project . 2014 - 2016 . Closed

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

UK Research and Innovation
Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: AH/K007475/1
Funded under: AHRC Funder Contribution: 404,243 GBP
Status: Closed
03 Mar 2014 (Started) 31 Jan 2016 (Ended)
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.
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