Public spaces-Then & Now

Public space is a communal space that caters to activities that help in binding the people together. Every public space has its own sense of identity and function. Even the scalability of these spaces depends on its usage. Public spaces have been an integral part of the community since historic times. They were mainly used for gatherings, announcements, festivities, etc. In the west, the Musalla also called the sari’a, was mainly used as a communal space for prayer and congregation especially during the feast days. Many of these typologies were also used as markets for selling goods and commodities.
In Spain, the musalla was used as a parade ground or even a battlefield. Sometimes, these musallas were also used for public executions. The idea behind using a communal space for executions was to demonstrate the power and strength of a ruler and to exercise certain dominance over the inhabitants of the city.
Similarly, the Agora was a central communal space in ancient Greek cities for assemblies and gatherings. Other typologies of public spaces were the Roman forum, European squares, Indian Chowks, etc. The Amphitheater is one such example that has been a part since the historic time and is relevant even now to accommodate a public spectacle. On a smaller scale, the courtyards and squares also act as active public spaces, that generate urban gatherings within a confined zone. The courtyard in the Oval temple in Iraq was one of the largest open spaces in the city.
Agora In Ancient Greece
Public spaces have always been a core in building a communal spirit within a precinct or city. Over the years, they have evolved considerably both in function and in form. Nevertheless, they are still relevant and are an asset to our cities. They are unbiased and welcoming to every stratum of society.
Some of the factors that ensure the workability of these spaces are: –
Accessibility- A public space that is well-connected to its nearby precincts on a pedestrian mode ensures more workability.
Relevance– The typology of activities a certain public space caters to also depends on the surroundings it is placed. If the land use in the surrounding precinct is relevant to the public space, then it allows people to actively use this commodity.
Maintenance and upkeep – Many public spaces once built are often left ill-maintained after a certain time period. A well-maintained public space guarantees its usage on a long term basis.
With rapid urbanization, the city is now nurturing privatized walled public parks which mostly remain unoccupied and ill-maintained. Even the slum redevelopment projects are highly focused on making vertical ghettos, which focus more on efficiency than the livability factors. Many cities like Denmark, San Francisco, etc. are now focusing more on the communal spaces that are pedestrian dominant. Design innovations on an Urban scale are seen all around the world with public spaces having varied dynamics to it.
SUPERKILEN by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group, Denmark
An ideal public space should be unbiased and unwalled. An innovation in planning on an urban scale that integrates the neighborhood within a public domain that has barrier-free access, boulevards, gardens, parks, and gathering spaces is needed. Especially, in a cosmopolitan where the population in on a constant uphill, a need to have a healthier and engaged community is a social responsibility.

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Saili Sawantt
Saili Sawantt
Architect and Interior Designer by profession, Writing is what she treats as her passion. She has worked as an Architectural Writer, Editor, and Journalist for various design as well as digital portals like ParametricArchitecture, FOAID (Festival of Architecture & Interior Design), Rethinking the Future (RTF), La Polo International, etc. Formerly she has also worked with Godrej Properties Limited (GPL) Design Studio, Mumbai due to her keen interested in learning about Sustainability and Green buildings. Apart from this, she runs her blog 'The Reader's Express'.

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