Think Public Space 3RD PRIZE EX AEQUO
Work title: reprogram retail
The Athens Charter (CIAM, 1933) introduced the concept of the functional city as a blueprint for many European cities, hence the city centers have been assigned with the funktions of trade, shopping, administration and culture. The retail sector has thereby significantly influenced the use of public space, reduced it to a place of consumption and thus supporting exclusion and segregation of the public.
At present we are detecting a crisis of retail in the city centers, caused by the construction of large shopping centers around the (inner) cities and by growing sales of online retailers like amazon. In many cases, shops are closing, so that ground floors are abandoned and are hardly occupied by alternative programms that could revitalize the public space of the streets. In this regard a crisis of public space is inevitably as it goes hand in hand with the crisis of retail.
The crisis of the long-established company Karstadt (founded in 1881) with its formerly more than hundred department stores in Germany can be seen as a symbol of a shift. Since 2004 there has been several insolvency proceedings, business segments were spun off, stores closed and many investors have tried to rescue the company. A solution for the Karstadt crisis is unforeseeable as the concept of department stores in general seems no longer appropriate. However, the department stores themselves have an enormous importance for medium-sized cities and neighborhoods of big cities. In extreme cases local residents demonstrated in public against the close-down and predict the death of the city center if the Karstadt department store would close. In fact, many Karstadt department stores are directly located at the main plazas of the cities and have often been designed in the 1960s by renowned architects. They have played a big role in forming the identity of the public space and are tightly interconnected with it.
All these considerations about the crisis of retail and public space listed above, guide us to initiate a radical shift. If shopping can no longer be the motor for the activation of public space in the city centers, or leads to exclusion and segregation, then the motor must be replaced. We don''t regret the decline of the centralized retail in city centers, anyway a relic of the industrial society based on production.
Instead of a public space forced to stimulate consumption, we propose a public space trading knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge and thereby we want to generate a new form of the public. Space for retail in city centers, which do not function as a strengthening of the public, will be reprogrammed and accessible to citizens all-day.
As a representative case study, we convert a Karstadt department store of a medium-sized city in Germany into a new type of public building. The building was designed in 1961 by renowned German architect Sep Ruf (German Pavilion Expo ''58 Brussels, Residence for the German Chancelllor Bonn) and due to its urban setting and architectural qualities, the building plays a central role within the city. The building interrelates with the main public plaza of the city, which was also designed by Sep Ruf, in a reciprocal and inextricable way.
The transformed department store will extend the network of public spaces of the city with a public interior without any thresholds. It will unite all age groups, ethnic and social groups, each with different cultural backgrounds and life experiences, as a learning and knowledge-transferring public. The building hosts conventional programs for acquisition of knowledge, such as a library, space for talks, workshops and individual learning, but most of the space can be used flexibly for informal communication, spontaneous actions and encounters, enabled by the buildings generous spatial capacities. Hence we respond to a certain kind of knowledge production, the tacit knowledge, which is a knowledge that can hardly be documented and therefore can''t be achieved at universities, schools or by books. Tacit knowledge stands for certain life and practical experience, individual skills and cultural knowledge that is bound to individuals and can imparted only by face-to-face communication and interaction. This requires an appropriate spatial environment. Due to the unfolding of new knowledge unprecedented innovation processes can be initiated, which will have an positive impact on the economy of the city, first and foremost by supporting the individual development of the citizens.
In our understanding the public space of the city has to foster the creation of a public, that is self-determined and active in negotiating political, economic and social issues.