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Civilities I

Civilities Series

Civilities I

a+t 29

ISSN 1132-6409

English/Español ( 23.5x32)

176 Pages

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The term civilities relates to the conventions that regulate community life; it is as well the addition of civic + facilities. The a+t series begins under this name and attempt to present a new focus on life in common and buildings that keep up society’s pulse. This topic embraces therefore all kinds of constructions and programs implying shared relations, converging activities and experiences to be exchanged.

Civic facilities are more than just utilitarian areas like libraries, gymnasiums, health centres, nurseries, youth clubs, sports fields… They behave as focal points for cultural life, service nodes, gathering venues and driving forces of activity, extending their influence far beyond the walls that host them.They are places where human encounters are produced and a flow of activity rises, regenerating the surrounding area, both in the compact city and in the disperse suburbs.

The volume forms part of the Civilities series.


...Some nurseries offer a new advantage to parents, cameras strategically placed in their facilities so that parents can observe the behaviour of their children online. The idea seems somewhat perverse because, although it does encourage transparence and information by allowing parents to see if their baby eats or takes a nap, it is also a way of monitoring the educator. What is offered as an advantage could be the beginning of a divide; in this case it confirms that distrust among parents and educators is part of the educational area.

The nursery under surveillance is a sign of the current times. It begins this article because it demonstrates the apparent innocence of the media, its false neutrality, its irrefutable advantages and its cunning development. Real life, or what we called real until now, has become an ambiguous landscape that is becoming more and more a representation of itself. We still talk about the city as if we knew what we were talking about, but the media’s ability to conquer territory generates a silent and continuous explosion around us, and cities mutate at a very high speed.
With no further regrets, we no longer recognise ourselves in our former images or in those places we frequented. We have acquired new habits and our demands have multiplied. Physical space is only a part of our surroundings, worth almost nothing compared to virtual space.
How does this mutation affect what we, until now, have understood as civic facilities?
These unique buildings, whose mission is to balance urban life by offering services and pleasure to citizens, greatly suffer the explosive effect of media and their survival depends on their mutation abilities, on their programmatic expansion. The heart of the city is in need of reviving.
Furthermore, as nexuses of social life, civic facilities face on a daily basis the instability of relationship patterns, the vanishing of common reference points and the effects of an increasingly volatile economy. For some years, the London district of Tower Hamlets has seen that the use of its libraries is decreasing. In Spain, civic centres, created to encourage community participation, are turning from activism to recreation. In the South of Los Angeles, youth are krumping2 in the middle of the street since new sports find no place in conventional sports facilities and schools, in any given place on the planet, lack of tools to educate the children of apathetic parents.
This discord between typologies of the 20th century and the needs of the 21st coexists with the paradox that, in this ambiguous landscape that we continue to call “city”, residential programmes are less focused on urban artifacts and more on land conquering, which causes civic facilities to stand out as beacons, as hallmarks of civilisation. Their very presence, meant to produce the effect of a dialogue with their surroundings, to generate experiences, should act as a magnet in the face of domestic dispersion and as an essential heterotopic escape from our most intimate space, nowadays none other than cyberspace and virtual communities. However, in order to act as true urban milestones, they may have to share prominence with commercial uses, as the majority of our actions are likely to entail an incitement to commerce, and commerce generates activity.
In this first issue of the Civilities series, we wish to show several examples of mutating typologies and of other emerging ones, which highlight the following trends:

Regeneration of environment
The responsibility of regenerating the environment is an increasingly important aspect and is attributed to any new civic facility, as yet another part of its programme, regardless of its scale. The presence of these services provides urban quality, something harder and harder to come by. In less fortunate areas or areas that have suffered a process of neglect, these services not only offer activities but also positive expectations. In new settlements, it is the root of the development of community relations.

Bringing together an increasingly scattered population reduces the need to travel and identifies political decentralisation with social participation. Consequently, its size adapts to the population density it is placed in.

The presence of civic facilities extends even into virtual space by means of net games like Second Life, where cultural centres like Madrid’s La Casa Encendida have opened their headquarters so that followers/residents can visit exhibitions, participate in activities and have a social life in an environment made up of images and resemblance of what is real.

This is a way to improve the management of resources and to create synergy. Currently, educational and health facilities tend to share accommodation at the basic levels of assistance (see case of the Sure Start centres, pp. 10-15). However the combining of activities creates a symbiosis that benefits all users. What could be called parasitic combinations also arise, like the use of community facilities to make a skating rink on the deck.

Uses Recycling
This happens with typologies like a library, because of the close competition they have with on-line libraries. In the last few years, after a first look into media libraries (especially in France), libraries with shops, homework clubs, art galleries, parks or meeting places have been flourishing.

The offer of programmes and buildings specifically designed for youth has increased in spite of an inverted population pyramid that is the norm in developed countries. This tendency could possibly be an antidotal response to the failure of the educational system. The exclusion of other age groups entails a risk of autosegregation, allowed and promoted by the rest of society, as a strategy to maintain a precarious balance among generations.

Escapism vs. engagement
The activities of community associations, which gave meaning to the first civic centres, are being replaced by cultural programmes, as visual or performing art centres, or entertainment programmes, with no social goals. In architectural terms, this change in tendency implies a change of dimensions and a greater sophistication in installations.

Consuming vs participating
The community attends many more numerous and crowded activities as an audience than as active participants. Attendance as a spectator at any event does not entail any kind of link with others, besides sharing an experience. Nevertheless, the ability that these activities have to generate wealth and dynamics in the area justify their presence in urban areas and their growing success is encouraging in opposition to the suction exerted by shopping centres.

Public-private partnership
Participation at a private level is growing in the ownership, financing and management of civic facilities in joint projects with public institutions. The reason for this participation is not only because of the difficulties that public budgets have to attend to all of the demands of the population but also because of the progressive sophistication and diversification of these demands and the growing leisure time the community has at its disposal.

In both private and public centres, the introduction of commercial aspects not only helps to finance the activity, but also to satisfy a demand for consumption that is inherent in almost every social relationship. The installation of vending machines, booking offices, bars, shops and even hair dressers in community centres is a progressive colonisation of this space, which until a few years ago, was free of commercial activities and the demands that commerce entails.

Dissolving limits
This is achieved by means of a selection of light and translucent materials and a project intervention that goes beyond construction and that considers public space to be a substantial part of the civic facility. The conversion of outdoor space into indoor space by means of light, enclosing structures is also observed and allows for more use in adverse climates.

This is the most outstanding construction attribute, which, in this kind of public project, finds the opportunity to test energy saving systems and resource management. It also favours the incorporation of recycled and vegetable-based products in the catalogue of building materials...

1 According to the CIAM 8 concept, the heart of the city is the physical heart of the community, or the place where the sense of community finds physical expresion. J. Tyrwhitt, J. L. Sert, E. N. Rogers. CIAM 8. The Heart of the City: Towards the Humanisation of Urban Life. Londres y Pellegrini and Cudahy, Nueva York, 1952.

2 Krumping is a form of dancing that originated in the African-American community of South Central Los Angeles, California and is a relatively new form of the “Urban” Black dance movement. It is free, expressive and highly energetic, with a strong ethnic component and social engaging goal.

3 From the French term jeunisme. The term describes the cult of youth and its preponderance over other age segments.

4 From retail.


...During the 1960’s a number of revolutionary groups –among them Archizoom, Superstudio and the Situationist International– critical of changes in modern society, came about in an attempt to resist capitalism, resurrect the individual and redefine modern life. The modern city which usurped community and the institution through the continued growth of consumerism has continued to disengage and hyper individualise society to this point. Commodification and consumption define life, space and the cities which we inhabit; the entire world or at least the developed world, it could be said, is governed by shopping. Today however, it is not just the production of real products which drives economic powers, but services, entertainment and information. Much like the young revolutionaries of fifty years earlier, contemporary practitioners are faced with a rapidly changing world –a world which often changes before actions are realized. Ideas of re-engaging society with real experiences and direct relationships are an equally relevant concern today as they were then, however, while the alternative visions proposed by those groups were utopian and revolutionary, today’s practice, having realised the now hybrid condition of culture and commerce and the total fusing together of virtual and real, tends towards subtlety and subversion –on one hand serving functional needs and commercial necessity, but at the same time finding strategies to maximise potentials for unplanned interaction, encounter and real experience.

The practice of architecture and especially that associated with public space and civic institutions, has ridden –or perhaps more appropriately fumbled over– each wave of change, searching for ways of making fixed realities in a rapid and turbulent environment. The spectacle for architecture is the incessant desire for icons and monuments, in large part driven by competition for tourism. There are very few briefs for architectural competitions which do not call for the creation of an iconic structure or space. Helping this often problematic concern along are the new abilities to represent and sculpt anything we can imagine with the aid of software –often in a void. In thinking about civic or public space, it is necessary to survey further the sorts of places where people encounter real differences, exchange concepts of value and generally form their notions of what it is to be one person among many, and to be in one place as distinct to any other. Contemporary practitioners search for ingenuity in how to tackle the many spaces that make up a city and shape them not only to serve, but also to enhance, the life outside our everyday living and working environments. Purpose-built, deliberately shaped public spaces remain essential elements of an urban infrastructure, central to the construction of a city’s identity. Yet the qualities of the full fabric of spaces that are built within and around both public and private institutions structure the underlying discourse of a city. Streets, alleys, lobbies, informal spaces, and even carparks and lifts figure more regularly in the peoples’ lives and form the nature of their exchanges. Such ‘loose spaces’1, as they could be called, have provided a ground for many architects to create an un-programmed space for encounter. Program, once simply a tool for assigning an objective function to a space has been critiqued and manipulated to allow for new synthetic opportunities and greater openness for the unplanned event.2 By utilising the interstitial, other less defined meetings and activities can exist alongside those more discreet and defined.
The changing nature of civic institutions in response to the shifting climate has allowed other opportunities to re-define and juxtapose traditionally discreet programs. Up until only a few decades ago, civic institutions represented a uniquely commerce free zone, today they are an amalgamation of commercial and civic space. Traditional typologies reflected the aura of cultural institution as a ‘temple storehouse for quiet contemplation’, in opposition to the growing notion of a ‘container as a hub for exchange’3. These developments have been driven partly out of diminishing funding that these institutions gain directly from the state, which has required them to search for new ways of generating revenue through retail and leasing. In order to remain relevant and encourage engagement, civic institutions have had to provide a service, not simply scholarly elitism, and begin to treat the public more like clients in the information and entertainment business4. The classical perception that institutions can exist purely for what they hold, say the collection of a museum, is no longer viable as the cultural institution is positioned to compete against other activities in entertainment and leisure markets. Added to this, culture now exists everywhere with the ubiquity of the internet. There is a great deal of competition and diversity surrounding ‘cultural attractions’, with catch words such as entertainment and choice resonating key demands –the result being greater emphasis on experience as well as education, and a trend towards cultural containers bringing multiple institutions and functions together and becoming destinations in their own right5. For an architectural response to this, the Pompidou Centre defined a new typology, which can be seen in not only other museums but also libraries, schools and town halls. Such pressure cookers of society allow opportunity to create a sense of density of people and activity and to enable overlap and blurring –they become magnets for the community, locally and globally.
In their time the Situationist International, aware that function was inevitable, argued that being a prisoner to it should not be. At the time architects and planners considered people as statistics and ignored the psychological role of the environment, spatial sensation and experience has a purpose which is not based on practical use6. Traditional urbanism in its method of segregating the city into separate parts; places of production, residence, and leisure all removed from each other allowing greater control over the population as a single entity. Unitary Urbanism, proposed by the SI as an alternative revolution, aimed to free people of this feeling of homogeneity, by de-territorializing the city and allowing people to be more involved in the immediate sensory experience of their environments7.
The situation, the focus of their proposal, was defined as a “spatio-temporal” event experienced away from the influence of the “spectacle” created by modern culture. Allowing the individual to once again indulge in their own reality and emotions rather than constructed sense of place or belonging8. Recent practice surrounding public space and public buildings has sought to engage in similar yet more subtle ways. Particularly prevalent, are techniques which de-territorialise program and subsume pure function by allowing blurred spaces, spaces of unplanned encounter or the generation of loose spaces which can act as mediators between often mismatched entities. The central idea being to allow for the unplanned and in-determinant. Many contemporary projects engage with experience and the possibility for enjoyment. Utility is served, but the predominant concern is to create a sense of a hub, or a dense node of society which allows for overlap and blurring of the homogenous programming of utilitarian planning...

1 See: Franck, K. & Stevens, Q. Loose Space. Routledge, USA, 2006.

2 James, V. and Yoos, J. “Tempering Program” in Praxis: Re:Programming, no. 8, 2006, p. 30-35.

3 Lotz, C., “Market Forces”, Museums Journal, August 2005, p.16.

4 Bailey, S., (ed), Commerce and Culture: from pre-industrial art to post-industrial value. London, Penshurst Press, 1989. p.7

5 Newhouse, V., Towards A New Museum. New York, The Monacelli Press, 1998. p.191.

6 Jorn, A. “On the current value of the functionalist idea”, in Andreotti, L. and Costa, X. (ed.) Theory of the Derive and Other Situationist Writings on the City. ACTAR- Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 1996. p.33.

7 Kotanyi, A. and Vaneigem, R. “Elementary program ot the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism”, in Andreotti, L. and Costa, X. (ed.) Theory of the Derive and Other Situationist Writings on the City. ACTAR- Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 1996. p.116.

8 Leach, N. The Anesthetics of Architecture. MIT Press, London, 1999. p.59.


...The history of urban planning has shown us that in any urban area, whether it be a developed or spontaneous area, three basic functions exist. These functions are residence, materialised as a group of dwellings that takes up the majority of the built-up area; activities, found in workplaces or in facility-containing places; and lastly, the flow, movement supported by the infrastructural network. This systematisation serves to introduce the following concepts to be taken into account in urban analysis:

This concept springs from the distinction between unique or permanent objects and housing that was traditionally made in the urban setting. This separation is a result of the ancestral discrimination of public versus private sphere. Regarding this separation, it is interesting to note how cities were once mapped in early guides for religious pilgrims and, later on, for tourists. On those maps, one could find not only the elements specific to a certain place or the place’s topography, but also monuments and, by extension, its facilities as recognisable milestones in its urban fabric1. This means that among the singular objects, one does not find just monuments, but the buildings that house community life and that, according to their function or area of influence (neighbourhood, city, province or state), they show their purpose in the community and stand out from the rest of their surrounding fabric.

The location of these singular objects in a city weaves the complexity and strengthens the quality of a public area; the urban framework is reinforced with the tension between singular objects, monuments or facilities, and the surrounding fabric2.
Even in early times, a placement method was established for facilities, based on orientation, wind or symbolic value. Vitrvius extensively studied the choice of location in Book V of his De architectura. There, he refers to the “ubicación de los edificios para uso común de toda la ciudad, como templos, foros y otros lugares de reunión de los ciudadanos”3. The locations of public buildings, theatres, the basilica, the jail, temples, or baths all appear to be justified in this outline.
The Industrial Revolution never questioned the Baroque urban model. So later on, the Modern Movement introduced, by means of zoning, the breaking up and complete separation of the singular object and the residential area. This distinction created a distance between functions that was evident in the urban planning of the time and that produced a clear imbalance between the “zones.” The result was that fragmented cities gained importance, with their residential, commercial, administrative and leisure areas all linked by transport networks.
These urban principles were called into question beginning at the 8 CIAM (1051), called The Core of the City, where returning civic values to the centres of our cities, institutional venues and catalysts of community life, was proposed.
The return of the individual to the centre of society was highlighted by José Luis Sert, who turned the medieval city into a paradigm for the future city. He did this by demonstrating the existence of one or more centres of the community, whether political, religious, cultural or leisure, at the core of the city.
The emphasis of these aesthetic and humanistic values caused him, along with Siegfried Giedion and Fernand Léger, to encourage the beginning of a new monumentality in their “Nine Points on Monumentality”4, which would represent the start of a third phase in the Modern Movement, since the preoccupation for housing units and zoning was no longer relevant.
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the urban planning spectrum, the generation of spontaneous city fragments, as in the favelas, created saturated exclusively residential spaces, signs of an obvious urban and social divide. To integrate these areas into the rest of the urban fabric, some cities, including Rio de Janeiro, began the operation favela barrio. In this way, the purchase and subsequent demolition of some homes led to the advent of public spaces and the creation of certain facilities in the area: a plaza, a health centre, a civic centre, a school and a sports field. In the less accessible areas, the facilities have been materialised by means of temporary or mobile structures, like the buses chartered by governmental and non-governmental organisations, that can assure the citizens’ access to medical and social services.

Function follows a logic that is linked to the services that are provided, which ranges anywhere from local to regional or even national.
Whatever the radius of action of the facilities, one can find a similar selection of service sectors, health, education, sport, hygiene, political or religious institutions, leisure, transport, or economy.
Function must introduce the notion of use and typology, as well as their corresponding moments of invention or change. The Industrial Revolution is the most prolific period in regards to typological inventions. During that time, striving to lay down the foundations of the new bourgeois society, the set of parameters that rule the city experienced an important transformation.
All institutions, symbols of power and all public and private facilities such as schools, universities, museums, libraries, hospitals, bathhouses, theatres, courts, jails, cemeteries, city halls or stock exchanges, were reinvented or redefined during that time.
Since all of these institutions already existed, though perhaps in a different way, they were redefined and moved to the newly created urban setting. In their own way, the rail station, commercial galleries and department stores were typological inventions of the 19th century.
Later, the 20th century would retake the whole of that typological base and would add shopping centres, airports, sports facilities and amusement parks to it. Another fundamental novelty of the century were the new centres of popular culture and local facilities, integrated into the urban fabric and based on political and social action, on education and on culture. These local services became cohesive instruments of the urban puzzle, especially when the social uses began to separate and move away.
Health and social service centres, nurseries, neighbourhood centres, meeting places for associations, educational centres, civic centres, gyms or neighbourhood libraries are facilities designed to maintain a direct relationship with the immediate surroundings. They often tend to become integrated as residential programmes or to join to form more complex entities, a true core of community life.
Such was the case of the Centri Civici created in Italy in the 1960s, the Community Centres of the Anglo-Saxon world or the French Centres Culturels, conceived to democratise culture.

Programmes and facilities for the 21st century
Just as the Renaissance replaced the spatial hierarchy of the Middle Ages with an infinite and anthropocentric space, the 19th century lived its own revolution desecrating time. We now see yet another extreme mutation, the progressive dematerialisation of space, the disconnection between body and location, and, most importantly, the demystification of traditional space, the space that served as a reference to distinguish the public sphere from the private.
This questions the future role of architecture, the representative places of a city and its new monumentality.
This new situation at the time was promoted by Michel Foucalt, who foresaw virtual development and the development of the Internet. Foucault would have been interested in the appearance and the development of a new type of public space capable of taking the place of any given traditional public service, be it administrative or cultural.
These virtual places are a utopia, since they do not have a direct analogue relationship with the actual space of society, and they are, at the same time a heterotopia, as the mirror example demonstrates5.
Cities are therefore required to integrate new uses that arise out of the virtual revolution. This involves the creation of closer and more flexible facilities in both space and function, as well as the search for a more varied axis of community life, as well as the application of renovated heterotopia...

1 “The distinction between private and universal, between individual and collective, begins with the city and its construction, its architecture”
Aldo Rossi. La arquitectura de la ciudad. Editorial Gustavo Gili, Barcelona, 1976, p.50

2 “These singular objects of architecture play a fundamental role in the dynamics of the city, since what constitutes the specific quality of urban reality arises according to the way they are placed. This means their persistence in a place, their individuality and the exact function that they carry out. Architecture represents the time of that process and makes up the visible part of this complex structure”
Idem, p.132

3 Vitruve in Les 10 livres d’architecture p.147 éd. Balland, Paris, 1979

4 “Monumental architecture will be something more than strictly functional. It will have regained its lyrical value. In such monumental layouts, architecture and city planning could attain a new freedom and develop new creative possibilities, such as those that have begun to be felt in the last decades in the fields of painting, sculpture, music, and poetry”
José Luis Sert, Sigfried Giedion, Fernand Léger. “Nine points on monumentality”,1943. Published in Harvard Architecture Review, 1984

5 “We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment. I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein”
“The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not (...) But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy”
Michel Foucault. Des espacies autres (1967), Hétérotopies in Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité, n°5, octobre 1984, pp. 46-49. Translated from the French by Jay Miskowiec for an exhibition in Berlin shortly before Michel Foucault’s death


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