Clustering Architectures: The Role of Materialities for Emerging Collectives in the Public Domain
Abstract: This thesis is a study of social life, addressing issues concerning how and by what means people meet in urban public space. The main aim of this thesis is to is to investigate how certain artefacts and architectural features support the formation and temporal stabilisation of heterogeneous clusters and collectives, and thus, in order to the development of conceptual tools that can contribute to a more refined description and analysis of the role of architecture and artefacts for urban public life [a very long sentence…]. An important basis for this thesis is the conception of public life as an agglomeration of multiple, coexisting clusters of humans and nonhumans. Thus, urban public life can here be seen here as an effect of adding and losing parts of collectives – through the production and re-production of associations between human and nonhuman entities.The work has been carried out by the application and further development of concepts and methods mainly taken from territorology and actor-network theory (ANT). Affordance theory constitutes an additional theoretical approach that is included in the this thesis, however albeit to a less significant extent. Key questions related to the main objectives and the theoretical framework are for example: what What kind of competences, regarding territorial production and social exchange, can be associated to with material artefacts and to spatial configurations? Who and what constitutes actions and events that facilitate human co-existence in urban domains, ; i.e. how is urban public life produced?The empirical investigations consist of field studies of consumption spaces (open-air markets in London), leisure and play (playgrounds in Amsterdam) and spaces characterised by managed and curated activities (leisure spaces in Paris). The study sites were primarily selected because of their potential richness and diversity of socio-material exchanges. They also constitute intense gatherings of people, doing things together and individually, in close proximity of to fairly unknown others. The field study techniques employed in this thesis – guided by participant observation and photographic documentation – are mainly inspired by ‘visual ethnography’ as it is outlined by Sarah Pink and others, paired with public life studies executed by for example William H. Whyte and Jan Gehl.The studies explore how human interactions in urban spaces are dependent on networks that include artefacts, time, local policies and situated public cultures and practices. The main empirical findings were are successively conceptualised, tried in the empirical analysis and developed into a framework. The main themes – or actant categories – where materialities were found to be important for social interactions are: Anchors, Base Camps, Tickets and Rides; Monocore and Multitcore Spaces; Punctiform, Linear and Field Seating; and Ladders.These six actant categories, constituting the major outcomes of this thesis, can be seen as parts of a conceptual toolbox for investigating socio-material exchange and clustering in public domains. The conceptual tools suggest a particular attention to artefacts and architecture as significant social mediators, potentially facilitating encounters and exchanges between strangers. The actants are intended to supplement the terminology with which issues of social life in urban space are discussed and deconstructed. The actants are also intended to contribute more directly to planning and urban design practices, as operative tools, framing a relational, performative and processual approach to urban public domains.In this thesis, I have tried to show that the particular design and distribution of materialities in public domains have major strategic implications for questions regarding concerning co-existence, communality and collaboration. The proposed actants thus also represent an attempt to approach the challenges of segregation and polarisation through planning and urban design; not in an instrumental respect, or as recipes for a particular design concept, but as analytical keys that may support a more comprehensive understanding of actors and forces that profoundly affect social life in the public domain.
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