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Public Space Research Overview

Public Spaces and the Role of the Architect


This Anglo-Brazilian research project is a collaboration between the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, University of Westminster, and the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, University of São Paulo. It takes advantage of the complex and often spectacular legacy of architectural modernism in both London and São Paulo as a way of reflecting historically on contemporary public spaces in both cities, and on the changing role of the architect in their production. 

In a contemporary social context of growing demand for greater democratic authorship and ownership of the built environment, in particular its public realm, the role of design needs to be understood by designers and their clients in a far more informed way. If public space is co-constituted, then attention needs to be paid to the space as well as to the public.

Today, there are marked similarities between London and São Paulo: they are both financial capitals, and they both have multicultural populations. They both suffer from a wide divide between rich and poor, and from chronic housing shortages. More importantly for this research, their cities tend to think about public space defensively, mirroring social segregation with spatial segregation. The emptiness of many public spaces in São Paulo, and its over-surveillance in London, are symptoms of urban dysfunction unanticipated by the optimistic agenda of architectural modernism.

The project examines whether, in a very different contemporary political and social context, the positive aspects of its modernist case studies can be transferred to address the low quality of much contemporary public space design in both cities. It also explores the implications of modernist top-down design in both cities versus the contemporary fashion for more participatory approaches. Does greater democracy mean greater quality? greater popularity? If so, what are the necessary relationships for such a condition? This project hopes to contribute some answers over its three years.


This project will run from 2014 – 2017


This project is funded by AHRC