Think Space

Promišljanje prostora kroz identitet mjesta

Autor/izvor: DAZ 27/08/2015

Približava se 4. Think Space NeKonferencija, koja će se održati u Zagrebu 2. i 3. listopada, na kojoj ćemo ugostiti mnogobrojne, natjecatelje, predavače, žiratore i Think Space entuzijaste kroz niz diskusija, predavanja i izložbi. U sklopu najave, u narednom periodu donosit ćemo vam neke od prošlogodišnjih radova pristiglih na Think Space Call for Papers, koji se bave promišljanjem sprege arhitekture i novca u suvremenom svijetu – danas o promišljanju identiteta mjesta.

Posebno izdanje programa Think Space, koje se ove godine realizira u sklopu projekta „Zagreb za mene“ se polako primiče svom finalu. Nedavno objavljenim rezultatima natječaja THINK public SPACE, na koji je pristiglo 73 rada iz 29 zemalja svijeta te evaluacijom radova pristiglih na Think Space Call for Papers pod temom „New publicness“, ulazimo u finale ovogodišnjeg posebnog izdanja programa. Ostvaren suradnjom s Gradom Zagrebom i Arhitektonskim fakultetom Sveučilišta u Zagrebu, program Think Space se ove godine bavio suvremenim poimanje i propitivanjem javnog i privatnog, javnih prostora, njihovih korištenja, programiranja te kreiranja i su-kreiranja.

Zadovoljstvo nam je vidjeti rast platforme suvremenih mislilaca u arhitekturi koje objedinjava Think Space, te se izrazito veselimo finalnom događaju ciklusa – Think Space NeKonferenciji, koja će se i ove godine održati u Zagrebu i to 2. i 3. listopada. Kao i uvijek, NeKonferencija će biti prigoda za okupljanje nagrađenih autora na aktualnom natječaju, razgovore i diskusije s članovima ocjenjivačkog suda te naravno dodjelu nagrada i izložbu pristiglih radova.
U sklopu priprema za NeKonfrenciju, u narednom periodu ćemo vam donositi prošlogodišnje radove pristigle i evaluirane kroz Think Space Call for Papers, koji je ima temu MONEY / NOVAC. Radovi će biti dostupni ograničeno vrijeme, a kao što i sama tema govori bave se spregom novca i financija te suvremene arhitekture i gradova, kroz različite vidove interakcije.


F4, São Paulo, Brazil. Dehumanized money city, Miguel Santiago, research project ‘’International Call For: From the Dehumanization of the Built Landscape’’, 2013.


It is in the context of contemporary cities that research proposes to look at the current economic crisis and to the reinforced environmental awareness as an inspiration for refocusing architectural and urban practice proposing them to rethink their final product – constructed space. The production of space was always related to money, and in some cases money was the only basis for its design. Shopping centers, private condominiums or, in a larger scale, cities as Detroit are the result of that practices. Places built mainly under a capitalist point of view contributing to the emergence of territories without identity, disable places and to accelerate the consumption of economic, social and environmental resources.

In an era where cities represent the largest home of humanity, absorbing almost two-thirds of the world population and growing at a rate of one million births and / or immigrant’s wow can we design space outside money? Perhaps we can’t, but we can minimize is impact in the space production and society values, especially if we take a look to the new paradigm that is no longer uncontrolled consummation of physical and social resources but their sustainable optimization through reprogramming.

In this context we propose to look to disable places and to social-cultural and spatial disintegrated spaces – here call as dehumanized built landscapes – in order to (re)discover their own potential to regenerate space. A heterotopical position that, as Michel Foucault claimed, allows discovering other spaces within the existing, through space reprogramming, without its necessary formal extension.  Existent space is understood as key for its own regeneration, optimizing the occupation and land use for economic, ecological, social and environmental reasons.

Apprehending social and spatial context together with lived experience in terms of their interrelationship, based on Bennett, Relph, and Seamon work, we take place identity as a foundation element to rethinking contemporary city space and reshaping the relation between money and space design. Weakening of place identity leads to its abandonment, therefore its comprehension and preservation can be a method for the intensification of its usage and preservation of its space qualities. Moving the focus from static to dynamic, from formal toward functional we propose (re)thinking space not only as an economic/program container but as a social morphology that is by lived experience turned into a Lefebvre’s ‘living organism’.

Facing dynamic and permanent changes of the built environment, architectural and urban professions are given the opportunity for rethinking their purpose and the challenge for adapting their practices. A social process of change through the empowerment of users, allowing them to take control over their environment and reshaping city based on their socio-spatial needs and practices. Dealing with contemporary overbuilt context in on one side, and abandonment or sub-usage urban areas on the other, we suggest place identity as a key to design build environment and as a mechanism that opens the possibility for new types of social practices.

Keywords: Built Dehumanized Landscapes, Place Identity, (Re)programming, Socio-Spatial System.


In his book ‘’Being and Time’’ the philosopher Martin Heidegger speaks no longer about a dualistic vision between Human being and space but of a complex space understanding – being-in-the-world – merging environment and people in one single layer.

A need to explore the concept of space associated with is social dimension that in the beginning of the 1970s phenomenological geographers start to claim. In Tuan Yi-Fu work place is analyzed according to is everyday life, to individual or group experiences that gives place a more complex dimension enriching and expanding its concept. A holistic vision of space that research claimed inside the architectural and urban design practice in order to rethink new space design strategies and methodologies approaches.

In this context, we will call this, more, profound way of thinking space as systematic. Here space is seen as a system, the social-spatial system. By system we designate a holistic view of experiencing and / or thinking space which cannot be reduced to unity (Bennett, 1966), shaped by three components divided into geographical, built environment and socio-cultural space qualities (Seamon, 2011), whose relation allow to amplify or to decrease the functioning of place socio-spatial system and, consequently, its identity (Bennett, 1966).

Inside this perspective we understand place identity not as an individual way of absorbing and understanding place through our perception but related to space qualities. In this framework the identity of place refers to the result of the sum of the three different components constituting the socio-spatial system, where space and human beings are read as one: people-in-place (Seamon, 2011). Also sharp as the spirit of place or genius loci (Rigby, 2003) referring to the unique atmosphere that defines each place - we assume across geographical qualities that place already contains a specific genius loci (Loukaki, 1997), a primary identity, that can be amplified or diminished by human beings actions. In this perspective, place identity is seen as a permanent quality of place - and this is why we advocate its relevance in space production - distinguished from the sense of place by the fact that irradiates from the physical environment to the human being and not as a sensibility that emanates from the human to place (Relph, 2009).

Thus, space becomes a ‘’living organism’’ as Lefebvre claimed, designed and produced not only as an economic, programmatic and/or material container but also as a social morphology. Leading us to a more complex space reading where the notion of dialectic’s between the moving and the real estate parts that constitute place, and is mutual influence, give rise to the concept of dehumanized built landscapes.


The concept of built dehumanized landscape implies a notion of human constructed landscape establishing relations of meanings and dialogue between people and the built environment. In this context, we refer to a landscape concept that should not be read without the immaterial different layers that also constitute her. As explains the Roman author Cicero in ‘’De Natura Deorum’’ (1967), landscape is the result of the economic and social transformation of a particular place, depending on the production processes and resulting meanings from population cultural activity that inhabits it. A concept of humanized landscape which should not be understood as a mere area where one lives but as the result of the process of living (European Landscape Convention, 2000). Where the spirit of place / genius loci (Rigby, 2003) represents a permanent space quality (Relph, 2009), that constitute a single and unique heritage of each place (ICOMOS, 2013; UNESCO, 2013).

When dialectics between built environment and humans – we do not refer to a single experience from the individual toward the built environment but to a group towards its own built environment - does not exist or its minimal place social-spatial system will weaken and in some cases will bankrupt, increasing the number of unlived or poorly lived spaces, stigmatized areas, products of low aesthetic, sensory and functional quality in which it dissolves all the differentiated architectural and/or urban planning attempts. Mere pieces of territory without identity - in this research called as dehumanized built landscapes - leading us to reflect on the meaning and consequences of our actions on space production and indicating, at the same time, their own potential for space rehabilitation. Emphasizing the importance of a holistic view of the built environment as a (re)programmable source helping to optimize the physical and social resources in opposition to its unregulated consumption.

In the origin of this particular space typology we found a large amount of reasons from which we highlight: 1. The ‘’…excessive preoccupation of the architecture with the aesthetics as a catharsis alienating, because it limits her, from its social and economic content that is usually required, with the consequent impoverishment of the project design and of the environment in with the different space users moves’’ (Gonçalves, 2003). A socio-cultural rootless space production contributing to an incomplete reading of what, also, defines his spirit (Nascimento, 2011; Cecla, 2011). As a consequence, in most cases, new spatial interventions do not take into consideration pre-existing, anthropological places and/or immaterial heritage weakening the relationship between the community and the built environment, leading to the non-identification of human being with it increasing, this way, the number of dehumanized built landscapes 2. The phenomenon’s of globalization and technology.  Phenomenon´s that simultaneously altering the way we relate with space through new aesthetic, cultural and social standards, as explains Daniel Innerarity in ‘’The Invisible Society’’ they contribute, at the same time, to a world of diffuse territoriality where new and diverse typologies of living emerge. In this picture we also include the migration phenomenon that generates a floating mass of individuals moving through space and carrying with it the most diverse socio-cultural space practices, contributing to accelerate the transformation of cities built environment. Factors that increasingly require a rethinking of space production, especially within the urban context that demands less tight and more adaptable spaces, under the penalty of space becoming obsolete, for not fulfilling the emerging socio-spatial needs, and therefore disabled 3. Money. A production of space mostly centered on the notion of profit where places are characterized by not creating ‘’…neither singular identity, or relation, but loneliness and likeness. Leaving no space to History, eventually transformed into an element of spectacle (...) in it rules timeliness and the urgency of the present moment'' (Augé, 2007). Non-places, among which stand out shopping centers, private condominiums, the monotonous landscapes of prefabricated houses - as the Herdonson outskirts of Las Vegas, Nevada in the United States - highly industrialized urban fringe areas and in a larger scale cities. An overview where we found the city of Detroit, in the United States, which since the beginning of the twentieth century until the early 1970s, period in which begins the economic resection, grew in the shadow of financial prosperity guaranteed by the automotive industry. Currently, the metropolis, since the central area, reveals cemeteries of abandoned skyscrapers and disable spaces. A highly dehumanized and expectant landscape denouncing an advanced process of urban decay, motivated by politics and economic affairs, where we also can find the half guilty of the urban planning and of the architecture in not designing more flexible spaces able to hawser more efficiently to the relentless rhythm that cities and  its inhabitants change. But in money space production we also include Dubai present situation where the typical adobe constructions gave rise to dizzying buildings or/and man-made artificial islands as the Palm Jumeirah, The clover, near the Port of Yokohama, Honshu, in Japan, where the gigantic and gray road structures that surround and access to the Port represent a symbol of great economic development over environmental, social, and ecological quality. Or in Bangladesh in the Chittagong region, where every year thousands of worldwide boats are dismantled leaving as a memory of its existence the wreckage garbage that over time changed forever the environment and the social condition of this place, turning it into one the most representative images of the insatiable and exclusive notion of profit.

F1, Disable city place, Sara Batista, research project ‘’Call For: From the Dehumanization of the Built Landscape’’, Potimão, Portugal, 2013; 

F2, Potential ruins, Sara Batista, research project ‘’Call For: From the Dehumanization of the Built Landscape’’, Evora, Portugal, 2013

F3, Socio-spatial disintegrated city space, Miguel Santiago, research project ‘’Call For: From the Dehumanization of the Built Landscape’’, Lüleburgaz, Turkey, 2013.

A sum of thoughtless actions on space whose results are converted into the current environmental awareness reinforced by the present economic crisis that in this research we take as an inspiration for refocusing architectural and urban practice proposing them to rethink their final product – constructed space.

The urban and the architectural paradigm is no longer uncontrolled consummation of physical and social resources but their sustainable optimisation through thoughtful (re)programming. In that context, a building of space should be seen as a socially and contextually aware creation of its liveability and successful usage, without its necessary formal extension. Reprogramming based on the methodological set that would systematically assess space qualities - 1.Identity of place actions found in it - can be an answer to new contemporary urban and architectural challenges.

Architectural and urban profession are given the opportunity for rethinking their purpose and the challenge for adapting their practices. They are being asked to become spatial agencies, to go out of offices transforming themselves into the active participants of social changes. Giving up the authority, or the illusion of the authority, urban and architectural spatial agencies should become part of the global process of changes. Through the empowerment of users, allowing them to take control over their environment. Nowadays architect is becoming an anti-hero and co-author that is participative, without being opportunistic and pro-active instead of re-active (Schneider, 2009)an essential perspective shift to face, above all, dynamic and permanent changes of the social and built environment inside the XXI century cities context.


According to the United Nations (UN, 2012) it is expected, in 2020, for the first time in human History that the urban population exceeds, on a global scale, the rural population. In this context we can state that the world has become urbanized. Cities since 1950 have absorbed nearly two-thirds of the world’s population (PIP, 2002) transforming them in the largest home of Humanity. A reality especially visible in the current Chinese context here 700 million of people live in urban areas. In 2035 it is expected that the percentage of the urbanized Chinese population has reached 70% more than a thousand million people. China will host in two decades the equivalent to the entire United States of America population or more than half of the citizens of the European Union, at the speed of thirty million people per year (Interessante, 2013).

The increasing of the urban population, contributes not only to bumper the peripheral areas of the metropolis, growing wildly and consuming unnecessarily resources (Davis, 2007), but also to the hyper occupation of the suburb areas and to the accentuation of the abandonment of the urban centers, increasing the number of deactivated spaces. The fast filling and draining of metropolises due social, economic, and/or political issues - like European cities since the beginning of the financial crises in 2008 - contributes to the acceleration of the socio-spatial system degradation. If we take the Portuguese case, Lisbon, itself, had in 2008 4.000 abandoned buildings, from a total of 55.000 (Relea, 2010) increasing every year. Together with urban voids, these latent spaces can answer to the increment of population needs through a process of space (re)programming and (re)activation.

Contemporary cities context brings two major challenges: 1. the necessity for optimization of the occupation and land use, for economic, ecological and environmental reasons 2. The urgent response to accommodation’s and new socio-spatial needs related to the population fluxes and growth ensuring the notion of sustainability.

On the other hand, while some metropolises will fill others, through social, economic and political reasons – as Buenos Aires, Argentina, after the economic decline and politic issues in the beginning of the 1990s - will be draining through emigration. Here, the challenge is to prevent that socio-spatial degradation process occur, contributing to maintain the existing population in place and the socio-spatial bases activated to ensure a more rapid and effective answer to future needs and people flows.

This new paradigm shifts requires cities to respond hurriedly, through new programs that would consider its spatial qualities/identity as a project foundation (Calthorpe, 2005), preventing spatial degradation and reflecting the need to rethink new methodological and space design approaches. In this context we propose looking to existent space focusing in disable places and social-cultural and spatial disintegrated spaces – dehumanized built landscapes – in order to (re)discover their own potential to (re)generate space. A heterotopical position that, as Michel Foucault claimed, allows discovering other spaces within the existing, through a process of space (re)programming and (re)activation, transforming them into assets according to space qualities - geographical, built environment and socio-cultural qualities – seen as project development base priority taking into consideration the necessity for project-sustainability and social needs.


Generally composed by a set of quantitative data, between the functional organization and the needs list ''…program is constituted as a step where it is tacitly assumed the exclusion of space qualities, listing only quantities'' (Adrião, 2006), this way the separation between the act of elaborating program and the act of thinking and designing space, only as a physical entity, is evident. Giving rise to hermetic projects, such as the examples previously listed, showing high levels of socio-spatial disintegration, contributing to mere pieces of built territory where the process of space appropriation and use are struggle, reducing the quality of the built environment through a degradation process.

In this context research stand for a holistic way of thinking space ‘’ order to design, it is necessary to conceive and think about architectural space surrounding us by decoding its nature and discovering messages in its built forms’’ (Durson, 2009). Decoding is nature, relates to people-place relationship (Seamon, 2011) here persons and the characteristics of the physical environment contribute to define place ambience and character. what Relph (2009) call the singular qualities of a particular environment that infuse it with a unique identity as a lived and permanent quality radiating from the physical environment, distinguished from sense of place, the synesthetic and unself-conscious of persons to feel and sense the uniqueness of place. By representing a space permanent quality place Identity embodies a more solid basis for the understanding of place potential. Weakening of the Identity of place leads to its abandonment, therefore its comprehension and preservation can be a method for the intensification of its usage and space qualities preservation. Ignore place identity it’s to ignore that people have an innate sense for genius loci and, existentially, gravitate toward it (Seamon, 2011) amplifying the people-place relation - as example the threat of collective death from the Guarani-Kaiowá Indians after receiving the deportation order from their land Yvy Katu in Japorã, Brazil (Cacis-ufu, 2013) -  translated in a space permanent appropriation, a way of felling space as our belonging and extension contributing to maintain life of and in places making them more sustainable.

If we consider the space of our cities as highly unstable whose speed of social, economic and political changings made it deeply dynamic (Cannavò, 2006), we can say that this instability arises from quantitative data such as languages, behaviour changing, media and fashion’s influences, viewed as quantitative requirements that the program must complete and not as the basis for thinking and/or (re)programming space, provided by permanent space qualities. Thus we understand the city as a system in which each space represents a pixel that when it goes bankrupt it star to weakening and transforming that same system. Following this notion we look in to existent city spaces treating her from the micro to the macro scale (re)programming each weakened pixel, based on local identity and socio-spatial needs, where the built dehumanized landscapes act as algorithms that represent a set of steps for the socio-spatial system (re)activation, essential for urban regeneration.


Proposed methodological strategy will be divided in three major moments:

M1. Identification of built dehumanized landscapes and understand of their potential.

For the identification of the dehumanized built landscapes we suggest a participative method of space survey always working with local people emerge in its social, cultural and physical ambience. Built dehumanized landscape should be understood inside the local context. Working with people outside the local socio-spatial system will lead to a wrong space decoding and built dehumanized landscapes evaluation.

Methods: local people interview, cognitive maps, photograph record and survey – surveys must cover three main topics 1. What people understand for built dehumanized landscapes; 2. Local examples of dehumanized landscapes; 3. Suggestions for their rehabilitation and to prevent future built dehumanized landscapes – surveys can be done directly in place or in internet, like the ‘’International Call: From the Dehumanization of the Built Landscape’’ (Nascimento, 2013). In this case the number of participants, dissemination and the period of time that project will be running must be strictly decided and participants provide with a Kit composed by a disposable camera and survey – exploring the above and other topics that may be relevant – and people asked to photograph in their spatial context what they consider as dehumanized                built landscapes.

After the material’s reception and the critical analyses of data collected will be provide a local built dehumanize landscape overview helpful to understand   their potential.   

Methods: historical and literature review – to understand built dehumanized landscape causes – space potential evaluation, entropic maps, diagrammatic and accurate draw analysis,  space syntax.

M2. Measure space qualities/space identity.

Geographical qualities will be measured and used as a recommendation for future definition of a program that would respect, in this way defined, qualities of physical scenography. The measurement of socio-cultural qualities will reinforce users’ participation in the process and ensure sustainability and dynamical liveability of a future program that after the analysis completion with built environment qualities will be proposed (M3).

Geographical qualities: refers to natural environmental space qualities. Topography, weather, flora, fauna, and natural landscape (Seamon, 2011).

Methods: literature review, natural observation, space syntax and space matrix analysis, Isovist, topographical survey, photographic and video recordings.

Socio-cultural qualities: relates to people-in-place, the human worlds unfolding in the geographical ensemble (Seamon, 2011). Actions, routines, events, atmosphere (Kurtuncu, 2008), memory, place story and soundscape.

Methods: diagrammatic drawings, photographic and video recordings, sensory-relations maps, historical and literature review, interview, soundscapes recording, actions citizen participation, natural observation, phenomenological methodology.

Built environment qualities: includes constructions and their spatial configurations. Scale, proportion, space context, light, structure, materials, architectonics, spatial articulation and syntax, colour pallet, background/figure, shape, buildings conditions, full/empty relation (Kurtuncu, 2008) and perceptual unity (Untaru, 2002).  

Methods: natural observation, photographic, diagrammatic drawings and maps (Lacy, 1995; Harmon, 2010), entropic and sensory maps, studies of color/light (Pernão, 2013), survey, literature review, methodology of space syntax.

The critical analysis of data collected will give an expanded understanding of local socio-spatial system functioning and needs, leading directly to M3.

M3. Socio-spatial system (re)activation. 

Here morphological flexibility and sustainability are the priority tools to think the program and place identity the basis for project development. Space (re)activation program does not necessarily relate to the act of (re)building or spend but to resources economics’ and social participation. For example, in Kerstin Bergendal (2013) Trekroner Art Plan Project (2001-2013) artists were invited to display a performance and/or an art work on public space for a temporary period of time. These strategies, in association with social practices, repeated over time, ensured and increase new spaces activation and appropriation. A strategy of a continuous space use rarely included in traditional urban planning which also can be applied for space (re)activating.

Project is, also, a subjective moment, so we do not ask architects or urban planner quitting from the language and concepts that define their work, but to always to be aware as a project strategy to think and design space that 1. Space production also involves not building, urban planed voids, contemplation, leisure and decompression spaces are needed for the socio-spatial system to work and, sometimes, the only thing to its (re)activation; 2. Space is reprogrammable and for that so a regenerating source of itself. An accurate map of existing space will provided a range of disable spaces and structures that can represent the basis to design a new space program saving time, money and resources, contributing to the management of land use.

Methods: social and spatial needs list, space and place potential evaluation and surveys, project design, project implementation, social and artistic practices as a way of stimulating space usage.


In the proposed methodological strategy only the M1 was tested, M2 is now being tested in the city of Lisbon. This methodological strategy should be understood as suggestion to intervene in dehumanized built landscapes and not as a hermetic methodology to be literally followed.  

By understanding the space as a living entity not only as a physical entity, research provides space expanded reflection for the practice and the theory in Urbanism and Architecture, reinforcing knowledge about a holistic reading of space including its quality program – space identity - as a key element for project development and program implementation. Ensuring projects more effective integration and sustainability within the inherent social-spatial system, respecting its physical stability and metabolism processes.

We strongly believe that by reinforcing a holistic space observation and by the creation of a new methodological strategy, using space qualities as crucial elements for its own (re)programming and (re)activation research will offer a faster answer to economic, ecological and socio-spatial emerging needs. Hoping that result will represent a useful platform for reflection on the management and optimization of the existing urban resources.


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Filomena Nascimento, in 2005 graduates in Architecture (Architectural and Urban Recovery) at the University of Arts and Architecture Lusíada of Porto (Portugal). She worked as an architect with several studios in Italy, Spain and currently in Portugal. In 2011 concludes the Master of Art and Design for the Public Space, in the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto, attending in the same year the PhD in Architecture – project development - in the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Lisbon. Besides several Art projects, since 2011 coordinates the research project ‘’From the Dehumanization of the Built Landscape. The (Re)activation of the Socio-spatial System Through Place Identity’’.

Miguel Santiago, in 1993 graduates in Architecture at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Lisbon, where in 1998 concludes the Master in Contemporary Architectural Culture and in 2005  the PhD thesis ‘’... Pancho Guedes + Half of a Century of Spatial Transformations’’. Working since 1994 as an architect, currently is a professor in the Architecture Course at the University of Beira Interior, Covilhã, and the Instituto Superior Teixeira Gomes in Portimão where he is also the Coordinator of the Architecture Course and researcher at the Centre for Research in Planning, Architecture and Design from the Lusíada University, CITAD, Portugal. 


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