CONFERENCE: Public Space: The Real and the Ideal. 5th Biennial Conference of the International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture. Monte Verita, Ascona, Switzerland and Online, 2 – 5 July 2021

Conference: Public Space: The Real and the Ideal. 5th Biennial Conference of the International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture. Monte Verita, Ascona, Switzerland and Online, 2 – 5 July 2021

Although public spaces are everywhere, and used extensively, the term itself is a contested notion. Many architects, urban designers, philosophers, and political theorists – like Camillo Sitte, Rem Koolhaas, Hannah Arendt, and Henri Lefebvre – have emphasized the importance of understanding public space from a humanistic and a democratic perspective. This is often inspired by an ideal of social interaction and democratic pluralism that should somehow be tangible in public spaces. The built environment is thus understood as offering more than just a functional space or an aesthetic experience. It is rather seen as a force shaping a world-incommon, which in turn shapes the human experience of this commonness and the understanding of the world itself, both consciously and unconsciously.

However, current developments in cities and societies, from smart-cities and Big Data to gentrification, surveillance and commodification, seem to make it increasingly difficult for public spaces to live up to this ideal. Public spaces are increasingly privatized, commodified, controlled, monitored, and scripted; they are designed to accommodate leisure and tourism, shopping and sporting, or transportation and travelling. Such spaces have, at first sight, little regard for the social and political ideal of encounter and exchange. On the other hand, even in highly controlled spaces, social life and also political protests can occur, as is shown by the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, that even stretch to spaces that are privatized, heavily controlled, monitored, and scripted towards a single purpose. This presses the questions: How important is architecture and urban design for public life after all? Does design still trace concrete outlines for it, or can these be found elsewhere?
The 5th Biennial Conference of the International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture examines public space and its architecture in a rapidly changing societal, political, and technological context. Kenneth Frampton, Margaret Crawford, Chantal Mouffe and Sven Olov Wallenstein will address these issues in the respective talks.  
The conference will be held in a hybrid form. Offline, the conference takes place at Monte Verità, a former utopian-like hub of alternative cooperative life and now site for numerous formidable architectural works, standing in the beautiful landscape between the Alps and Lago Maggiore in the Swiss canton of Ticino. For those that cannot travel to Switzerland, the sessions and the keynote also can be followed via Zoom. 

The conference is organised in close collaboration between ETH Zurich and EPFL. See for the program, more information about the keynotes and practical information the website of the conference or send an e-mail to: ispa.conference.2020@gmail.com.

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