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Wednesday23 July 2014

Libeskind calls for greater public involvement in architecture

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Successful cities must give citizens a role in development decisions says architect

Giving members of the public a greater role in architectural and planning decisions would lead to more successful cities, Daniel Libeskind has said.

The American architect told delegates at an urban planning conference that cities must give residents a role in shaping their development if they are to be successful.

“A city is based on human beings,” he said. “Unless it’s built on a participatory, democratic principle the city will not have a future. The people have to be empowered to be involved in shaping the programme, but not just the programme but also the actual space.”

Libeskind said he believed the rapid growth of cities in many parts of the world, coupled with developments in technology, offered an opportunity to involve citizens in urban planning.

“We often get a pessimistic view that cities are expanding so quickly,” he said. “But if you really think about it it’s a renaissance, a rediscovery. People are involved once again. Cities are not made of steel, they are made of citizens. That’s really the building block of cities. People have rediscovered that they have a stake.”

Libeskind referred to his own appointment to Ground Zero development in New York. Initial designs were rejected by the public which led to the developers holding an architectural competition.

“The Port Authority had its own plans but the public rose up against those plans and the Port Authority was coerced to transform their idea and hold a competition with seven different architects,” he said.

But he acknowledged that businesses have an important role to play as well, and said part of the challenge for the architect is to find a compromise between public and private interests.

“We need public space but also investment and users and profitability,” he said. “One has to be very practical not to unbalance what makes a city move ahead. Otherwise projects end up in archives. The key is to take those organisations that are able to build and bring them together with the public sphere.”

Libeskind was speaking on a panel discussing leadership in urban planning as part of the Urban Planning for City Leaders conference. The event was hosted by UN-Habitat at The Crystal, a Wilkinson Eyre-designed sustainable development centre run by Siemens.

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Readers' comments (5)

  • He thinks WTC is a model? 1 WTC is horrendously overpriced, none of the towers (with the exception of the Norman Foster one that hasn't even emerged from the ground yet) are architecturally interesting, the redevelopment is years behind schedule (can you imagine if you lost family on 9/11 and you weren't even able to see the memorial by the 10 year anniversary?), and there in fact doesn't seem to be demand in the Financial District for the type of development that they want. (The zoning officials are insisting that it all be commercial space, whereas most firms want to rent office space in Midtown - the demand in the Financial District is all residential.)

    In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the World Trade Center redevelopment is an example of why you DON'T want lots of public involvement in architecture. Everybody had their say when it came to the WTC, and look how it turned out!

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  • Daniel Libeskind’s call for people to be more involved in shaping their cities – not just the programme, but also the actual spaces – is well timed.

    The Localism Act of 2011 for the first time in British planning history gives local people a legal say in helping to shape development in the areas in which they live. Citizens are now empowered to help determine not only WHAT is built in their neighbourhood, and WHERE it is built, but also to “have their say on what those new buildings should LOOK like” (I quote from the Department for Communities’ website). In other words, they are being empowered to help determine the actual character and appearance of local spaces and buildings.

    Professionals are apt to scoff at people’s abilities in this regard, but I think they’re wrong. It is design professionals, not the public, who are directly responsible for the appalling tide of ugliness that is steadily creeping across our towns and cities – if specific examples be required, visit central Hammersmith, Vauxhall, and the developments now springing up around Stratford and Barking stations.

    (And just to pre-empt the standard response: it’s no good blaming greedy developers. Their counterparts were just as greedy and philistinic when the beautiful streets and squares of Westminster, Chelsea and Kensington were built. One of the major changes since then has been the attitudes and abilities of the design professions).

    Most ordinary people yearn to live in gracious, beautiful neighbourhoods. If the new planning system truly gives them the means of insisting on this, by reference to the finest architectural precedents – as I hope it will do – they will jump at the opportunity, and we may finally see a gradual reversal of the current uglification of our towns and cities.

    Maritz Vandenberg.

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  • jon5465

    'The American architect told delegates'... American?

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  • @jon5465 Daniel Libeskind was born in Poland but has been an American citizen since 1964.

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  • I agree that the WTC might not be the best example, but I think Libeskind raises an interesting point. If the people are more involved, they are more likely to support a new project... which can lead to greater use and even profitability.

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