Public space and the contemporary city. A narrative of places, time, relationships

From Firenze University Journal: TECHNE

Emilio Faroldi, Department of Architecture, Built Enironment and Construction Engineering, Politecnico di Milano

The reconfiguration of the post-modern city promotes the public space as a place of excellence for material, social and sensorial exchange, restoring the primitive and noble taste of a sphere aimed at collective practice, an ideological model of lifestyles, and a recognised narrative form of evolution and growth of the city.

This space, at the moment, in search of an intimate new identity, is attempting to regain the meanings attributed to it in the past within the Italian cultural context, i.e. urban archetype, meeting space, symbol of the most significant social nuclei; and a geographical, organisational, morphological centre of the city, or a nodal element of its natural module of growth and reading.

Architecture has the task of transforming the immaterial entity of dialogue and socialisation into the material layout of squares, the stones of public spaces, and the streets and districts of cities. Architecture translates the collective consensus into forms and spaces, identifying the theatre in which people spend most of their active existence. The public space is a place of dialogue, read and interpreted as a form of comparison, an absolute context of expression of the city’s culture and of a society that is increasingly easy in terms of communication.

The morphological, functional, and organisational criteria of the open space are no longer deciphered as a negative sphere in the urban fabric but elected as a generating element. These aspects once again characterise the main proposals for transformation of the most emblematic urban systems of Europe, giving the square the role of amplifying the values and contradictions of an architecture that is no longer monodirectional from a linguistic and functional point of view.

The forms of construction and use of public space, the blurred boundaries between the private and public spheres of a situation where places for work, homes and spaces for social interaction interpenetrate, and question the definitions themselves while acknowledging their multiplicity and complexity.

The public space through its architectural soul, services, and variables related to safety, usability and comfort, identify the indicators of highest incidence in relation to the quality of the urban context. It represents a cultural value par excellence, both in historical cities, where it is part of the relationship between the characteristics of the architectural heritage and the processes of its enhancement, and in the context of new interventions, within which, the collective space itself becomes the collector and condenser of the main energies of a place.

Environmental protection, health and safety, mobility and accessibility to services, to which the strategies for a consistent physical densification of presences are now added: these values embody the centrality of new emerging needs, ending up being configured as essential rights of proper planning.

The concept of accessibility of public space, its tendency towards total fruition, must and will have to innervate the multiple sectors of the individual levels of the local government. Environmental and urban planning and design, culture, training, mobility, psycho-physical well-being, technological innovation, work and security are the essential cornerstones aimed at ensuring a widespread diffusion of places and flows.


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The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy