Friday, 27 November 2009

Alarm and fear

The Architecture Foundation launched the European Prize for Public Space this week, won this year by Barking Town Square, which is, I’m told, a rare of example of new genuinely public space. I haven’t yet been there so I can’t comment on what it’s like but it was good to hear Sarah Gaventa, director of CABE Space, talking of the importance of keeping streets and public places truly public. Mark Brearley, who as head of Design for London is arguably London's most influential designer, unfortunately didn’t agree. He claimed Sarah’s take – which referred to the arguments in ‘Ground Control’ - was ‘alarmist’. That's the point: it is alarming.

Alarm and fear were very much the order of the day, at ‘Maximum and Minimum’, a conference organised by Cambridge University’s architecture department yesterday. I was speaking in a session on ‘The anxious city’, with interesting contributions from architecture critic Penny Lewis, planning academic Jon Coaffee and Richard Williams author of ‘The anxious city’, from which our session took its name. Coaffee talked about that latest buzzword, ‘Resilience’ and how the idea of creating ‘Resilience’ in places – buildings, public places, communities – is becoming interchangeable with a defensive culture, breeding more fear. Lewis's talk, about fear coming from within, was an interesting counter.

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