AHRC-FAPESP MoU - Public Spaces and the Role of the Architect: a comparative study of Modernist and contemporary examples in London and Sao Paulo

Lead Research Organisation: University of Westminster
Department Name: Faculty of Arch & the Built Environment

Abstract

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
This Anglo-Brazilian research project takes advantage of the complex and often spectacular legacy of architectural Modernism in both London and Sao Paulo (SP), and examines the public spaces in and around seminal examples of large scale Modernist architecture in both cities. In a social context of growing demand for greater democratic authorship and ownership of the built environment, in particular its public realm, the roles of the architect and of design need wider and deeper examination. The project will use the analysis of work from the 1960s and 70s in both cities as a way of reflecting historically on contemporary public space design, an important contribution to the current debates on 'place-making'.
The research teams from London and Sao Paulo will:
1) investigate the role of the architect in the production of contemporary public space in Sao Paulo and London from the perspective of the architect's very different role during the period of High Modernism (1960s/70s) in both cities;
2) examine whether there positive aspects to architectural Modernism in Sao Paulo and London that can be recovered to address the low quality of much contemporary public space in both cities, and
3) explore possible relationships between traditional top-down design in both countries, and the growing interest in the UK in participatory approaches, within the context of the contemporary design of public spaces in both cities? Does greater democracy in the delivery of the built environment increase its quality? its popularity?
4) develop and disseminate a wider and deeper understanding of the relation between the authorship and ownership of public space, post-war and now in both cities.
CONTEXT OF THE RESEARCH:
Brazil had a 'golden period' of Modernism, the result of a social pact between the architect and society. This period and this pact are long over, and it could be argued that England, apart from a brief interlude centred around the Festival of Britain, never enjoyed a 'golden period', resisting Modernism's often alienating expression in built form. Today there are marked similarities between the two countries: they both have world class financial capitals, London and Sao Paulo, and they both have multicultural populations. They both suffer from a wide divide between rich and poor, and from chronic housing shortages. Most importantly, their cities think about public space defensively, mirroring social segregation with spatial segregation. The desertion of crime-ridden public space in Sao Paulo and its over-surveillance in London are symptoms of urban failure unanticipated by the optimism and egalitarianism of Modernism.
The Brazilian and UK teams will therefore select important Modernist and contemporary public space case studies in both cities to investigate the role of the architect in their production, and to discover whether useful knowledge can be transferred between cities in the interests of more 'successful' public spaces - i.e. enjoyed and frequented by the urban population as a whole.
APPLICATIONS AND BENEFITS:
Architects, urban designers, and developers will benefit from a better understanding of the design of successful public spaces, and will gain a wider perspective on alternative forms of more participatory design that shift the centrality of the designer (and the developer) to varying degrees.
Planners and city councils will gain a greater appreciation of the role of design in the creation of public spaces, and of the ways in which the designer can subvert or contribute to their success.
Academics will benefit from a cross-cultural comparison that examines the Modernist production of public space in a new way - from the point of view of the designer and design practice. They will also benefit from a view that challenges fashionable ideas about the automatic undesirability of top-down design.

Planned Impact

The cross-cultural Public Spaces and the Architect projectis targeted at many audiences beyond the academic community (see 'Academic Beneficiaries'), in the interests of an improved understanding of the role of the architect in public space design, and consequently an improvement in public space design itself. Our built environment partners are the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the professional body of the architecture profession in the UK, which oversees architectural education, lobbies for the role of architecture in the production of the built environment, and promotes architectural culture, including its history, andthe Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), and its International Development Network (IDN), which are committed to greater synergies between planning and urban design, and greater public awareness of the development of the public realm by both planners and designers. Both these bodies have a stake in the role of the architect in the built environment, and/or in the delivery of successful public spaces. They will therefore be keenly interested in a project thatchallenges the prevailing acceptance of the diminished role of the design professional in the production of public spaces, and which makes suggestions for improving the quality of public spaces by means of lessons drawn from two cultures and two time periods. There will be an immediate impact in 2017 - when the results and conclusions of the research are presented to our partners and discussed with them in terms of their contemporary application - and a long-term impact, as those to whom the research was presented disseminate it to other decision makers, in the interests of 'Enhancing quality of life, health and creative output'.

Our first UK government project partner is the British Council, which develops cultural relations in over 100 countries, working with thousands of policymakers, academics, curators and teachers in the UK and abroad to develop policy, professional standards and civil society in partner countries. For them, the primary interest in the project is in a successful cross-cultural collaboration between two HEIs, one in London and one in Sao Paulo. The means by which we collaborated, and repeatability of those means, will, if successful, influence funding policy on future collaborations, and serve as a useful template for arts and humanities research partnerships. The second is Design Council CABE, a semi-autonomous government body charged with improving the built environment and ensuring that places and communities are resilient and adaptable. They are consulted by Local Authorities across England, and by central government on developments of any size, and will welcome evidence of the role and importance of design in the delivery of public spaces.Our Brazilian government partner is the Municipal Secretariat of Culture, Department of Historical Patrimony (DPH) in Sao Paulo, for which Prof. Lefèvre has worked as president of CONRESP (see CV). The Municipal Secretariat for Culture is responsible for many important Sao Paulo cultural institutions. The research will contribute to policy formation/revision on historic conservationin the city. Again, some impact will be immediate (2016/17), as the research is presented to, and discussed with, these partners, and some will be long term, as this example of collaboration is referred to later as evidence useful for funding decisions.

In addition, our Research Fellows and PhD student will benefit greatly from the project, first in terms of cross-cultural collaboration, and the negotiation and open-mindedness that requires, which translates easily into other employment sectors, and second, in terms of transferable generic skills: writing and presentation skills, mapping and data analysis skills, visualisation and communication skills. This skills impact will develop over the course of the three year project, as our Fellows and PhD student pursue the research and its dissemination

Publications


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/K007475/1 03/03/2014 31/01/2016 £404,243
AH/K007475/2 Transfer AH/K007475/1 01/02/2016 30/09/2017 £207,048
 
Description Writing as of the transfer of the project from the Royal College of Art to the University of Westminster in February 2016, the research has come to a number of useful conclusions, and will develop more in its final months. The main ones are, briefly, as follows:

1. The current anxieties about the 'privatisation' of public space are misdirected: management, not ownership, is crucial for pubic access to public spaces.

2. Ensuring that management is appropriate to the degree of access required for a public space is the responsibility of the Local Authority in London (councillors - policy/ planners - implementation), and the Mayor in Sao Paulo. It is not within the remit of the architect.

3. In order to realise the intentions of his/her public space designs, therefore, the architect needs to mediate between the predominantly private client and the LA planner. This requires the architect and planner to speak each other's languages much more fluently, which in turn requires a reexamination of their training.

4. Disciplinary silos in the built environment are barriers to speeding up the planning and procurement processes. Planners need a much greater training in design, and architects in the economics of development.

5. Though one could safely discuss the role of 'the architect' in the production of public space post-war, one can no longer do so, as design roles are now much more fluid. Urban designers, landscape designers, 'public realm architects' AND architects can be commissioned to design public space, individually or in collaboration.

6. The division of labour in the designing of public spaces has shifted from the architect designing prominent ensembles of building and public space post-war, to now, a combination of professionals doing separated parts of this. The architect is keen to safeguard, or perhaps recover, supremacy among the complex teams now put together by developers for large projects. The client, on the other hand, simply wants what works best, and may very well alters the pecking order to suit the project and the skills on offer. It may be unrealistic to see the architect as anything but a collaborator in the production of public space - rather than the leader of the process.

7. Post-war in the UK, 45% of all architects were directly employed by the state, and as such, were the state's agents in the built environment, with all that implies about scale of impact and ability to effect change. The situation today couldn't be more different, with most architects working in private practice, and the state renouncing its once assumed duty to pay for and deliver the material public realm. The architect's role post-war to be a 'guardian of the public realm' (Louis Kahn) is therefore out of reach to today's practitioners AS practitioners. However, they can - and some do - exchange their designer hat for an 'active citizen' hat, and campaign about public access to public space if they want to, but there are now two roles when once there was was one.
Exploitation Route The most immediate impact of the research in an academic context is the counterbalance it provides to the overwhelming emphasis on the user of public spaces in the social and political sciences and urban studies. This project addresses the producers. The ways in which the researchers have gone about this methodologically are of importance, as the research seeks to provide a '3D' analysis of design objects - political/social/theoretical/ aesthetic. It also tries to create meaningful transferable knowledge out of small sample of case studies, that nevertheless typify certain spatial and social conditions. Future research, by us or by others, could develop either the content or the methodology or both. In terms of content, there has emerged a clear need to investigate:

1. the potential for, and barriers to, a much more integrated education for professionals involved in delivering the built environment;
2. what exactly 'co-design' means within the context of citizen participation in the production of the built environment. It's clear to us that citizen 'co-design' of the project brief is fruitful, and any literal 'co-design' of the actual space itself is pointless.
3. The revaluing of professional expertise is a large and overdue subject in its own right.
4. the role of the planner/Local Authority in the protection of public space, and how it relates to delivery on the ground by designers.
5. the contributing factors to the successful management of privately owned public spaces.

In a non-academic context, the investigations above have direct bearing on the deliberations about the future of built environment professionals, in particular, by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the Architect's Registration Board (ARB). In addition, there is research to be done on barriers to more meaningful and productive collaborations between professional bodies like the RIBA and the Royal Town Planning Institute on the delivery of complex public-private partnerships for urban developments. Developers and development owners have a stake in getting the management of their public spaces right, and might contribute to academic research on this topic. They would certainly benefit from it.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Creative Economy,Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
URL http://psarchitect.org/texts/mediations/
 
Description Our findings have been used in a minor, but significant way thus far. We have been asked twice now by prominent architectural practitioners to help them build a historical case for their planned interventions in existing public spaces. This is contributing to an understanding of academic research as something that can be accessed in and by the 'real world'.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal
 
Title Full case study briefings 
Description A '3D' description of each of the eight public space case studies completed so far, giving the political/social/economic/planning/design information to ensure accurate analysis and cross-comparison. Full downloadable PDFs of each Modernist Case study 'briefing' in London and Sao Paulo - covering production of the public space (planning/procurement/design/history) and reception (specialist and general press comments, attendance by public). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Anecdotal evidence of the briefings being used by teaching staff in architecture and urban design in UK departments of architecture and the built environment. 
URL http://psarchitect.org/projects/public-spaces-and-the-role-of-the-architect/case-studies/
 
Description A Natureza da Cidade: Noite Branca (City Nature: White Night) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public arts workshop in Belo Horizonte sponsored by the state secretary of culture in Minas Gerais. The events took place over the course of one week, with a group of international practitioners participating, and were used as a way of informing permanent artistic interventions within the city in 2015. The exchanges were based on the idea of public space and design in the city, and were hosted at the Palácio das Artes, one of the largest institutions for the arts in the state.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description American Association of Geographers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Paper on 'Architecture and the Imagined Geographies of Post-War London'. Provided one of the project's Research Associates to disseminate the project's cross-disciplinary ideas to an international audience of social scientists.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description American Sociological Association Annual Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A conference paper on the effect of certain visual material - designs and imaginary images - on the sociological study of the city.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Association of Architectural Educators Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Session run by one of the project's Research Associates on the production of public space. Allowed our AHRC PhD student to present her project-related ideas, as they are being developed in her thesis.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Barbican City Visions (in collaboration with Guardian Cities) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Panel discussion on the legacy of Brazilian Modernism and the practice of architects on the Latin American continent today, following a screening of a film about Oscar Niemeyer, chaired by Noemi Blager, Acting Director of the Architecture Foundation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Lina Bo Bardi: Fact or Fiction 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The event was an opportunity to launch the research project publicly, and to begin our collaboration with the British Council, one of our Project Partners. An audience that included academics from other universities was able to ask questions and discuss the project.

Academics from other institutions asked to be kept informed of the progress of the research project. The British Council asked Jane Hall to be on the panel for judging the next Lina Bo Bardi Fellow (2014).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Presentation at Escola da Cidade, Sao Paulo 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A presentation to fellow architects and academics at the Escola da Cidade, Sao Paulo. Created links with young Brazilian professionals that will be pursued for the exhibition at the Brazilian Embassy in 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Presentation of project to Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, University of Westminster 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A presentation of the project's research thus far to the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, University of Westminster, to place the project within other urban scale research done in the Faculty - i.e. link it with other research projects at a similar scale - and to place the PI's research interests within those of the new Faculty Professoriate.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.westminster.ac.uk/events/public-space-and-the-role-of-the-architect-and-monsoon-assembla...
 
Description Presentation, Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, USP 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A presentation of the project, with our Brazilian partners, to their post-graduate students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Public Spaces reading Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Extended understanding of the discourse around 'public space' across disciplines at the Royal College of Art.

Reading group hasn't ended yet.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description RIBA evening event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) holds open house evenings designed to attract a wider audience than their members to architecture-based events. The research team will be running a multi-media event on June 20th, 2017, centered on some of the research on view at the project exhibition at the RIBA at the same time. The event is also part of the London Festival of Architecture, and will receive wide publicity.

NB THIS ENGAGEMENT ACTIVITY HAS YET TO OCCUR.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Society for Latin American Studies Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Conference paper challenging the idea of differences between the 'developed' and the 'developing' world re public space production in the 20th century. A paper from the point of view of the design of public spaces changed or challenged an audience made up primarily of social scientists.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Society of Architectural Historians Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A session with international speakers on public space design run by the project's PI at the preeminent conference for architectural history. Exposed the project's ideas on public space to an international audience, and connected it with ECRs from around the world working in the same subject area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description The International Lecture, School of Architecture and Design, University of Brighton 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact A lecture on the research project to Architecture undergraduates. Lively discussion and requests for further information afterwards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Year 1 visit of Royal College of Art research team to Sao Paulo/April 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact The Royal College of Art (RCA) and University of Sao Paulo (USP) research teams met for the first time in April 2014. A week of meetings, discussions and site visits allowed us to agree on a short list of Modernist public space case study sites in both London and Sao Paulo, and to better understand the differences between our research methodologies.

Both teams came away from the week together with a much clearer understanding of each other's strengths and knowledge bases, the differences in the ways the teams are funded, their effect on time available for research, and the necessity of evolving a modus operandi that enables us to work successfully within these constraints.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014