Over the last few years, the public square has returned to prominence. Partly, but not entirely elicited by the feeling that neoliberal capitalism had done away with the possibility of ‘public space’, replacing it with the surveilled, interior, consumption-oriented spaces of shopping malls, and partly by a rejection of the more vague, indeterminate spaces created both in suburbia and in the modernist ‘radiant city’, a revival of squares came about through the actions and publications of architects such as Richard Rogers, and in urban authorities in cities in the UK and France. Later, and more recently, squares came back into prominence as hosts for various large-scale, if ephemeral acts of political protest, most famously at Egypt’s Tahrir Square or Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti, where space is apparently reclaimed for politics and public action.
This talk will compare these two seemingly separate but parallel revaluations of the square, first by profiling the new squares built in recent years to the design of Rogers, Renzo Piano and others under their influence, from Potsdamer Platz in Berlin to the small-scale ‘great spaces’ programme of 21stcentury London, such as Bermondsey Square and Gillett Square, most of which manage to be as consumption-oriented as the average shopping mall. Conversely, unlike these informal, French or Italian-style ‘piazzas’, the public squares at the heart of protest have often been rather more spectacular, and often – in Ukraine and Egypt in particular – of specifically Soviet provenance, large-scale, axial and apparently domineering. The question will be posed as to whether these squares might lend themselves better to public life than those created by well-meaning liberal architects and planners.
This seminar is jointly organized by the “New Literary Review” publishing house