance of governments to take responsibility for the death rates and  threshold numbers of their own citizens helped stall the economy. Consequently people stayed at home, some freshly unemployed, some facing the onslaught of the work responsibilities they took home, and the newly acquired personal responsibility for educating their children, and in weeks humanity reduced the production of externalities of its existence by values previously considered unattainable in years, if not decades. The ecosystem equilibrium of the economy that produces prosperity and externalities undoubtedly developed into an unsustainable state in a surprisingly short time. Not radical and efficient engineering and political measures, but the transformation of the existing Anthropocene ecosystem is needed if our house is to  stop burning. How will we work it out, and how will we change the current ideas' ecosystem?

Europe: History, Present, Prospect

Europe, or what remains of it if we subtract Eurasia - the imperial project of contemporary Russia [Snyder 2018],and what can be largely identified by the territory of the Member States of the European Union and with the sum of their essential cultural features, is at the same time, at first sight, troubled by disputes over national identities and the extent and practical application of the common political, economic and power arrangements of the Member States. The image of disunity, quarreling, and confusion is completed by an exuberant and irresponsible administration; its contours illustrate the doubts about expediency and the undoubted dysfunction of the massive redistribution of public finances. And this picture, which is very robust for various reasons, overlaps European realities, which can be the starting point for a strong and positive vision of Europe.

  With respect for other cultures and civilizations, the current quality of life of people on Earth is a legacy of Europe, a legacy of anthropocentric ancient culture and a product of its developmental stage - Euro-North American culture. From the beginning of the 18th century, Europe promised modernity, prosperity, and freedom.

  However, the most devastating conflicts of war - the last two conflicts to date, the two most destructive global conflicts in absolute terms were "European", too. The natural response to them was the idea of the unification of Europe and it is undoubtedly a great credit to  its founders that the first generation of Europeans in two millennia has a decent chance of living without knowing  what war is (leaving aside the conflicts that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia).

  Undoubtedly, thanks to the unprecedentedly long, perhaps lasting peace on the continent, today the European economy, represented by the European Union, is the world's largest economy. So far, this combined force is only latent if it is not associated with effective armed forces: the power dominance of the United States, China, perhaps even Russia, has no opponents in today's Europe; so far.

  The prospect of Europe - neither the United States nor China or India - as the decisive global force of the 21st century is not dead. Its starting point is diversity: paradoxically, the diversity that has been the trigger for previous conflicts and that still threatens to initiate further conflicts. Without cultural [linguistic and national] diversity, Europe would undoubtedly be poorer, without political unity, Europe seems to be doomed to destruction: today, a united Europe is the most valuable project. [Cercas 2019] From a political point of view, this belief is based on the thesis that only Europe unifying forces of many countries can be a way for politics to control the omnipotent influence of the economy and to (re)establish democracy worthy of the name. [Cercas 2019] National democracies cannot defend themselves against the relentless ultimatums of capitalism that cross national borders without restraint. [Habermas 2012]

  The cultural basis of the unification of Europe is the heroism of reason [Husserl, E. 1936], … a constituent of European unity,… based on - and legitimized by a true story [of its history]. Mutual understanding, prosperity, and democracy are the three pillars that have built the European Union over the last fifty years, and they are values that will be pursued by our future sensible utopia. [Cercas 2019] Such a vision, however idealistic, perhaps makes sense in the light of five axioms to which Europe can be reduced: the first is European cafes, places where people conspire, write and debate, and where great philosophies, artistic movements and ideological revolutions and aesthetic ones were born. Secondly, it is a European "domesticated" landscape, suitable for walking - unlike the vast and insurmountable wilderness of other continents. The third constituent of Europe is the historical richness of every place within its space. The fourth axiom is the ambiguous and indivisible contrast of the historical legacy - the legacy of Athens and Jerusalem, Socrates and Jesus Christ, reason and vision. Fifth, Europe is characterized by an eschatological consciousness of itself, an awareness of mortality [of cultures, civilizations, and communities], the dark certainty that whatever begins must also end more or less tragically. [Steiner 2015]

The Public Space

European axioms emphasize that architecture today is not debt-free in regard to sustainability: it is a debt to public space, and it is a serious debt. It does not refer to  public space in a sense of open-air areas accessible to the public in cities, villages, and in the countryside: it refers to the public space – a platform for communication of socio-cultural and material goods and values. In the past eighty years, the physical public space has experienced an unprecedented shift to the seclusion of architectural creativity; a little later, the theory of architecture as such found itself on the sidelines. The public space that has historically been dominated by its physical, urban component, reflects the inherently social, communicative nature of human existence [Krejčí 2002]. Communication of material and socio-cultural values is a basic principle and function of the city - in the historical and the urban-development sense. Within a city,  the public space - a physical public space of streets, squares, buildings, and areas accessible to the public together with a virtual public space of communication media[1] remains the main platform for communication.

  The grasp of the topic of public space within the field of architecture and the development of the built environment is still largely intuitive today. After a famous and at the same time unfortunate episode of Giedionian modernism, architecture resigned to its social role. The unfortunate outcome of the social and political aspirations of the modern architecture between the world wars concerns public space in particular. All the more so architects could welcome, and grab the pre-Christmas message of the chairman of the Czech Pirates Ivan Bartoš [2019]… for a free, educated and (not only) digitally connected society: let's not look at the by trivial spelling "not only": it is primarily the physical public, mostly urban, mostly architecturally shaped public space, where the informal culture of society is formed, where the foundations of social harmony and social peace  can only lie, where the relationship of society to shared values, to the future, to cultural and economic development are articulated.

  Recent reflections on physical public space began to detach from the horizon of aesthetic speculation and transport experience - but little interest was paid to a  possible contribution of Habermas's thoughts on communicative behavior... of civic debate and instrumental communication in physical public space [Habermas 1981] or Engels's view [of public space] of cities as workshops and markets [Engels 1949]. The reference to Friedrich Engels may be embarrassing, but his conclusions in this regard are confirmed by recent economic studies [De Mello 1999, Borensztein 1998]. The climatic role and potential of the public space of settlements motivate thousands of experiments at various scales around the world: systematic research, evaluation, and capture are still lacking. However, all indications are that in public space it is decided to what extent the economic performance of a settlement unit will contribute to the development of quality of life in the community [Habermas 1981, Arendt 1998 [1958], Clark 1995] and how the economy and leisure time will affect local and global climate and biodiversity.

  At the beginning of 2020, a physical public space became a breeding ground for SARS-CoV-2. The pandemic  affected most the nations which traditionally spend a good proportion of their time  in public space: predominantly in Europe -  the Italians, the French,  and the Spaniards initially witnessed the disease spreading fast. If historically Protestant countries with a more closed mentality have caught up with them or surpassed them in the number of cases, then this is only due to the delay of active protection measures, or their rejection. Kissing on both cheeks during a meeting  including between men, tapas, dinner that ends after midnight (and  often the continuation of the evening somewhere else) a "mandatory" daily Aperol spritz or a glass of wine with neighbors in the late afternoon took their toll, mainly among neighbors who have aged together - in Venice, in Lombardy, in Catalonia, in Madrid…

  And then the first of many weeks of a general quarantine did enough to make everyone realize how much, and in how many ways we lack physical public space. It has also been shown that physical public space is indispensable and irreplaceable - "virtual public" space, the space of information and communication media and technology is unable to replace it: without support in physical public space, the virtual one lags on both feet. [Šourek 2020a] The coronavirus crisis is a crisis of the vitality of public space - and at the same time a demonstration of its importance and social indispensability wherever the roots of the culture of ancient Greece reach today. Even more than the rituals of Mediterranean society, the vitality of public space has helped cause the coronavirus crisis - less epidemiological, more a financial and socio-cultural one, through the unprecedented speed and breadth of the impact of electronic information and communication technologies. Finally, there is an also an aversion to responsibility embedded in public space, which  governments have shown univocally (apart from some exceptions) facing SARS-CoV-2. If it were not for this aversion, Covid-19 would remain a medical issue, without an aversion to responsibility, the epidemic would not be "replaced" by a financial crisis.

  In 1997, Hilary Henkin and David Mamet adapted Larry Beinhart´s book American Hero to the screenplay of the Wag the Dog film. The story of the media hiding sexual affairs of a president-candidate by creating a fake-war was taken only with embarrassment, the story was perceived as  too artificial. "Why does a dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than a tail. If the tail was smarter, it would wiggle the dog." In the coronavirus crisis, the media in a tale of our society, have proved that they can wag the dog. Do we really want the media to be smarter than us? And is it possible to create so easily a fake-war in the physical public space of urban neighborhoods?

Architecture and the Public Space

Public space  has been an object of architecture ever since humans have started building cities. The first true public spaces were ancient Egyptian  temples, theaters, circuses, and stoae. The public space acted as the aristocratic residences of the Middle Ages - the administration of the manor, i.e. the administration of public affairs, which took place in them. Public space was also the maashauses of burgher houses and salons of private residences of entrepreneurs of the long nineteenth century. As a part of the public space, Adolf Loos designed the Müller Villa in Prague: in its dining room, salon, and in the study of a prominent construction entrepreneur, personalities from the cultural and economic life of interwar Czechoslovakia met. And last but not least, the villa became the subject of public debate, and its architecture has virtually been involved in shaping the new spirit of the time [Giedion 1954 [1941]].

  In the first of The Ten Books on Architecture, Vitruvius presented in a dense form an overview of the architectural craft: … Building [of buildings]… divides into two areas: the first includes the construction of fortified cities and works in public places in general, the second the acquisition of private buildings. There are three types of public buildings: defensive, religious, and purpose-built. … Purpose-built buildings are public spaces, ports, markets, colonnades, spas, theaters, promenades, and all other arrangements of public places. Vitruvius dedicated one of ten books to private buildings. However, the owner and the master of a private residence in ancient Rome could not have been inactive in the economic or political field: he would not always go to an office for these activities, he often developed them in his villa - similar to Dr. Müller two thousand years later. Even the private house then became part of the Roman public space - shaped by architecture - in which, and only in it, the socio-cultural life of cives, citizens - members of the community took place.

  In the 15th century, Vitruvius' work was critically revised in an atmosphere of the emerging Renaissance humanism by Leon Battista Alberti with De re aedificatoria [1988]: the fundamental relationship between architecture and public space was not questioned or weakened by this revision. Significantly, the architecture known today as the first renaissance one - the Florentine orphanage, designed and built by Filippo Brunelleschi in the early 15th century is a sovereignly public building, and an enclave of urban public space.

  In 1753, Marc-Antoin Laugier introduced the concept of a primitive hut - an archetypal architectural form. Laugier thought of architectural form as the language of architecture. He began to lose interest in what was going on in public space; instead of a form expressing the spirit of the time, he devoted his attention to form as aesthetic speculation: two centuries ahead, he foreshadowed the decline of physical public space.

  Laugier's successors increasingly focused on speculative questions of form: Gottfried Semper, Luis Sullivan, Otto Wagner, Henry-Russel Hitchcock, Philip Courtley Johnson, and finally Christian Norberg-Schulz have shown notable in the regard. The list skipped Siegfried Giedion and stopped in front of critical histories and fragmentary revising treatises of the second half of the 20th century. Siegfried Giedion deserves a separate paragraph later due to his extraordinary - and ambiguous - significance on the development of architecture, the theory of architecture in general and in particular in respect to public space. Texts on architecture, created since the middle of the 20th century, except for Architecture in the Age of the Divided Representation by Dalibor Veselý [2004], fail to hit the essence of the problem of public space.

  Christian Norberg-Schulz recognized the loss of tradition in architecture: but he did not grasp the decline of physical public space. Architects who can no longer rely on tradition cannot do without theory: in the absence of other opportunities - partly a factual, partly an apparent one - Norberg-Schulz [2016] offered them two basic functions that architecture should pursue: to provide one with identity and orientation. He defined the structure of four levels of the synthetic environment - from the natural environment, through the public and community level, to the individual home: the need for identification and orientation in these levels should be met by morphology, topology and typology. Norberg-Schulz, unlike most theoreticians of 20th century architecture, did not hesitate to look for starting points in the field of social sciences - in gestalt-psychology and linguistics, he tried to apply Heidegger's phenomenology and ontology to architecture. Nevertheless, he did not pay adequate attention to the physical, articulated public space.

  Siegfried Giedion opened up, until then, dehonestated nineteenth-century architectural and cultural thinking, revealing and highlighting its values and its fundamental contribution to the present and the future. Giedion in the position of an informal (and to some extent also formal), effective and productive protagonist orchestrating architectural thinking at the time led to an unprecedented and unrepentant prosperity of his advocated architectural style - particularly the modern architecture project, with all the gains and unfortunate legacy that this project has brought.. Giedion's lectures at Harvard and  his publication entitled Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition [1954 [1941], laid a solid foundation for both.

  Never before or since has architecture, its history, and visions been given such a socio-cultural grounding in a prestigious art-historical or art-critical publication as in Space, Time and Architecture. Giedion attributed ambition, potential, and the actual exercise of fundamental influence and action on society to architecture and architects. He wrote about how the German experience [of the twenties and thirties of the twentieth century] showed the importance of the architect in constructing the 'spirit of his times' [Giedion 1954 [1941], p. 479]. According to Giedion, the responsibility of architecture and architects was not exhausted by a "mere" lifestyle, its mission was an active, responsible and significant participation in shaping the right, precise, true society: On the one hand, as far as new architecture is concerned with proposing a new lifestyle, in order to anticipate and determine the future, it should ask the question: 'What kind of life are you planning to have?´ On the other hand, the new architecture demands morality, for the reason of dealing with both aesthetical feeling and practice while trying to create an accurate society. [Giedion 1954 [1941], pp. 605-607].

  The first edition of Space, Time and Architecture is a compilation of lessons that Giedion gave as part of Charles Eliot Norton's professorship in 1938 and 1939: the fifth edition of the 1967 book reflects a fundamentally different understanding of architecture, its development and its origins [Giedion 1967]. However, Giedion's starting point for the theory of architecture remained unchanged: the relationship between architecture and the socio-cultural situation is to be mutually constitutive, considering social, economic, scientific, technical, and ethnological factors. However, these factors do not have to be contemporary, architecture can operate beyond its borders in its period of birth, beyond the social class it operated, or beyond its style [Giedion 1954 [1941], p. 20].

  Giedion's belief in the constitutive nature of architecture in the sense of proposing a new lifestyle was justified at the time: the role of architecture was reflected in the active interest of society and important personalities in new architecture and in their reactions to it. Manifestation of the architecture of constructing the 'spirit of [its] times' was the support given to the new architecture and its development by municipalities, states and private institutions: among other things, Giedion in this context recalled the emigration wave of European intellectuals - including architects - heading to the United States in the 1930s [1954 [1941], p. 71], as well as the support provided by politically and economically needy Finland to Alvar Aalto. The fundamental resonance of architecture with the social and cultural formation of society is also evidenced by the history of previous periods of great styles - and the longing for them, which accompanied the entire long nineteenth century. Giedion showed that the seemingly secondary quality of architecture of this period was only the reverse of the socio-cultural transformation of architecture into a modern form and modern competencies, a period of growth of a new tradition. After a phase of maturation, inevitable due to the onset of new, modern production, cultural and social conditions, and a failure that naturally accompanied maturation, architecture had once again become, as far as possible, an object of interest, cultural, and material support from society and numerous individuals. Supported by the enthusiastic yet efficient publicity that Giedion increasingly provided them over time, the protagonists of modern architecture dominated the position of "builders of the spirit of their time" and architecture appropriated the competence to "design a new lifestyle" and "shape the right, precise, true society". The euphoria was mutual: from the 1920s to the 1960s, society, or at least broad sections of it, celebrated modern architecture, enjoyed its benefits, and relied on it to solve all sorts of problems in their lives.

  At present, however, we do not see anything like this, and if so, then only in limited amounts, which are barely  a shadow of past conditions. Architecture lags behind our new lifestyle — whatever it represents —without even talking about design. The ambitions to form a correct, precise, true society seem to have been taken over from architecture by other fields, especially technical: energetics and energy efficiency of buildings, development and production of new building materials and technologies, transport, waste, and systems engineering. Environmentalists and ecologists are competing with technicians for the imaginary relay pin. Architects are involved in building the spirit of the time at the beginning of the 21st century only marginally, passively - or in an unintended way: society does not demand or expect any fundamental contribution from architects in this regard.

  But neither technicians nor environmentalists have been able to assume the former Giedion role and authority of architects: they cannot compete with information and communication technologies, which dominate the realm of practical needs and human leisure, and - without due attention - gradually take over management and leadership of life of the people and of the society as a whole. Cities, and buildings after them –are likely to be created without architects in the future: Sidewalk Labs (Google’s sister) came up with the software that will design the optimal city. People are "biohazards", they make mistakes, machines don't - all you have to do is collect enough data, program algorithms, fill a parameterizing "black-box" with them, pour the collected data into it – and that's it. This is how the "unprecedentedly smart" Quayside district was planned to be created in Toronto. Collecting data and programming, a thirty-member Sidewalk Labs team worked on the design of the district for two and a half years. Over time, however, the team clashed more and more with the city administration, the inhabitants of the area, and the future inhabitants of the district who liked less and less what the "smart city" wanted to know about them. At the beginning of May 2020, the cup overflowed. The Sidewalk Labs said "We're quitting - given the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic and quarantine measures." Maybe it's the real cause of the Quayside project crash, or maybe the uncertainty is more destructive than the pandemic, as Alphabet (the mother of Sidewalk Labs and Google) had developed more efficient ways to get significant volumes of data in the quarantine: tele-healthcare, remote "smart" school teaching, amongst others. Consequently, people refused to exchange socio-cultural values ​​— their privacy and their interventions, their freedom — for material convenience based on algorithms. The real qualities of the parametrically designed city were not checked, and it hasn't happened yet: we're watching the race against time. Will parameterizing computer systems gain sufficient acceptance in society, ultimately managing and planning communities, , or will architects once again gain the trust of society, similarly to times gone by and therefore  be given a mandate to creatively design  public spaces again [Veselý 2004]?

Public Space and the Development of Built Environment

Suspected rather than known so far, the liaison between a deficit of physical public space and the stagnation of development of the built environment gives the topic of public space seriousness and an international dimension. It is not only Czechia facing sharply rising prices and poor housing affordability on the one hand, but growing concerns about climate change and the future of environmental policies on the other. Let us leave aside the problems of the developing economies of Asia, Latin America, and Africa: the society of most of the economically developed, so-called Western world is too often dissatisfied with the living conditions provided by its settlements. Climate issues, and therefore the sustainability of life on Earth, are increasingly contributing to this dissatisfaction.

  The negative social and socio-economic impacts of such a development are a fact, and the socio-cultural impacts can be expected. Along with data on deficits, European and North American sources cite the reasons for insufficient construction: bad land use planning regulations, delays in building permits, speculating landowners and investors predominate. The Czech industry, especially architectural discourse, seems to be ahead in this context: the topic of dysfunctional building regulations and their performance included, but there is an interest in the deeper social and cultural roots of an unsatisfactory state. Leading Czech architects draw attention to everyday life, to what makes a city a city [Stavbaweb 2019]. They talk about hatred… in people… of  new construction that architects and developers are experiencing, and they ask How to move ahead? The topic of public space is proving to be open and serious.

Sciences, Information and Communication Technologies - and the Theory of Architecture in 20th century

The loss of attention of architects and architecture as a field to public space is consistent with the development of modernity, the theoretical basis of which was laid by Marc-Antoine Laugier in the 18th century: except for the "momentary rise" of the social mission of architectural modernism of the 1920s and 1930s. Jane Jacobs drew attention to the trend in the 1960s with her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities [1961], other authors contributed later including Sharon Zukin, and Keller Easterling. The placemaking movement has been spreading since the turn of the century: however, are these impulses within the field of architecture - or rather social and civic activism? In the theory of architecture, the topic of public space lacks systematic processing in any case: it has been missing for a long time, since the Renaissance, and from Siegfried Giedion - during the middle of the 20th century the systematic theory of architecture - has declined and retreated in general. Exceptions in this respect  unique among them is Dalibor Vesely´s book Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation Question of Creativity in the Shade of Production [2004]  generally do not claim a comprehensive grasp of the topic, let alone with public space.

  Apart from the social and socio-cultural events in which architectural modernism shone at first to become sidelined soon after, the twentieth century was marked by three highly destabilizing scientific discoveries,  which were divided into three unequally large parts: the atom, the byte, and the gene. … The most important parallel between these three discoveries is … conceptual: each represents an indivisible unit, a building block, and a basic organizational unit of a larger whole: matter, digitized information… (… "bit"), heredity and biological information… [Mukherjee 2019] Man and science respectively grasped the material nature of the universe and the principle of life and represents both of these principles in "digital matter" - in information and communication technologies. They have become the most advanced system, created by man, and like any system, they show an irrepressible will to will, a will to power [Veselý 2004]. On the one hand, we are developing artificial intelligence to deepen and accelerate knowledge, as well as to make our lives even easier and more pleasant, on the other hand, we are increasingly worried that artificial intelligence will take control of  society (cases happening) and of man in general. The "Toronto Quayside v. Sidewalk Labs case" seems to be an eloquent illustration of this open conflict. As a counterweight to virtual public space, the physical public space is beginning to be perceived and discussed - the good old space, shaped by the architecture, which has the nature of a public good.

  Is the public space of our settlements (cities, villages) and landscapes ready for such a role[2]? Are the architects ready to design and implement a public space that can handle it? Architecture, public space, forms of human settlements constituted the social, cultural and economic development of civilizations and societies: the fact that it was a mutual action, a "definition by a circle", is not a contradiction in this respect[3]. In more primitive societies, intuitive and empirical positions of interaction prevailed, and more complex societies needed a theory for the optimal development of public space (and the built environment in general): the oldest (preserved) example is Vitruvi's [Ten Books] On Architecture from the Early AD. The popularity, frequency, and publication dates of modern translations of Vitruvius' work prove that it is the oldest work - and at the same time, one lacking a truly comprehensive successor.

  Until now, the development of humanity has been significantly influenced by architecture, architecturally articulated public space and the built environment: genetics is waiting (with a few exceptions[4]) for its practical application, and this application is perceived with mixed feelings ranging from eager expectations to disqualifying fears. It is still waiting although almost two centuries have passed since the discovery of the laws of inheritance by Gregor Mendel and the evolution of species by Charles Darwin, and soon two decades will pass since June 2000, when the reading of "almost the entire" human genetic code was announced. All the while, teams of dedicated scientists have uncovered the principles and mechanisms of gene-safeguarded and protein-mediated properties´ transfer. Step by step, through hundreds of thousands of attempts, numerous mistakes and disappointed returns, the development of theory, and the development of knowledge advanced, regardless of the human need.

  Simultaneously, comparable developments took place with respect to the built environment: engineers and scientists presented new materials, new design solutions, and new technologies. Architects appropriated their results as if they were choosing goods in a supermarket. The theory of architecture - not immediately, "only" after the middle of the 20th century - was no longer taken into account: architectural design was and still is governed by empiricism. The theory reacted in an expected way: it withdrew; in many respects - for example in relation to public space, and it ceased to be developed. And now, the questions are asked: Is the public space of our settlements (cities, villages) and landscapes ready to co-shape the development of a free, educated, and interconnected society[: interconnected digitally not exclusively]. And are architects ready to design and implement such a public space, hence such an architecture? It shows that the answers can hardly be positive.

Heraclitus' Law

Heraclitus' law [Bárta 2019] says: what brings civilization or society to the top is usually what causes its crisis and downfall. Architecture, public space, and the built environment may not have been a decisive factor in the current development of humanity on a global scale, but as far as Europe is concerned? Let us recall Steiner's "European axioms": cafes - yes, the role of architecture was and is irreplaceable here; "domesticated" landscape, suitable for walking - also an architectural theme; cafes and the landscape are undoubtedly public spaces. The historical richness of each place, the third European axiom: today's urban public space is largely a legacy of the past. This applies to its extent, and even more so to its significance within a city. Today, the public space of historic centers of European cities is vital and highly valued. Their foundations are often older, and in the 19th century in many cases they were completed  with public buildings and in terms of space, they often had or developed different functions from the original purpose;  which have become a valuable legacy. A different but no less important part of the history of European cities is represented by workers' settlements - residential areas and localities, which have developed where later the zones of the so-called rent gap [Smith 1979] spread: they have often witnessed gentrification, yet retained their historical context. From the point of view of physical public space, a specific issue is represented by areas of defunct production: the historical evidence is enshrined in their current designation as an industrial legacy. The list could go on with modernist residential areas, "central business districts", ... There is no doubt that architecture and public space are among the fundamental components of the third European axiom and at the same time the fourth axiom – the inherent contradiction of the legacy of Athens and Jerusalem, resonating with Giedion's assessment of [European] architectural modernity as a product of a clash of reason and emotion[5]. Finally, the phenomenon of European architectural monuments has an obvious eschatological dimension: it fits the fifth European axiom.

  The axioms that are to be the starting point for European unity and vision, for the phenomenon of Europe, turn out to be firmly rooted in European architecture, public space, and the built environment; the phenomena of ubiquitous architectural monuments, the historical foundation of the physical public space of European settlements and landscape, and the contradictions of the chapters of history represented this way are specifically a European matter. If the future of Europe has at its heart an enclave of civic understanding and value sharing, based on cultural, linguistic and national plurality, if then we have good reason to maintain the future of Europe as the most promising project today. This will hopefully be capable of creating a democracy worthy of the name, and cultural, economic and power counterbalances of oligarchic regimes with undisguised imperial ambitions. Whatever the ideology, we should look more at  architecture and physical public space: not only in practice, but also in  its limited theory.

  Let us remind ourselves that this will also provide the most sustainable answer to the challenges of saving the planet and to climate issues.

An Architecture by Reason

What exactly can such a resolution mean in particular? I propose to start, gradually and persistently- it is a task for decades rather than for years  starting with the transformation of teaching architecture at colleges and universities. The current way is congenial with practice in the sense that the student/the architect, is equipped with a basic knowledge of building structures and their parametric possibilities, and can design based on creative inspiration or empiricism. The design of the building is often subject to criticism, followed by  revisions concerning the feedback, and the process is repeated until a state is reached when the comments are resolved.

  In this way, the design of the project is commented on, not the design process which developed the project, and after all, how do you comment on a process that is intuitive or empirical, mimetic rather than poetic? The analysis that precedes the design is partly formal, partly mechanical, or technical, but in any case, it is shallow, unmotivated, and above all - it lacks a method and a program. Above all, both need to be changed: rather than the result, the stems of the architectural design ought to be the concern, and only then can come the method. A method should be systematic, communicable, and repeatable: the method must not suppress creativity or intuition - it must provide them with guidance and feedback without delay. By limiting unproductive experiments, more room for the creativity ought to be provided.

  The technologies used must provide the same - from hand sketches to virtual and augmented reality technologies: they must not limit the sought-after architectural form or function of architecture, they must not stand in the way of the application of poetry in the true sense of the word [Heidegger 1993].

  The adopted method must structure the design process: it must set a clear and comprehensible sequence of goals, priorities, and focus of individual steps of the design process; the method must include feedback, and the cycle of which should be controlled and limited.

  However, the method itself is not a theory: a term used in the absence of another, due to that theory being absent can be misleading. The method of architectural design cannot be a "cookbook of architecture", a "practical design guide". It is about understanding how architecture works: without this understanding, the theory of architecture would not be a complex theory; and the method of design is undoubtedly related to such an understanding. Doubts about the interrelationship between architectural theory and the design method are perhaps a variation on the classical question of whether it used to be a hen or an egg which came first: the design method has its place in architectural theory[6] as long as, and to what extent it clarifies how architecture can and should work. In other words - what is the relationship between the complexity of architecture and the complex nature of its design (when we consider both complexities as undisputed).

  The design of architecture is preceded by starting points: even more than the design itself, the study and articulation of the starting points of architectural design - in general, and even more in relation to a particular topic and task - are the most neglected in theory at present. What is certain is that it is necessary to focus on the starting points first and foremost.

Architecture in Time of Genome Sequencing

The physical life of a person as well as their higher nervous activity are reducible to a genetic basis and the interventions of the world around them. To survive, they must modify it, interfere with it; and will have to modify it numerous times. When metaphysics joins physics and chemistry, architecture emerges. Only architecture creates a world in which man exists.

  How much do we know about how genes shape our lives? And how much do we know about how and which ways architecture constitutes the world of human existence, the world around us?

  When Mendel discovered the "gene" in 1865, he understood it only as an abstract concept: an independent determinant that passes down unchanged from one generation to another and specifies a particular visible trait or phenotype, such as flower color or pea fruit structure. Morgan and Muller deepened the knowledge of the gene by demonstrating that genes are physical-material structures found on chromosomes. Revealing the chemical nature of this matter, Avery went further: genetic information is carried by DNA. Watson, Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin identified its molecular structure as a double helix with two paired complementary strands.

  In the 1930s, Beadle and Tatum discovered that the "work" of a gene was to determine the structure of a protein and thus solved the mechanism of gene function. Brenner and Jacob found an mRNA intermediate needed to translate genetic information into a protein. Monod and Jacob enriched this dynamic concept of genes by proving that genes can turn on and off with their regulatory switches, thus increasing or decreasing their mRNA levels.

  The assessment of the complete sequence of the nematode genome further enriched and modified this gene concept. A gene in the body provides several functions, yes, but one gene can determine more than one function. … The complete sequencing of the genome [at the turn of the millennium by Venter and at the same time in the International Human Genome Project] opened the door to the hitherto unexplored world of organismal biology. As in the infinite recursive educational dictionary, where the very entry educational dictionary itself must be constantly updated, the sequencing of the genome has shifted our idea of ​​the gene and thus of the genome as such. [Mukherjee p. 284]

  What happened to architecture in the meantime? Marc-Antoine Laugier, Gottfried Semper, Luis Sullivan, Otto Wagner, or Henry-Russel Hitchcock and Philip Courtleyou Johnson left the ancient and Renaissance foundations laid by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio and Giovanni Battista Alberti: they reduced architecture to a forma visual structure, which was endowed as possible by an "objective" function. Siegfried Giedion briefly restored a metaphysical position to architecture, or at least a supra-material ability to form a correct, precise, true society [Giedion…]. And since then - groping, at best snippets, uncertainty as to whether to calculate or create, whether poetically or mimetically. Architects have an intuitive knowledge of what kind of modification of the synthetic environment they will achieve with a function - e.g. residential, recreational, and the operation of  urban structures  which help societies to function.

  Today, most architects do not have the essential skills or awareness to analyze the complex relationships between the phenotypes of the synthetic environment and the functioning of their fragments, both complex and whole. They do not consider that "under" phenotypes are genotypes that encode phenotypes and encode their functions, their activity, or their suppression. It took 150 years for microbiology, biochemistry, genetics - from Gregor Mendel to Craig Venter and the Human Genome Project - to reach a basic level of comprehensive knowledge of how organisms work - from viruses, bacteria to lower organisms to humans. When will the knowledge of the development process and the functioning of the synthetic, built environment begin to be systematically built? And how long will it take to reach a level similar to current genetics?

  Meanwhile, architects are and will be reliant on elementary experience and intuition as the careful, plant-loving gardener Mendel at the beginning of his research did, and worse be subject to restrictions on quantitative limits set by other disciplines. Additionally, politics, climate, and "anti-concrete" activism can place restrictions, and architects are unable to control the values of such limits, and assess their relevance on the built environment.

Towards a Theory of Architecture

So far, the outline of the keywords of the necessary transformation of the architectural craft shows the depth of the theory's deficit rather than the path to new theory itself. Essential to this is the understanding that taking up and mastering the theoretical basis of architectural creation cannot be a matter for either individual creators or teachers of architecture - student and tutor projects will not suffice. The theory needs to be built systematically in teams of academics; a connection with practice is certainly desirable - but in the beginning, it can be counterproductive. A crucial milestone will be the full understanding that architectural theory is not a history of architecture, though a critical one; critical history can serve theory only as study material, a basis of hypotheses. However, the theory of architecture should not be a "practical cookbook of design" - neither in the position of the recommended layout - operational or spatial schemes, nor artistic schemes, nor a set of psychological tricks or lessons of applied sociology.

  Architecture and the built environment are characterized by their complexity - the complexity of action, relationships, forms, and functions. Complexity is not just a property of architecture, it is its attribute, perhaps the essence of the architecture - the essence that the theory must deal with first and foremost. The theory of architecture will - most likely, be a synthesis of views of phenomenological philosophy, socio-political, socio-demographic socio-economic views, and probably also an interpretation of the laws of human psychology and emotions. It will be a theory of the basic poetic nature of the architectural environment[7], and it will be a theory as structured knowledge - not just scientific knowledge in the scientific sense. It will consist of architecture and the built environment as co-constituents of the world in which man and society will live: in which they will live, not live or have lived: therefore, it is a knowledge of a future reality, the quality of which should not be random, arbitrary or speculative, but one that will best support the authentic existence of man - today known as sustainable living.

  The connection of such a basis with the theory of artistic expression and action will be important, but probably only secondary - similarly to the essential view on issues of civil engineering, construction, operation, technology, and economics.

  Building and development of the theory of architecture is not a singular process: there is no doubt that robust and well-arranged foundations need to be laid - but the "building above them" will never be completed and will be essentially multifaceted. The theory of architecture could be "finished" only if the development of man, human society, and all components of the environment of their existence were "finished": until that happens, the theory of architecture will always need to be developed further. And it will not be "the only valid" theory: due to the inherent complexity of architecture and its poetic nature, it cannot be. On the contrary - the dialogue of different views, sharing of common ideological and categorical bases, will strengthen (already in the past, albeit partially, strengthened[8]) the theoretical horizon of architecture and support the quality of the creative process and its results.

Architecture Science

How  do we establish and build such a theoretical horizon? Development and validation cannot be rushed. Let's start with meaningful, relevant topics of dissertations and habilitation theses: the first of them must deal with the structure and content of the theory of architecture - the theory of the present, more precisely the theory for the 21st century. These will then become a "repository" of topics of details and their elaboration - and undoubtedly of revisions of the overall framework and direction. In the inherently complex environment of architecture, the scientific basis and aspects of architecture are not contradictory to its poetic nature: it is necessary to build a real science of architecture.

  In an academic environment, responsibility begins with academics- in the sense that they get the best available academic staff for the task. As usual, executive responsibility then rests on professors and associate professors, who have to gather suitable doctoral students and assistants around them to solve the tasks; they have to lead the teams both organizationally and creatively, they must motivate their teams as leaders and mentors. Obviously, this is supposed to be a profound, substantive, and structural transformation of the work of academics in the field of teaching, science, and research in architecture. Finally, its full implementation will also be linked to an understanding of this transformation and its meaning in terms of related professions: these will include not only "builders", economists, and financiers, but also public administration, social affairs, and public health, strategic, technological, and technical development as well as human resources. However, the responsibility will remain with the architects: the transformation of the architecture, the built environment, or the public space will not occur at the behest of either the will of the public administration or private owners or under the pressure of activists. Architecture and public space will change as architects understand, grasp, and fulfill the responsibility of their profession for the development and sharing of social and cultural values, for the functioning of society, and for its sustainable development.

  We have to get to work: let us remember that the future of Europe, and therefore ours - sustainable in both a culturally civilizational and environmental sense - is worth it. If we are architects, we have no choice but to accept such responsibility


[1]  From an economic point of view, physical public space is a public good, a good that does not diminish with consumption and whose consumption cannot be ruled out: the street is probably a public good, while the experience of a theatre performance does not (theoretically) "dilute" with a rise of the number of spectators, however, those who did not buy a ticket are excluded from his physical consumption. From an economic point of view, a theatre performance is a club good – while the crowded city beach, to which admission is not charged or otherwise regulated, is a mixed farm. From the point of view of functioning of the polis, however, the theater hall as well as the city beach, where there is nowhere to sit, remain a platform for public socio-cultural communication, and thus a physical public space.

[2]  The three basic functions of public space are consistent with its role as a platform for various types of physical, socio-cultural, and social communication. First, the physical public space is the place where the benefits provided by the city as its raison d’être are consumed - material treaties such as security and accessibility as well as social, cultural, and social experiences. Consumption is a type of communication: some create and provide benefits and experiences, while others receive and enjoy them, whether for traditional conveniences - shops, services, theaters, entertainment, and sports facilities, galleries - or informal social and cultural activities - happenings, street theater and street art, community "corners" and playgrounds, flea and farmers markets – or traditional promenades on holidays. The subject of consumption is also - for example - local identity, social contacts, or shared everyday cultural experiences - meeting neighbors while shopping, formerly at a well.

  Second, the physical public space interprets — physically and mentally mediates — the consumption of the benefits, enjoyments, and experiences described as first. There are mediated socio-cultural activities and benefits, which take place both in the adjacent buildings and in the open public space itself. Physically and mentally, the construction pieces - of adjacent buildings and of the public space itself - in themselves, or the benefits and experiences that these works provide - whether it is a "shantan" or a university - are thus made accessible. The interface between the communication of benefits and communication in the sense of mediation is situational in the physical public space, temporal rather than spatial: perhaps only in the "end" positions of public space within adjacent spaces and buildings, the communication of benefits dominates. More common is the situation of public spaces, which at one point mediate the consumption of benefits provided by the adjacent park or produced inside a public building - and at another become a place to enjoy the deliverables offered by the farmers market, a street theater experience, or a political demonstration.

  The production, provision, reception, and exchange of benefits, pleasures, and experiences must, finally, be saturated with energy and water, raw materials, and also people. This is the third of the functions of physical public space. In general, it is possible to speak of benefits - mediation - and supply as communication functions of urban public space.

[3] Relationship between architecture and the built environment on the one hand and the social, cultural and economic development of society on the other parallel to genetics as well: gene (DNA) = information controls (via mRNA) protein construction = structure that carries function but also regulates protein gene (DNA), hence activation information (mRNA). [Mukherjee 2019, p. 168]

[4]  Until the middle of the 20th century, genetics would apply in practice through eugenics, currently, there are genetically modified crops: the first case is - apart from being tragic and shameful - just a big mistake, misinterpretation, and discredit of the field, the second is marginal comparing to the potential of genetics.

[5]  Giedion's view is neither isolated nor outdated: it fits well into Husserl's concept of the heroism of reason, Veselý at the beginning of the 21st century, ie. more than half a century later, raises the question of creativity in the shadow of production. The poetic (from ancient Greek poiésis) aspect finds an echo in Heidegger's [1993] thesis of poetry, which is the way the man lives; however, it is not about any poem, but only about a poem in the original sense of the word, that is a shared poem.

[6  If European axioms demonstrate the role of public space - architecture in the development of a [European] free, educated, and interconnected society, we can, for example, show the intellectual, methodological construction of the conceptual phase of an architectural design. Let's choose the current theme of the innovation district as an example: its environment - internal and external, public and reserved - should have basic qualities, physical, economic, and "networking" values - possibilities, opportunities, incentives for interconnection. When designing an architectural solution, it is necessary to monitor each of these areas, even if it lies outside the material substance of the future structure: economic values represent, among others, companies, research organizations, and human capital; buildings, outdoor areas, their architectural equipment, greenery and furniture or infrastructure are the physical aspects of the task; and future relationships between users and site visitors, whether people or institutions, come into play. A particular building can then function as an open, "welcoming" enclave on the active ground floor with flexible spaces, suitable for a business incubator, coworking or traditional offices on higher floors, and "start-up" apartments under the roof. An ingenious combination of flexible spaces that can accommodate - and whose architectural form will be suitable for workspaces and infrastructure, businesses and supporting organizations, social, gathering and community spaces motivate future users, "residents" of buildings and locations to start their "business" there, to get stabilized and eventually to become "anchors" of the locality, motivating the "entry" of the next generation of "inhabitants" of the locality and supporting its all-round development, not to mention the vitality of its public space.

  The outlined procedure applies the themes of "life-cycle", "circular economy" or "adaptive re-use": these are the current keywords of environmentally sustainable development and at the same time representatives of key theses of (sustainable) social and cultural-social development.

  The conceptual design must pass a feedback test: criteria of competitive advantage, a critical mass of participants in the communication of socio-cultural and material values, perspectives and visions, quality of place in the context of the built environment and in general and community-specific awareness [Storring 2019]. On top of the criteria themselves (the list may not be final), there are also important links between them. Spatial and capacity aspects, material and territorial-technical, geographical, macroeconomic, or demographic aspects, as well as the quality of the architectural form and aesthetic aspects, require attention.

  The attributes and criteria given in the example are obviously applied: the task of building the theory is to find their general categorical basis, stabilize the concepts that make up its structure, and verify the relationship between these concepts and the proposed structure - either scientifically or hermeneutically. Only then will the theory - the science of architecture - take the place of the empirical "cookbook".

[7]  Heidegger [1993]

[8]  Let us recall, for example, the discussion of modern and post-modern paradigms - see Jencks [2007] and Venturi [1966].



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Photos and visualizations:

Revitalization of the Perla 01 area in Ústí nad Orlicí

Červený Dvůr Residence

New Žižkov Centre

Hloubětín Residential Park

Revitalization of the city district in Žďár nad Sázavou

Public space Smíchov City