This project has been thought in the continuation of the colloquium «Human cities, sustainable environmental design», which took place in Brussels in May 2007. The first phase «Human cities, sustainable environmental design» emphasized the potential of the urban objects regarding “capacitation” and of “décapacitation”, implementing a reflection on the sociocultural dynamics of the sustainable design of urban public places. Within «Reclaiming the public space», the network wishes to pursue and to develop a shared and interdisciplinary reflection on the sociocultural dynamics by targeting its analyses, productions and dissemination actions regarding the creative interventions in the city and the processes of (re)appropriation of public places.

Human Cities 1 – Sustainable environmental design

Humancities2The project « Human cities: sustainable urban design » has been thought in the continuation of the international colloquium “Humancities, sustainable environmental design”, which took place in Brussels in May 2007. This meeting was the first part of a more extensive thought-worthy project on the urban public space and its human and cultural dynamics, as well as on the interdisciplinarity between the numerous professions and stakeholders of the public space. The success of this event motivated the creation of a partnership between the Institute Superior of Architecture of the Belgian French Community (ISACF – La Cambre; coordinator of the project), the association Pro Materia in Brussels [BE], the Lighthouse – Scotland’s Centre for Architecture, Design and the City in Glasgow [UK]; the Polítecnico of Milan [IT] and the Institute for Urban Planning of Ljubljana [SI]. This European cooperation started on 2008 at fall, for a first duration of eighteen months.

The main objectives of the project consist in sharing considerations, in a European and interdisciplinary perspective, on the socio-cultural dynamics of the sustainable design in urban public spaces. The scientific part of the project will underline the functions of the public space within the contemporary cities, through a conception of urban design encompassing the urban “forms” and “objects”. The project will analyse the mechanisms of appropriation/of refusal of public spaces, based on the forms and on the objects which occupy and animate them. This study will be enriched with think tank and exchange workshops, which will take place in the cities of the partners. A certain number of contact and study missions are also planned. The studies carried out will be presented during an international closing colloquium, to be held in Brussels. This event will correspond with the publication of a synthesis book gathering the conclusions of the think tank groups, of the practical research and contacts, and the lectures that will be delivered by the guests of the colloquium.

This part dedicated to the conceptualisation will be joint to an educational, awareness-raising and communication part, concretised through the organisation, in Brussels, of a pedagogical and
experimental module, in interaction with schools. A European contest of photographical and video reporting, as well as a call for ideas/projects, will also take place. The projects selected for the contest/call for projects will constitute the core of a travelling exhibition, which will circulate among the partner cities. The dissemination and the awareness-raising will also be reinforced thanks to a website specifically dedicated to the problematic of the project.

The final colloquium will constitute, together with the inauguration of the exhibition in Brussels, one of the main launching actions of a formalised European network as well as the first “Humancities festival”, a public and multidisciplinary event (conferences, exhibitions, interventions in the public space, performances…), meant to be organised every two years in one of the cities of the network.


Human Cities 2 – Reclaiming the public Space

Humancities1Nowadays, over half of the worldwide population live in cities and many studies foretell an increase in city population over the next few decades. That’s why we are allowed to think that the 21st century will be a time of urban identity. Concidering this, it seems only natural and essential to further define urban life and cohesion in general and the public space in particular. The definition of the public spaces is considered one of the major challenges regarding collective well-being and “well-living” in cities. Moreover, the questions regarding its arrangement and its identification through “forms” and “objects” – like urban furniture, equipements, city art (both lasting and temporary), interactive or participatory events – are of utmost importance.

However, despite how valuable they are for the community, public spaces are often the subject of pressure and restrictions that prevent their use and enjoyment. The new model for public spaces seems to be tainted with neutrality that “dispels the menace of contact”. This is typical of our societies in which some individuals are afraid to expose themselves to others, to risk the encounter. This “fall of the public man” is due to importance that was given to the private sphere during the developement of our society. The tendency to leave the public space can be called “encapsulation” which refers to the settlement of the population in a series of isolated and hermetic capsules. Subsequently, places like shopping malls, theme parks, hotels or airports are some of new atriums of our encapsuled society and are both hermetic to the outside world and connected with eachother.

In the same way, the partial desertion of the “agora” (thus limiting the possibilies of encounter and confrontation with individuals of different walks of life) is encouraged by multiple urban policies and by the insertion of mercantile activities into the public space. Some examples would be: the security policies that advocate in favor of surveillance cameras on squares and in streets, heritage policies that prevent citizens from using the public space in a way that would be incompatible with the duty of preservation, the tourism policies that tend to present a socially clean and spectacular city center, private companies organizing events with an entrance fee on the public space, etc. The public space is too often standarized, fixed, privatized, securized as a place that wouldn’t exclude any users, as something that would otherwise well be dangerous.

The second part of the Human Cities project is called “Reclaiming the public space”. The network tries to continue its reflexion focusing its obervations, analyses, productions, disseminations and meditations on a large panel of creative interventions in urban areas and the process guiding users to owning or re-owning the public spaces (“reclaim the public space”). The partnership for this project will specificaly pay attention to bottom up initiatives (finding its origin in citizen, artistic or associative impulses). Those spontanious initiatives are a good indicator of the need to reclaim the public space and a great source of inspiration to create a public space that designed for its main users. Those creative and “human centered” initiatives can be individual or collective, material (installations, objects, …) or immaterial (debates on a particullar topic, exchange of knowledge, services, …), lasting or temporary. But they all share to be driven by non-intitutionalized parties in search of lively, populated public spaces they are trying to aquire by stimulating, protesting or by passing on certain usages, social interaction or programs within the public space: art shows, shared gardens, car-sharing, neighborhood parties, etc. The “participative” dimension of those initiatives is the link between the two concepts of the public space: the political point of view that sees it as a place to share and to participate in public actions and the “material” point of view that considers it as a place accessible to all.

Visit the Human Cities official Website


Human Cities 1: November 2008 ► May 2010 || Human Cities 2: October 2010 ► September 2012


ISACF – La Cambre [BE], Pro Materia [BE], Politecnico di Milano [IT], Institute for Urban Planning [SI], The Lighthouse [UK]


800.000 €


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