Urban design magazine

Public spaces

Design and housing estates

Image of Ikone light collection - Photograph by Indal
Ikone light collection, by Indal - Photograph by Indal

It is difficult to talk about public spaces and street furniture without mentioning the problem of vandalism. Urban violence has always existed in diverse forms and for a multitude complex reasons.

Grouping together different kinds of people in one place requires us to make different needs, desires, functions and uses coexist.

How public spaces lost their humanity

Urban planners have tried to reach this fragile balance to achieve a coherent social and urban organisation through sometimes risky urban policies. In the early 1970’s, emerging urban unease comprising a mix of insecurity, violence and exclusion stigmatised the functionalist and dehumanised architecture of large housing estates. This was considered to be a determining factor in social problems and insecurity. The opposition between centre and outskirts resulting from an ‘almost totalitarian’ suburban planning, to use the words of Senator Gérard Larcher, created undeniable socio-economic exclusion on a spatial level.

The concept of the social division in urban spaces derived from early 20th century sociological theories about urban ecology from the Chicago School. It was suggested for the first time that communal life and living spaces were interdependent. This implied that architecture could create, on the one hand, cohesion and, on the other, incivility.

Through their configuration and the behaviour they condition, urban spaces can generate crime or create complicity. The notion ‘defendable spaces’ (Oscar Newman) and ‘architecture of situational prevention’, (geographer Alice Coleman), whose role is to ‘create spaces that prevent crime’ appeared in the 1970s and 1980s. The aims shared security policies and repressive urban design were insufficient to diminish the social inadequacies, which made exercising a legitimate ‘right to the city’ difficult.

Public spaces: mediation between individuals and institutions

If public spaces have become the stage of violent acts, this is abecause they are also a place of mediation between individuals and institutions, according to Jürgen Habermas. This manifests itself in animosity and expressions of aggression in the form vandalism for which easily accessible street furniture bears the consequences.

Image of Ikone furniture collection - Photograph by Indal

Ikone furniture collection, by Indal – Photograph by Indal

It is vital to make welcoming public spaces that inhabitants can appropriate, places to experience difference and internalise shared rules. This can in part be achieved using design to improve people’s immediate comfort. Thoughtful and qualitative facilities that stimulate the urban experience through the imagination are made up from ‘little nothings’.

New reflections on vandalism

When designing anti-vandalism street furniture for housing estates, 3e International looks for solutions to the damage caused to facilities in so called ‘sensitive areas’. Instead of taking the brief at face value to create brutal-looking ‘indestructible’ objects, the company hopes to question vandalism and, avoiding oversimplification, reflect on what is an appropriate response to ‘lawless and menacing’ spaces.

As for all public space projects, reflections start with individual and how they use the objects. The study applies a qualitative approach to spaces, which relies on the soothing effect of a generous and coherent response.

Street furniture that adds value

In housing estates, lighting is often almost non-existent or aggressive projecting light directly on to the buildings. This helps reinforce a negative image. The lighting structures, when they exist, are often ill-adapted, fragile and, once damaged, rarely replaced.

Image of Ikone street lighting -  Photograph by Indal

Robust and aesthetic Ikone street lighting – Photograph by Indal

The Ikone lighting range offers enhanced technology and aesthetics in order to improve the housing estate and its environment. The products’ quality and discrete robustness avoids playing with a provocative ‘armour’ image. The architectural appearance of the products projects a strong identity and can be easily integrated into the existing environment. The technical elements are hidden in the pole and thus protected from damage. A sculptural ring at the top of the pole acts as reflector and at night diffuses a soft, indirect and efficient light towards the ground.

The Ikone range comprises different complementary products including road street lights (6-9m), street lights for close lighting, wall attachments, seats, barriers, bollards and bins.

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