Reclaiming public spaces
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Reclaiming public spaces

EFA studio di architettura | Laboratorio di Architettura Semerano | Ricardo Yslas Gámez Arquitectos

Reclaiming public spaces
By Editorial Staff -

Partly the result of population growth, since the 1950s cities have grown like wildfire, spilling haphazardly into surrounding areas and giving rise to the phenomenon we call urban sprawl.

For a few decades now, however, many communities have been working hard to reclaim public spaces. Countless suburban neighborhoods – often originally created simply to alleviate housing shortages – are being redesigned, taking into account their residents’ basic need to spend their free time outdoors and in community activities. Former dormitory districts are making growing amounts of space available for innovative projects that rethink public spaces, sometimes integrating them into private spaces in an architectural intertwining that generates “encounters.”

A good example is Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, the work of New York studio Shop Architects. The building was designed around what it calls the Commons, that is, a network of circulation and gathering spaces that brings the life that goes on inside the building into contact with life on the streets. The architects believe that this crossover between the public and private will extend shared spaces and be a source of inspiration for the people who work in the building.

Watch The Architects Series: A Documentary on Shop Architects

Another idea that’s gaining traction is returning entire abandoned neighborhoods to the community. New design techniques make it possible to maximize the space dedicated to private structures, leaving much of the remaining areas available to the public.

The regeneration of Milan typifies this approach. After decades as an industrial center, the city is undergoing a new phase that will see it take on a prominent international role in coming years. Aimed at taking the city into the future, the redevelopment masterplan focuses on the creation of gardens, squares, and public spaces.

Unione Zero, Milanosesto, for example, will be one of the largest urban regeneration projects Italy has ever seen.

“MilanoSesto is an extraordinary opportunity to give a new life to an area that played such an important role in Italy’s industrial history,” says Michele Rossi, co-founder of Park Associati.

Campo Selvatico, the work of the OUTCOMIST group, is an important part of the masterplan for the redevelopment of Milan’s former Porta Romana railyards. The site will include the Olympic Village to be built for the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Games. The intention is to reshape the city by connecting out-of-the-way districts and breathing new life into undeveloped neighborhoods by means of a huge green space that will form the epicenter of future development.

Reclaiming public spaces can also play a role in the remodeling of individual buildings, such as Pirelli 39. This project uses a mixed-use model, a sustainable one for urban growth, with the aim of creating a green ecosystem. The current bridge over Via Gioia, Milan, will be the site of the first greenhouse of the future. This update of the greenhouse concept is all about creating spaces where contact with nature can be immersive and interactive, including self-sufficient spaces created with the future of the environment in mind. The Pirelli 39 greenhouse will not only be unique for being built on a bridge, but also because it will become act as an incubator of both nature and city life.

The Public Space category of The Plan Award 2021

Many projects aimed at reclaiming public spaces have featured in The Plan Award. This annual award, open to both completed and future projects, was established to promote awareness, as well as the quality of the work, of designers, academics, and students in the fields of architecture, design, and urban planning, and to broaden the discussion of topical issues affecting the sector. The Plan Award 2021 is divided into different categories, for each of which the Jury will decide one winner and, if appropriate, honorable mentions. The registration deadline is May 30.

Read more about participating in The Plan Award 2021.

Redesigning public spaces, religious buildings, squares, streets, and historic centers demands a multidisciplinary approach, as shown by some of these projects selected from The Plan Award 2020.


Otranto’s new beachfront promenade

On a clifftop overlooking the Bay of Otranto there are several buildings with very little to recommend them in terms of quality. They do, however, have remarkable views across the historic city. This general lack of quality meant that the development of this rocky ridge could no longer be postponed. It’s now grown into an urban regeneration project that takes in the local neighborhood. Aimed at beautifying the entire landscape, the project identified criteria and methods for addressing the precarious state of the buildings along the rocky ridge between Madonna dell’Alto Mare and the La Punta area. Developing the area will also involve upgrading the streetscape, with the building facades to be renovated privately but with public control and support.

Read more about the project in italian

Piazza della Pace in Parma: regeneration of an urban public space

In the reconfiguration of the post-modern Italian city, squares and public spaces are looking for a new identity in an attempt to recover the role they’ve always played as an urban archetype in the life of the country. Italy’s piazzas are not only a gathering place for every level of society, they’re also the geographic, organizational, and morphological center of cities, and key elements in their natural growth and interpretation.

Piazza della Pace has been reinvented through an approach that sees the Italian square as a structural element of cities. Places where history, architecture, and culture come together as an everyday part of community life that’s central to a sense of belonging.

The work involves a part of the city in search of a renewed identity, and it creates this identity by enhancing and redeveloping the existing space. A public space that invites people to stay a while and socialize, thereby reinforcing connections between Parma’s key areas, with the square acting as a link between the historic center and the main functional nodes of the city as a whole.

The project compliments existing development work, pursuing the same fundamental principles of strengthening the square as a place for interaction, for reconnecting and creating spaces, and to enhance the quality of time spent here so as to foster relationships between users.

With new Luserna paving laid in parallel strips between the existing paved tracks, the new square forms the overhauled entrance to the buildings that make up the Palazzo della Pilotta complex .

Read more about the project in italian


RLJ Chapel: a pure volume integrated into the landscape

The materiality of the soul expressed without barriers. The use of exposed materials, such as concrete and metal, helps the RLJ Chapel merge into its landscape, adapting to its natural features and preserving the existing plant life. The spatial and volumetric openness of the architecture invites the local community to enter this sacred space, where, in an interplay of light and geometric textures, they’ll find references to the old traditions.

Read more about the project


If you’ve designed a public space project – built after January 1, 2018, or yet to be completed – you have until May 30 to register for the Public Space category of The Plan Award 2021. Submit your project via the registration page.


All other credits relating to photos and render refer to individual articles.


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